What is Teng Tiao Cha (“Rattan” or “Vine” Tea), and What Makes It So U – Meimei Fine Teas

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What is Teng Tiao Cha (“Rattan” or “Vine” Tea), and What Makes It So Unique? 

What is Teng Tiao Cha (“Rattan” or “Vine” Tea), and What Makes It So Unique? 

Last week, we introduced you to Mengku pu’erh, discussing the important characteristics typical of Mengku teas. There is, however, an outlier to this group, a puerh so unique that it deserves its own category. This tea is teng tiao cha or “vine tea” (藤條茶).

Tucked away in the eastern mountain range of the Bing Dao area is a village known as Ba Nuo (壩糯), and it is here that you will find some of the highest elevations in all of Yunnan province, peaks exceeding more than 2,000m in some places. It is also the birthplace of teng tiao cha.

Teng Tiao Cha Ba Nuo Sheng puerh tea Mengku

The higher altitudes in this area affect the growth of the tea trees in a rather unique way. Because the tea leaves are exposed to colder temperatures than usual, they take a longer time to develop, grow, and mature.

This colder climate means that the overall yield of tea leaves will be lower (and thus more expensive), but this also adds something extra to the tea itself: complexity. By growing in these colder climates, the leaves develop more depth of flavor, more interesting aromatic profiles.

But the cold alone isn’t what makes a vine tea a vine tea. Rather, it is the unusual plucking techniques of the locals, a technique that originated in Ba Nuo village and has since spread to a few other areas.

Banuo Sheng puerh tea Mengku Yunnan

When harvesting the tea leaves from the trees, the locals will pick all of the leaves from the branch, sparing only those leaves at the end. This method forces the branches to grow longer and lower to the ground, twisting and distorting in myriad, serpentine ways, almost appearing vine-like (hence the name “vine tea”). To encourage this growth, they also carefully inspect any new shoots, removing those that don’t belong.

  Banuo sheng puerh tea Mengku Bingdao

Between the unique appearance of these tea trees and the colder climate, the tea leaves tend to grow much thicker, making for an incredibly rich and robust flavor profile with a creamy texture, featuring notes of stonefruit and flowers with a honey-like sweetness. It’s a tea that is as exciting as it is exotic. 

But its exotic nature does not end with its intoxicating, fruity aroma and intriguing flavors. On the contrary, what makes teng tiao tea especially rewarding is a special sensation known as hou yun or “throat charm” (厚韵). Closely related to hui gan (回甘), hou yun is a special kind of lingering aftertaste, one that begins in and permeates the throat with a vapor-like effect. It then rises up through the nose, awakening the sinuses. It is almost like a special kind of breath.

In spite of our attempts to describe it as best as we can, it never quite feels satisfactory associating words and phrases with hou yun, as it always feels like one isn’t describing it well enough. This might be why experienced tea drinkers often resort to, “You’ll know it when you feel it.”

And of all the teas that possess that hou yun quality, there is none better that exemplifies it than teng tiao pu’erh. It is a one-of-a-kind tea that affords a one-of-a-kind experience.

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