While most tea plants are cultivated on a farm, usually shrubs planted in neat rows for efficient harvesting, there are wild tea plants that grow naturally without human cultivation.
Most of these are indigenous to the forests of Yunnan, China, said to be the birthplace of tea where the oldest tea trees are found. Yes, tea trees! When the Camellia sinensis plant is left to grow for centuries, it becomes a tree, and tea pickers have to climb up these trees to harvest the new leaves sprouting at the top.
What is wild tea?
Tea plants are called 'wild' when a) they are indigenous and grow without any human intervention; b) they grow in biodiverse forests, with some cultivation; c) they are cultivated on a farm but are allowed to grow without heavy pruning.
Wild indigenous tea plants are highly sought after because they give unique and more complex flavours (thanks to the biodiverse environment that enriches the soil) and because their yield is limited and unpredictable.
We source several types of wild tea:
One of the most beguiling teas we've come across, these curious-looking buds (芽苞) appear to be the buds of offshoot branches, rather than tea leaves. They are harvested only once a year in spring from wild tea trees indigenous to Jinggu in Yunnan, that are approximately 300 to 500 years old. These trees are technically a close relative of the Camellia sinensis family, and have a natural purplish tint to their leaves.
The buds are minimally processed (picked, withered and sundried) to show off their natually inherent aroma, and are said to contain less caffeine than most teas. When brewed, they exhibit a fascinating candy-sweet aroma with hints of spicy ginger.
An exciting find for us, this white tea is harvested from trees that grow in biodiverse forests in Fuding, Fujian, free from pesticides and human intervention.
The leaves are processed with great care to conserve as much of their natural character as possible, and are gently spread out on bamboo mats to wither and slowly dry in the shade for several days.
Each 'broom' is made of a variety of leaves, from tiny furry buds to large mature leaves. As white teas are graded according to the type of leaf they're made of (bud-only tea being the highest grade), these brooms are like all grades of white tea combined into one!
They have a deep, woodsy flavour with a tinge of honey-like sweetness. Think of them as a wild version of a teabag—simply pop them into your mug with some hot water, wait a few minutes and enjoy! They're good for the office, too, since they don't get bitter when over-brewed.
This rare black tea is harvested from wild 300-year-old tea trees that grow indigenously at high altitudes in Lincang, Yunnan. "Gushu" means "ancient tree" and refers to any tea tree that is more than 200 years old.
Wild Gushu Black Tea is harvested only once a year in spring in very small batches and is always sold out within the year. Every harvest produces slightly different flavour, due to the untamed nature of the trees. We find the flavour deep, malty and fruity with distinctive notes of plum.
This tea was developed as part of a recent trend of making black teas from large-leaf assamica cultivars in Yunnan —traditionally reserved for Puerh tea—generating some very interesting flavours.
Which wild teas have you tried?
If you're keen to try rare teas like these, you're welcome to join our teaCLUB. We send you a selection of exclusive teas, curated for an interesting tasting experience, every month. You also get a free Tea Tasting Journal when you subscribe, so you can record your favourite teas along the way.
For June 2022, we are comparing three types of wild tea buds from Yunnan: the purple leaf variety described above, plus two other varieties exclusively available to teaCLUB members only: a green and a black tea.
Our teaCLUB subscription is only HK$198 a month, and you can cancel anytime.