Mengding Ganlu Green Tea
Mengding Ganlu green tea from Mengding Shan, Ya-An, Sichuan, was the first ever cultivated tea in China. Due to its special picking requirements, picking is only possible for a few days in early spring. The yield is particularly low, while both picking and processing involve unusually high efforts. Among tea connoisseurs, green tea from the Mengshan peaks is one of the most exquisite Chinese green teas. Accordingly, it repeatedly finds mentioning in editions of the official Top Ten Great Teas of China list. At this, it’s highly individual taste is only one of the properties making this tea particularly special and rare.
According to tradition, Buddhist monk Wu Li Zhe around 50/60 BC laid the cornerstone for tea cultivation in China. At that time, tea from Mengshan was so popular that the yield from wild picking was no longer sufficient. That is why Wu Li Zhen started cultivating local tea plant varieties on the top of the mountain. At the same time, he built a temple there, which he called “Ganlu” (Chinese: “honeydew”) temple. Both the ruins of the temple and the remains of the original imperial tea garden are still there today. Later, during the Tang Dynasty (618-907), tea from “foggy mountain” became an important imperial tribute tea. Subseqently, it remained a tribute tea of high imperial esteem until the era of the Qing dynasty (1644-1911).
In the 16th century, there’s documentation of Mengding Ganlu in the Chinese scholar Li Shizhen‘s Compendium of Materia Medica. While considering most other Chinese Green Teas as “cooling”, the auther expressivley attributes “warming” properties to the green tea from Mengding Shan.
Like many other Chineses teas, Mengding Ganlu is defined by its place of origin , the terroir prevailing there, and the pertinent variety. “Mengshan tea” means tea from Mount Mengshan in general, which also includes the lower slopes and foothills. “Mengding Shan” tea, on the other hand, specifically refers to tea from peaks above 1000 meters above sea level. Due to the special status of this tea in China, there’s a strict ban on using pesticides here. Where once the monks of 5 temples built on the peaks of Mengshan were responsible for growing tea and related activities, there are now 20,000 people working in tea picking and processing. Due to this tea’s special requirements, both segments require a particularly high level of skill and experience.
historical “Ganlu” temple + imperial tea garden – click picture to enlarge
After the narrow geographical limitation, the special picking standard further contributes to the rare and precious character of this tea. Mengding Ganlu Green Tea consists exclusively of young spring’s very first buds (1+1). The green tea from Mengding Shan is therefore one of the first Chinese green teas to be ready for picking every year. When looking at the tiny buds, it becomes obvious how much effort is required to pick one kilo of this tea. A window of a few days only becomes another minimum factor, especially when considering that picking is only possible in the cool of the early morning, and excpet when it rains...
The processing of Mengding Ganlu Green Tea is also particularly complex. After a short phase of withering, the tea leaves traditionally undergo 3 rounds of roasting and rolling. It is particularly important for authentic Mengding Ganlu that the roasting takes place in the traditional way, which is by hand in the wok pan and over a wood fire. Furthermore, the technique of rolling is a special one… Basically, this consists in the tea leaves’ lifting and rubbing between the palms of the hands with well-tempered force. At this, the tea leaves’s shape must not suffer any damage, while the tea juices need to distribute evenly in the leaf. Over the course of the three rounds, the buds finally take on their typical slightly ruffled shape. Finally, the traditional drying method on bamboo stoves over charcoal fire is another indispensable element for processing authentic Mengding Ganlu.
Mengding Ganlu @ Siam Tea Shop
Our Mengding Ganlu Green Tea comes from a tea garden beyond the 1000 meter mark that is surprisingly biodiverse for conventional cultivation conditions. In addition, the Laochuancha Chaihuo tea plants here are seed-grown. Both picking and processing traditionally are manual work. This is because producers here still believe that the best tea can only be made by hand. The diligent and attentive performance of traditional processes becomes obvious from examining the dry leaf material… visually, olfactory and, of course, in terms of taste!
The wealth of flavors in Mengding Ganlu does not reveal itself just at once. Rather, it unfolds spectrally from the tip of the tongue to all segments and down to the upper throat. As is typical for many spring green teas, the very first perception is that of freshness. A complex spectrum of floral notes follows on the tea’s way across the tongue and palate, which in the rear palate gives way to mild and honey-sweet chestnut. At this, the tea remains free of any astringency and bitterness. And what comes as a pleasant surprise for the senses at drinking, remains with the drinker even far beyond. Because especially the chestnut-like, nutty-sweet finish lingers on for a long time, like a welcome companion.
Mengding Ganlu – Preparation
Mengding Ganlu is a good example of a green type of tea for which the overall standard of 70°C water temperature is not suitable. Instead, this tea reveals its finest flavors at an infusion temperature of 90°C only. Whether dosing 2, 3 or 4 grams of tea leaves on 100 ml of water is a question of flavor intensity. Also the infusion period is adjustable to personal preferences between 1 and 2 minutes for your finest first infusion. Then, an equally tasty second and a third infusion emerges after 1 or 2 more minutes infusing. After this, longer brewing periods beyond 3 minutes result in more, still quite tasty infusions.