Yunnan Province, China – Birthplace of Tea

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Yunnan Province China is considered the birthplace of tea.

Yunnan Province China and the broader Asian neighborhood.

Yunnan Province is the most southwestern province of China and is considered to be the birthplace of tea. It is a large province, at approximately 152,000 square miles, making it slightly bigger than the state of Montana. There are approximately 46.7 million people living there as of the 2011 census. That is 9 million more people than the most populated US state of California.

Terroir of Yunnan Province

Yunnan is situated on the eastern side of the Himalayan Mountains, far enough south that the Tropic of Cancer crosses through the provenience. The average elevation in the province is 9,200 feet with the tallest peak being just over 22,000 feet. This provides just the right amount of elevation and warmth to produce a truly flavorful tea. Yunnan Province is also home to six major rivers that feed water from the Himalayan Mountains into the South China Sea and into eastern China.

The oldest tea trees in China, some of them older than 1,000 years, grow along a trail outside of Mangjing Village, in the southwestern part of the provenience. It is outside of the city of Lincang, which is home to the Tea Culture Garden. It is also along the Tea Horse Road which leads south to the city of Puerh.

People of Yunnan Province

Men working on the Tea Horse Road carrying large bundles of tea.

Tea Porters Along the Tea Horse Road, by Ernest H Wilson, CC BY 2.0

The population of Yunnan Province is very diverse with a wide range of traditions and ethnic minorities. This is a reflection of the location of Yunnan as the cross road to other countries of Vietnam, Tibet, Burma, and Nepal. One minority, the Blang, have a holy shrine near the ancient tea trees. Every four years, the Blang sacrifice an ox to the Spirit of Tea. Interestingly, the Chinese government, which tried in the early part of the Communist rule to eliminate minority religions, and still only sanctions five religions which does not include the Blang, actually highlight the Blang and their beliefs in their tourist materials. Most of the tea farmers near Mangjing are Blang and work to maintain the ancient tea tree forests even though they do not produce anywhere near the same amount of tea as a modern plantation. However, the annual harvest from these forest usually fetch top dollar in the local markets and never make it overseas to America.

Tea of Yunnan Province

The birthplace of tea is best known for Puerh. Being home to the Tea Horse Road, Puerh was created in Yunnan and continues to be one of its best quality products. Yunnan also produces fabulous black teas that are both fruity and brisk at the same time, like Yunnan Sunrise. So the next time you are looking for a black tea or Puerh, look for a product from Yunnan Province and enjoy centuries of tradition with every sip.

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2 thoughts on “Yunnan Province, China – Birthplace of Tea

  1. Without identifying brands, one of my favorite teas is labeled Golden Yunnan. It is quite different from teas that I have tried labeled Puerh. Is Yunnan Sunrise more similar to one or the other of these?

    • Hi Steve – The Yunnan Sunrise is a black tea and much closer to a Golden Yunnan. It’s certainly not a puerh. Hope this helps.

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