Gold Yunnan

Gold Yunnan

Yunnan is a large and fertile province in the south of China that produces an impressive amount of tea. Tea cultivation and even the plant itself are said to come from Yunnan originally, and there’s good reason to believe that; Yunnan has an incredible amount of biodiversity.


It’s a very mountainous area, to the point that only 5% of the land is cultivated, and a lot of that is terraces carved into mountainsides. It also has a nice climate, with lots of rain and moderate temperatures, lovely for both the evolution of new plants and the cultivation of old ones, once you find a piece of land flat enough to grow them on. The oldest cultivated tea plant is in Yunnan, and it’s at least 800 years old. The oldest wild one is there, too, and it’s 1700 years old (!).

Yunnan Black Tea

The tea that is most likely to spring to mind when you hear the name Yunnan is the black tea that floods out of the province these days, full of pretty gold tips. Tips, in this case, refers to the leaves and bud on the tip of each branch, which are the best for making tea out of. In Chinese this tea is called Tian Hong, which literally means Yunnan Red. But interestingly enough, this kind of tea wasn’t developed until the 20th century. Before then Yunnan made green tea, like most places. They also, of course, made Pu’er.

Pu’erLarge Beeng

Pu’er is actually the name of a county in Yunnan,  which became a major center of the tea trade during the Song Dynasty (960-1279), when tea was just starting to be infused instead of mixed up from powdered leaves. No one’s really sure how Pu’er tea, which is cakes of fermented tea, was developed, but that tea trade I mentioned probably had something to do with it. The trade was sprawling, and took place by horse caravan, so it took a long time to get the tea to some distant places. Compressed bricks are the most logical way to do that, and unless your caravan involves a horse-drawn refrigerated truck, fermentation can be hard to avoid. Especially when you’re starting from Yunnan, which is soaked by monsoon rains from May to October, which is coincidentally also tea harvesting season.

I Think That’s Everything

Wow, that’s a lot of different kinds of tea. I didn’t even realize how many different kinds of tea came out of Yunnan when I started writing this article, or that they were such a hotbed of tea-innovation. One the one hand, maybe it’s to be expected from the birthplace of tea, but on the other hand, not bad for a place where you can’t put your basket of tea leaves down without it rolling off the side of the mountain.

Elizabeth, Teahouse Kuan Yin Staff