Our Yunnan Green Tea comes from a factory, owned by Mr Guo, which is a stone's throw from Simao city (Pu Erh City). This factory is a master factory which is supplied by 4 smaller "feeder" factories which in their turn process tea from 188 surrounding gardens. The tea is processed at the 4 smaller factories before being transported to the master factory where it is blended together to make the final product.
The gardens are located high up in the mountains surrounding Simao City. To get to the tea gardens we drove up an unsurfaced road, very bumpy and winding with views of the mountains and lush plant life.
The ones that we visited were around 1600m (5500ft approx) above sea level. The scenery is very beautiful with layers of tea plants in terraces and forested hills in the background.
Yunnan green tea is planted in long rows and picked by hand by families who each look after two or three of the rows and are responsible for their upkeep. They are passed down through generations and when the parents get too old a son will be called back to the village from the city. There is a growing problem with getting labour to pick the tea because young people are moving to the cities and are sometimes reluctant to return. The picking normally happens in 10 days. Once the tea has been picked it is sent to one of the 4 smaller factories which are located nearby. This year the harvest was very late because of drought affecting the tea plants.Usually straight after picking, the tea is steamed and dried but because it had been raining particularly heavily, the tea leaves were being pre-dried before steaming. They were spread out in troughs on gauze with hot air from burning wood being fanned through them. This was the first dry, which is not always necessary.
After this the tea would be sent for steaming to stop it from fermenting before being rolled and then dried again with a high heat from a wood furnace in a layered metal drying machine.
At the feeder factory the tea is graded. There are 3 grades of Yunnan green tea from this factory. The highest grade consists of just 1 bud. The second grade, one leaf and one bud and the the lower grade has 2 leaves and 1 bud. Our Yunnan green tea is called Mao Feng (Hair Point), which is the medium grade of 1 leaf and 1 bud.
Once a tea has been rolled and dried, it is difficult to tell the grade until the tea is brewed and leaves unfurl.
When tea arrives at the master factory it is artificially cut by machine to make the leaves a uniform size. This enables the tea to be packed more easily for shipping. We had the pleasure of trying tea that had been processed only the day before and had not yet been cut.