Yibang pu erh tea: A complete guide Yibang mountain tea

yibang small leaf varietal

the Yibang ancient tea mountain is a historical gem situated in the northern part of Mengla County, within the Xishuangbanna Prefecture of Yunnan Province. Traveling south from Pu'er City along the Ancient Tea Horse Road, and passing through Simao, Yixiang, Mengwang, and Xiaoheijiang, one eventually reaches Yibang. The name "Yibang" is derived from the Dai language, signifying a place characterised by lots of tea trees and wells.

In this article, we'll discuss the history of Yibang, it's small leaf tea, and the regions villages (Malishu & Mangong).

Vertical ecology

As one of the six ancient tea mountains (which include Yibang, Yiwu, Youle, Gedeng, Mangzhi, and Mansa), Yibang stands out as the highest in elevation, ranging from 565 meters to 1950 meters. This advantageous altitude variation fosters a unique vertical ecology, allowing the coexistence of large-leaf, medium-leaf, and small-leaf tea trees.

Yibang's large-leaf tea buds are known for their thickness and abundance of trichomes, while the medium and small-leaf tea trees feature soft, flat leaves with a green hue and long trichomes. Pu erh tea enthusiasts, particularly like the small leaf varietal for producing pu erh tea with a unique aroma profile. 

For more information about small leaf pu erh, feel free to visit our Yibang pu erh cake page to learn more about its taste. If you're not based in the EU, the cake is also available in our global store (Teasenz.com).

History of Yibang

Yibang boasts a rich heritage of tea cultivation, with its tea gardens dating back to the early Ming Dynasty (1368-1644). From the royal tribute tea of centuries past to the popular "Cat's Ear" small-leaf variety of recent years, Yibang's teas are consistently loved by pu erh tea enthusiasts worldwide.

In 1728, during the seventh year of Emperor Yongzheng's reign, the Qing government initiated the "Gaitu Guiliu" reform, which abolished the native chieftain system in southwestern minority regions and replaced it with centrally appointed officials. This reform aligned the local administrative systems with those of interior China. Following this change, Xishuangbanna, where Yibang is situated, began producing tea as a tribute to the royal court, marking the inception of pu erh tea.

Yibang small leaf tea

yibang small leaf

In the vast tea landscape of Yunnan, dominated by large-leaf pu erh tea, Yibang's small-leaf variety stands out. Historically, small-leaf varieties have always existed in Yunnan's pu erh tea.

There are two main theories about their origin: one suggests that Sichuanese brought small-leaf tea to Yibang during the late Ming and early Qing periods; another theory explains that the unique geographical and climatic conditions of the area caused a mutation from the large-leaf variety to the small-leaf variety. This latter theory is more likely, as it's supported by the presence of small-leaf tea trees in the ancient tea gardens of nearby Youle and Jingmai.

Regardless of its origins, Yibang is unique among the tea mountains for producing pu erh tea from small-leaf tea buds. This tea, made from Yibang's small-leaf variety, features a bright yellow color, a full and delicate texture, a sweet taste, aromatic water, and a stable base fragrance, distinguishing it among the six ancient tea mountains.

Cat Ear pu erh tea

Cat ears pu erh tea is made from a specific variation of Yibang's small leaf trees. The name of this variation refers to their small, round leaves that resemble a cat's ear.

This tea is not only distinguished by its high quality but also by its limited production. Harvesting Cat Ear pu erh tea is challenging, requiring trips across various villages and tea gardens, with only several kilograms of fresh leaves collected a day. Additionally, processing these small leaves demands attention during the pan-frying stage, as the delicate leaves can't handle too hot temperatures.

Yibang small leaf tea taste

cat ear yibang pu erh tea

Yibang small leaf tea is celebrated for its exceedingly delicate taste. The buds are relatively small, the strips are short, fine, and black. The brew is a yellow-green hue, and the leaf base is also yellow-green. It offers a light bitterness with a sweet undertone, more astringent than bitter, with a full-bodied texture. The sweetness emerges quickly and lingers, accompanied by a pronounced fragrance. Grown in a wild mountain environment, cat ear pu erh tea embodies a robust mountain charm and leaves a lasting fragrance in the cup.

cat's ears pu erh

Yibang ancient tea areas

Malishu Village

Malishu Village, home to 25 Yi ethnic households, is renowned for its tea trees, which primarily grow within the forest, making it one of the better-preserved and ecologically sound tea areas in Yibang. The village has a long tradition of tea cultivation, with village head Ye Ziming's family residing in Malishu for six generations. Surrounding the village are over a hundred acres of ancient tea trees, producing approximately 1,500 kilograms of spring tea and another 1,500 kilograms of rainy season and valley flower tea annually. The tea trees are a mix of small-leaf and large-leaf varieties. Many tea trees in this garden have trunk diameters of 10-20 centimeters and heights exceeding 3 meters. The largest tree, located about half a kilometer from the village, has a trunk diameter exceeding 30 centimeters.

Mangong

yibang mangong

Mangong is a notable area within the Yibang tea region, home to numerous ancient tea trees and gardens. Many of these trees thrive within the forest, benefiting from an excellent ecological environment and growing tall without being pruned. The most flourishing tea trees in Mangong are found on a mountain in the Black Forest, about 4 kilometers from Mangong, in an area inaccessible by car. True to its name, the Black Forest lies 100-200 meters higher than Mangong, filled with massive trees that require several people to encircle and featuring a high forest coverage rate.

Only two households reside in the Black Forest today, belonging to a pair of brothers whose mother, Cao Huiying, descends from the former chieftain family of Yibang. Their home is situated about a hundred meters from the historically significant Ancient Tea Horse Road. The Cao family has lived here for eight generations, preserving the surrounding ancient tea forest.

mangong black forest

Due to its unique location, the Black Forest was once a bustling stopover for tea merchants during the Tea Horse Road's heyday. Cao Huiying, now over 80 years old, remains sharp and vibrant, enjoying tea daily and recounting tales of the Tea Horse Road while singing mountain songs. Thanks to its pristine ecological environment, some tea merchants pay premium prices for tea from the Black Forest compared to Mangong.

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