Wild tea trees are found in some of the remote rainforests in Yunnan, China, especially in Pu’erh, Xi Shuang Ban Na, and Lincang. It is amazing to see these tea trees growing wild, so tall and robust, in their natural state, instead of on a plantation.
Da Hei Shan, or Big Black Mountain, is a forest of giant, amazingly tall, wild tea trees in their original natural state. Many of these majestic wild trees are over 30 feet (10 meters) tall and as young as several thousand years. They grow naturally in the heart of these forests. The tea they produce is unique in aroma, character, and the internal chi energy they produce. Grown without human intervention, they are met with a number of sub-varieties by region, producing distinct tastes and aromas. They allow us to sample the flavor of another time.
Harvesting the leaves from wild tea trees was banned at one time by the Chinese government to protect the trees, but in these remote forest locations, there is not an effective way to enforce the law.
Many of these wild tea trees have been reproduced using cloning. A branch of the tea plant is gradually forced to bend and inserted into the ground at some distance from the tree. After a certain time during which the branch has penetrated into the soil and began to form roots, the link with the original tree is cut, and a new tree starts growing at its new location.
The Yunnan University of Agriculture and the Yunnan Tea Research Institute conducted research on an ancient tea tree in the 1960s in the Da Hei Shan rainforest. The wild tree was at an elevation of 6200 feet (1900 meters) above sea level, had a girth at its base of 8 feet (2.5 meters), and was 112 feet (34 meters) tall. It was carbon dated at 1800+ years old. It was said to be the world’s oldest living tea tree.
The proud old tree was surrounded by barbed wire fortifications. Four large trunks merged at ground level. One could see where the tree had been struck by lightning. Grim and defiant, the king of tea trees was hunkered down for its last stand
The tree was weakened by termites and other insect infestations, and wind and rain erosion further compromised its strength. The trunk had become hollowed, which in turn had affected nutrient absorption. These factors caused the death of the tree as it fell to the ground on September 27, 2012, apparently brought down by a strong wind.
The people living in the local tribal area were all saddened by the tree’s death and paid homage to it with a special ceremony at which they provided tea, wine, food, and fruit.
By Certified Tea Masters Chas Kroll & Shana Chang