Yunnan, and World's oldest tea trees.

Yunnan, and World's oldest tea trees.

“Deep in the forests of south Yunnan province, you can find the world’s oldest tea trees.” This is the pretext you may have come across reading books around the origin of tea…


deep tea tree forest in yunnan

(Photo: much of Yunnan's tea fields have been unperturbed, and have been left to grow wild in the nature) 


For passionate teaheads, Yunnan and the pre-historical region of Xi Shuan Banna represents the symbolic status of the ultimate pilgrimage site.


Xi Shuan Banna is the southern part of Yunnan, and an area predominantly occupied by ethnic Chinese of different cultures. 


"Xi Shuan 西双" is a local ethnic word meaning "12", and "Banna 版纳" meaning "plain field (盆地)" - literally, 12 plain fields in a mountainous area. 


very tall and old tea tree in yunnan

(Photo: local tea farmer standing on a tree trunk reaching to the thousand year old tea tree in Xi Shuan Banna)


Here, the average age of ‘old tea trees’ = 古茶树 is said to be around 1,000-2,000 years old. With the oldest tea trees dating back to around 3,500 years old (!)


To any doubters out there who think tea grows on a “bush”, he or she should come to Yunnan to check out why it is a tea ‘tree’ rather than ‘bush’…


In defence of the doubters, tea trees usually grow slowly compared to other types of tree and it is ‘unusual’ to find them growing higher than 1.5m in conventional tea estates… Without seeing these gigantic pre-historical tea trees, it’d be difficult to imagine them as trees…



It’s not just the age of trees that is unique in Yunnan.



Unlike other parts of China, the tea trees in Yunnan are predominantly Camellia Sinensis var. Assamica variety, or conventionally known in China as the ‘Big Leaf 大叶种' variety. 



assamica fresh leafset

(Photo: a leafset of a 'big leaf' variety tea tree in Yunnan) 


The other famous tea producing region sharing the same variety with Yunnan is Darjeeling, India.


Assamica varietal is generally considered to have stronger tannin-like taste profile compared with the Sinesis varietal, probably due to difference in the intrinsic nutritional composition of these two varieties.


assamica leaf in hand

 assamica leaf comparison with match stick

(Photo: comparing Yunnan Assamica var. to a match stick) 


Shifting attention to the people growing tea here, you will soon realise something else that is unique in Yunnan - the diverse cultures of ethnic groups that reside in this region.

yunnan ethnic group woman wearing traditional clothing

(Photo: a local Dai-Zu ethnic Chinese lady wearing a daily dress)


Yunnan is home to around 52 ethnic groups, each with distinctive language, culture and custom. Even though many ethnic men have grown to wear modern clothes, you can still find many local women wearing traditional colourful clothing that has been hand stitched.


yunnan ethnic group traditional clothing in a local shop (Photo: couple of Dai-Zu dresses on display on the wall in a local seamstress shop)


ethnic group settlement village in yunnan

(Photo: traditional Dai-zu village with characteristic architecture)

One thing that harmoniously binds everyone regardless of their background is the production of tea. here about the type of tea made in Yunnan.


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