Nestled more than 2200m high in the mountains of the Fengqing region of Yunnan province is a small village by the name of Jin Xiou. But in spite of its small size, its reputation is quite large, for it is not far from here that in serene meadow, alone, grows the legendary Xiang Zhu Qing (香竹箐), “the Mother of All Teas,” watching over everything as if with a loving, maternal instinct.
Those who take retreat and pay homage are quick to report the feeling of awe and humility that overwhelms them when they lay eyes upon her for the first time.
This majestic tree towers in her field at more than 10m high (unusually tall by tea tree standards), her foliage engulfing the sun as you draw near, and her trunk boasts an impressive circumference that exceeds 5m, easily requiring seven or eight people to wrap their arms around her.
The Mother of All Teas was long revered for her sheer size, but it was only within the past 50 years that we really began to understand precisely who she is.
Beginning in 1982, Professor Wang Guangzhi, director of the Beijing Agricultural Museum, determined that the tree was more than 3,200 years old. Since then, other experts have weighed in and reached similar conclusions, such as Dr. Ye Chuangxin, a botanist at Sun Yat-sen University, and Dr. Lin Zhi of the Tea Research Institute.
If these estimations are correct, Xiang Zhu Qing has witnessed the rise and fall of numerous empires as well as some of our most crowning achievements, from Greek poetry and Chinese philosophy to Arab medicine, Song Dynasty engineering, and Renaissance art.
As far as we have been able to tell, Xiang Zhu Qing is the oldest tea tree in the world.
It is very rare for anyone to actually harvest tea leaves from this tree, and when they do, it is usually auctioned off for outrageous prices. For the most part, though, she serves as a symbol, a point of reference that stands tall and strong through the sea of change that we call life.
The Mother of All Teas acts a poignant reminder of the strength that adversity can bring, the wisdom that patience can instill, and the peace that waits to be cultivated from the silence. In a fast-paced world such as today, a world that changes quickly from year-to-year, even day-to-day, our Mother still has much to teach us if we are willing to listen.
Enjoy your tea.