Map of Ancient Tea Plantations of Jingmai Mountain in Pu'er
The coordinates shown for all tentative sites were produced as a community effort. They are not official and may change on inscription.
I am on a business trip to Hong Kong last week and decided to take a few days before to visit a site in China. After much deliberation, I decided to visit Jingmai mountain for the Pu'er tea. Pu'er is the de regueur tea at all Chinese restaurants in the US and you drink it over and over. So its time to find out where it comes from.
The first major surprise is that the plane ride ends up at JingHong via Kunming in Yunnan Province. This city is so far south that its near the border with Thailand and not surprisingly was the former capital of the local Tai kingdom. Looking at the map, its further south than Pu'er city (Simao) by a hundred Km.
The second major surprise is that instead of being a frontier town, it is a modern city of half a million with wide boulevards and very Thai architecture and not Chinese. Walking around the city center you see a lot of European fancy cars and wonder if the proximity to the Thai/Laos/Burmese border contributes to the wealth here.
The next day, a driver/guide took me for a 3.5 hour ride south west of town into the Jingmai mountain. The vegetation went from farm lands and as you gradually climb the mountain, you begin to see the traditional tea estates. After passing Jingmai village, the road ends (blocked) at the top of the mountain and there is a map that indicates where the old growth of tea trees are located in the district.
We parked our car and started walking into the old growth and notice that the tea trees here are no longer waist height like all tea plantations. Instead the tea trees here are truly trees up to 30 feet tall! The tea pickers we saw indicated that some of the trees here are over a 1000 years old and the leaves at the top of the trees had the best tannins and flavors. The third surprise is that for the first time, I see tea pickers climb and pick leaves from top of trees. Since its not the most productive way, I assume that the tea leaves here must have the commensurate value. We then proceeded into Jingmai village for the obligatory tea tasting and purchase. I must admit that my palate is not so refined in tea that I can tell the subtleties apart. Then the 3.5 hours drive back to JingHong makes for a very long day.
So is this site going to make it on the WHS list? I certainly hope so as there are no tea sites currently on the list. Tea has also been cultivated for over 1000 years and is a favorite drink for many millions. Tea was also discovered in Jingmai that long ago and could be the origin. The old growths are well preserved and there is arguments that it has OUV. Lastly, the time and effort I made to get there should not be in vain.
In any case at least I now know where Pu'er tea comes from whenever I am dining at a Chinese restaurant although its highly unlikely that the tea being served actually comes from Jingmai.
I'm lucky to have been part of an assessment team to visit the site early July 2013.
The mountain area is supposed to be an excellent example of tea cultural landscape - where tea culture, Hirayana Buddhism and traditional folk culture of Dai, Bulang, Yi and Lahu minorities have joined together to shape a beautiful landscape.
Among the traditional villages inspected, the best ones are Nuogan and Wengji - whose houses have the least intervention, and visual integrity not compromised.