Tea Map – Xishuangbanna, Yunnan



Xishuangbanna is a prefecture in Yunnan Province, China. The capital city is Jingjong, the largest settlement in the area and one that straddles the Mekong River (Lancang River in Chinese).  The six famous tea mountains region located in the prefecture produce some of the most highly regarded Pu-erh tea in the 20th century.

Xishuangbanna is also considered one of the most bio-diverse and ethnically rich areas of China.  It has a lot of natural areas, historical and cultural resources, and is noted for its folklore, rain forests, rare plants and wildlife. Its major tourist attractions include Menglun Tropical Botanical Garden, Manfeilong Pagodas (Tanuozhuanglong), Jingzhen Pavilion, Wild Elephant Gully, Dai people’s village at Ganlanba.

The well-known traditional festival is the ethnic Dai’s Water-Splashing Festival. It lasts for three days from April 13 to 15. Besides the water festival event it also consists of some other events such as Dragon boat races, firing of indigenous missiles, flying Kongming Lamps.

We have made several sourcing trips to this region over the years and have now established strong friendships with old growth tea forest communities.  This area is the heart of Puer teas.  All kinds of Puers – Sheng, Shou, Rounds cakes and bricks – can be found in this area.  Some of the most notable tea mountains Xishuangbanna include Banzhang, Nannuo, Ailao, Mansa, Bangwei and Mengsong.  It is also near the popular town on Menghai, known for its processing factories.

Tea Map – Anhui


Anhui province is located in eastern China across the basins of the Yangtze River and the Huai River. It borders Jiangsu to the east, Zhejiang to the southeast, Jiangxi to the south, Hubei to the southwest, Henan to the northwest, and Shandong for a tiny section in the north. The capital of the province is Hefei.
Anhui is famous for its Keemun black teas originating from Qimen county, its green tea from Huanshan Mountains, Taiping Hou Kui (Monkey King) and Mao Feng (Fur Peak) teas.

Tea Map – Hunan



Hunan is a province of South-Central China, located to the south of the middle reaches of the Yangtze River and south of Lake Dongting (hence the name Hunan, meaning “south of the lake”). Hunan is sometimes called “Xiang” for short, after the Xiang River which runs through the province.  It borders Hubei to the north, Jiangxi to the east, Guangdong to the south, Guangxi to the southwest, and Guizhou to the west. The capital is Changsha.

Hunan has a long history of tea production in China and is one of its largest producers. Some of the famous teas from Hunan are: Junshan Yinzhen (silver needles), Maojian, Dark black brick tea and Huang Ya (Yellow tea).  Famous tea areas in Hunan include:  Dongting Lake, Heng Mountain and Shao Mountain.  In sourcing teas from Hunan, our aim has been to find leaf that has exceptional down (a leaf characteristic that gives the brew a buttery texture).

Tea Map – Guangxi


Guangxi, is a province of southern China along the border with Vietnam. In 1958, it became the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region of the People’s Republic of China, a region with special privileges for the Zhuang people.

Guangxi’s location, in mountainous terrain in the far south of China, has placed it on the frontier of Chinese civilization throughout much of China’s history. The current name “Guang” means “expanse” and has been associated with the region since the creation of Guang Prefecture in AD 226. It was given provincial level status during the Yuan Dynasty, but even into the 20th century it was considered an open, wild territory.

Guangxi is considered the home for Chinese Jasmine.  Famous teas from Guangxi include: Liubao, Guiping Xishan Tea, Lingyun Baimao, Tantang Maojian, Bainiu, Guilin Maojian and Guihua (osmanthus blossom).

Tea Map – Jiangsu


Jiangsu province in China is located along the east coast of the country. The name Jiangsu is a contraction of two of its major cities: jiang, short for the city of Jiangning (now Nanjing), and su, for the city of Suzhou.  The city of Suzhou in Jiangsu has a special connection to the Tao of Tea teahouse in the Portland’s Chinese Garden.  Architects from Suzhou helped to design the garden, which is full of beautiful limestone rocks from Suzhou’s Lake Tai.

Jiangsu is known for its Purple Clayware teapots, also known as Yixing teapots, and for its Biluochun tea.  Biluochun — also called “jade spiral spring” — is a small leaf green tea that uses only the new leaf buds of the tea plant and is roasted in such a way that maintains the leaves’ white down fuzz.  Rather than pouring water directly onto the leaf, Biluochun is meant to be prepared by putting the leaf into boiled water and watching it spiral downward as it brews.  We are working on sourcing Bilouchun for next spring. See Bilouchun being pan roasted here: http://vimeo.com/90279633

Tea Map – Phoenix, Guandong


The Phoenix (Feng Huang) mountains in eastern Guangdong province are home to some of the most sought after teas in China — particularly of the oolong style, which in this region is made using a light, sideways rolling technique, rather than tight ball-rolling.  The Phoenix mountains are spread over a large area and the tea can vary significantly depending on elevation, age of the plant, and varietal.  There are at least ten different Phoenix tea plant varietals.  The region also produces other styles of tea besides oolong, such as red tea and puer.


The most prized teas in the region are those that grow at the highest elevation where plants thrive in the dewy mist that covers the mountainside.  One of the highest mountains in the region is Wudang, which is said to have some of the oldest tea plants.  The area is somewhat barricaded and difficult to access.  Family caretakers look after the ancient plants.  There are many tea farms in the surrounding areas that are more accessible and still of great quality.  Locals to this region will tell you that tea originated in the Phoenix Mountains before being brought to Fujian (of course, those in Fujian claim that their home is the origin of tea in China).

Tea Map – Wuyishan



The Wuyi Mountains are a mountain range located in the prefecture of Nanping in the Fujian province near the border with Jiangxi province.  The mountains cover an area of 60 km². In 1999, Mount Wuyi entered a list of World Heritage Sites, both natural and cultural. It is a biodiversity conservation zone of Southeast China.


Tao of Tea has a relationship with a 2nd generation tea grower on Tong Mu Mountain in Wuyishan which began in 2006.  This craftsman, named Haong, runs a small, clean operation, which he inherited from his father, and is working toward improving agricultural standards in his area.  He is also well-connected with other farmers in the region, and therefore has been able to access rare teas for us from time to time.


Tong Mu is famous for its Lapsong Souchong smoked black tea.  It is also known for Jin Jun Mei, a delicious small leaf red tea with golden tips.  It is important to seek a reliable source for Jin Jun Mei, as there are many counterfeit teas on the market.

Tea Map – Zhejiang



Zhejiang is an eastern coastal province of China. Zhejiang means crooked river and was the old name of the Qiantang River, which passes through the provincial capital, Hangzhou. Zhejiang borders Jiangsu province and Shanghai municipality to the north, Anhui province to the northwest, Jiangxi province to the west, and Fujian province to the south; to the east is the East China Sea.


Zhejiang Province is the largest producer of green tea in the world.  It is famous for its gunpowder tea — a tea that is tightly and uniformly rolled and is sometimes mixed with other herbs such as Moroccan and Russian mint, and served both hot and iced.  Zhejiang is also home to one of the most famous green teas in China: Long Jing, or Dragonwell.  Leaves are hand roasted in woks and, with careful movements of the pan, leaves develop a flat, shiny, jade colored appearance.

Tea Map – China



China is often considered to be the origin of tea.  Camellia Sinensis trees are native to the country and the Chinese have been cultivating the plant for thousands of years.  Legend says that tea was first discovered by the Emporer Shennong in 2737 BCE when a leaf from a tree overhead fell into a pot of boiling water.  This long history of cultivating tea has allowed Chinese craftsmanship to become highly sophisticated over time.  There are a great many teas coming out of China — white, green, oolong, black (red), and puer — and each region has specialized production methods.


We source our teas from the provinces of Zhejiang, Jiangsu, Guangxi, Hunan, Anhui, Yunnan and Fujian; also from the famous mountain regions and communities of Wuyishan, Phoenix, Jingmai, Cangyuan, Xishuangbanna, Zhenghe, Anxi and Ningde.


Tea Map – Mirik



The town of Mirik (meaning “place burnt by fire”) is nestled in the foothills of the Himalayas, not far from the major growing region of Darjeeling and also in close proximity to Nepal.  Mirik has a number of tea gardens that use the “China-Jaat” varietal of tea plant, which is highly sought after by many tea merchants.  It differs from the big-leaf Camellia Assamica varietal of other Indian regions by being more flowery in aroma.

Tea Map – Coonoor



Coonoor is one of the four main towns/hill stations in the Nilgiri mountain region in the South Indian state of Tamil Nadu, India.  Coonoor is located at an altitude of 1,800 m above sea level and is an ideal base for a number of trekking expeditions leading into the Nilgiris.
There are several different types of teas produced in this community: greens, blacks, and CTC teas (Cut, Tear, Curl), which are known for their quick, dark brew and are frequently used in chai.

Tea Map – Nilgiri



The Nilgiris are a mountain range in Southern India in the the state of Tamil, Nadu and Kerala.  Nilgiri means “blue hills,” referring to a blue flower called Kurunji that blossoms once every 12 years and covers the hillsides.


Nilgiri is a prominent tea producing region for India.  While Indian tea was first produced in the Assam region, the Nilgiri area was the second growing region in the country.  In 1827, British government officials began using the Nilgiri town of Ooty as their summer vacation spot during the occupation of India.  It was at this time that they decided to create a tea plantation in the nearby hills of Thaishola.  Oddly enough, it was Chinese prisoners of war, displaced and being held in Southern India after the Opium wars, who are said to have originally planted and manufactured the tea there.


The Nilgiri region is extremely lush.  Its high elevation (some of the hills are 6,000 ft), cool climate and consistent mist and rain create an ideal environment for tea growing.  Some of the best Nilgiri teas grow in the winter season.  At this time of year when the temperature drops, the sap becomes concentrated in the leaf, creating a sweet, fruity flavor–the “Nilgiri character.”  We work with a supplier named Indi Khanna, who brings us a lovely winter tea called Neela, which is a black tea with floral and citrus notes.

Tea map – Assam



Tea, or Camellia sinensis, is widely known to be native to China.  It is perhaps slightly lesser known that the plant grows natively in the Assam region of Northeast India as well.


Robert Bruce, an official of the British Empire, is often credited with the discovery of Assam’s wild growing tea in 1823, and for publicizing the existence of the plant.  Indeed it was the British who occupied India in the 19th century that spearheaded tea-growing ventures in the region, planting gardens of tea and using seeds from the assamica varietal.  However, native populations, and particularly the Singpow tribes in Upper Assam are known to have made use of the tea plants long before British involvement.


To this day, Assam remains one of the largest tea growing regions in the world.  The region is subdivided into Upper and Lower Assam, with the Brahmaputra River serving as the dividing line.


The region is primarily known for its black tea.  A small percentage is made with hand-made, orthodox methods.  A much larger portion of the tea is made with the Cut, Tear and Curl (CTC) processing method, which produces small round balls of black tea that infuse quickly and are often used in chai blends.

Tea Map – Darjeeling



Darjeeling is a renown tea growing region located in Northeastern India in the foothills of the Himalayan Mountains.  It is home to around 86 estates, all planted along the region’s steep sloping hills at an elevation of around 6000 ft.


Over the years, tea from the region has become extremely sought after and the estates of Darjeeling have been bought up by a few primary families and some corporations.  The popularity of the tea is due in part to its complex, sweet and fruity flavor that resembles that of a white muscat grape.  Darjeeling primarily produces black teas.  These teas have a pleasant brew that is neither too light nor too heavy.  Another positive quality of Darjeeling tea is that most, if not all, is produced using orthodox (handmade) methods.


Consumers should be careful to go through trusted vendors when buying Darjeeling so to avoid imitations.  Darjeeling produces about 10 million kilograms of tea per annum, and yet around 30 million kilograms of tea is sold worldwide every year and marketed as Darjeeling.  Much of the counterfeit tea comes from outlying regions such as Nepal or the Kangra region of India.
Some reputable Darjeeling Gardens include Goomtee, Okayti, Ambootia, Gopaldhara, Jungpana, Margaret’s Hope, Castelton, Makaibari, Singell, Samabeong, and Selimbong.

Tea Map – India




India has several prominent tea growing regions, each with their own special quality and character.  In the northeast, we source teas from the regions of Assam and Darjeeling and the hillside communities of Mirik and Kurseong.  In the south, we have relationships with farmers in Nilgiri and Coonoor.


India is one of the largest tea producers in the world.  Tens of millions of people make their livelihood from the tea industry and more than 70% of Indian tea never crosses the border and is consumed within the country itself.


While tea is a vital part of India’s culture and economy, the country has been manufacturing the product for less than 200 years — relatively recent by comparison to China.  Though native populations likely used tea leaves for centuries, it was the 1830s when India began producing tea commercially.  This history is complex and involves British imperialism and trade.


The British East India Company was in the tea-trading business and for many years had a monopoly on all trading with China.  When they lost this monopoly in 1833, they were suddenly motivated to find a new source of tea.  At that time, the British occupied parts of Northern India and over the years had become aware that the climate was suitable — perhaps ideal — for tea production.


The British government then took on a huge initiative to plant tea gardens in the Assam region.  Though tea grows natively in Assam, originally the British brought tea seeds (and tea growers) from China.  When seeds from China struggled to grow, they began using seeds from the native plants, which fared better.  The first tea was ready for market by 1838 and was received extremely well by tea drinkers in London.  From there, the industry continued to grow and develop into what it is today.


India is most famous for its classic black teas from regions like Assam, the Nilgiris, Darjeeling, Doars and Palampur.  Each region has its own distinct tea plant varietals, a rich history and notable tea growers. India is also famous for its chai, tulsi (holy basil) and fragrant spices.  Recent inspirations have led tea growers to develop new styles of tea processing in addition to black tea.


A large portion of Indian tea is produced as the Cut, Tear and Curl (CTC) grade which goes into classic style tea bags, iced teas and chai blends.  A much smaller portion is made using an “orthodox” style of manufacture, wherein at least some of the steps include hand processing.