The Mannong Manmai Ancient Tea Association was initially founded in October of 2004 to meet the requirements of USDA, EU and JAS organic certification programs and in February of 2007, the project became Fair Trade Certified. Mannong and Manmai Villages are located in one of the oldest tea cultivation zones in the world, the Hekai Tea Mountain. The main ethnic groups living in this area are Lahu and Hani. Hekai Tea Mountain is divided into Manmai Village and Mannong New Village and Mannong Old Village. These villages are among the oldest tea-producing areas in the entire world, and they contain Xishuangbanna’s best preserved, largest range of ancient tea gardens.
Although Mannong and Manmai Villages are rich in ancient tea culture and traditions, the area is very underdeveloped and poor. Many villagers do not receive educational or health care services. The Mannong Manmai Ancient Tea Association has used the funds generated by the sales of Fair Trade tea in the following ways.
- Before the Fair Trade funds were available to support the community, most of the water used for cooking, washing and drinking came from a muddy creek bed. Since 2008, 16 miles of main pipeline were developed to link a high mountain water spring with a system of tanks and pipes that serve fresh, clean water from the mountain spring to the villagers in Mannong and Manmai.
- Many families in Mannong and Manmai do not have enough money to send their kids to school or do not manage their tea revenues in a way that saves for their kid’s’ education. The Mannong Manmai Ancient Tea Association supports those families that want to send their kids to school with funds that cover tuition, room, and, board, and uniforms for elementary schools. Some children from Mannong-Manmai have passed college entrance exams and have received Fair Trade funds to go to college and universities.
- Mannong and Manmai were once very hard to access due to the poor road conditions. The villagers always had a hard time getting their teas to the market or going to the main town. Since 2008, many miles of road, including the worst parts of the old road, were hardened and improved to make transport of tea and goods easier for the villagers.
- The Lahu people of Mannong and Manmai are Buddhist/Animists that practice ancestor worship and health talisman. The local people have used Fair Trade funds to erect new temples in the villages.
- A central meeting and conference center was built, including an announcement PA system, so the village heads can communicate weekly reports deep into the villages. This allows them to inform families that otherwise wouldn’t leave their homes to go to the meeting center.
- Sewer systems do not exist in this area and hygienic conditions are very poor. Villagers used fair trade funds to build a men’s and women’s toilet on one of the main village paths.
- Villagers voted to use fair trade funds to build 2 new temples and a basketball court. While we were there, the land was just being graded and hardened for construction.
Hekai Tea Mountain belongs to the northern section of the famous Nannuo mountain chain in Xishuangbanna, China. It is located in Hekai Village of Menghun Town, in southeastern Menghai County, approximately 50km from the Menghai County center.
Elevation, Weather and tea tree information:
- Elevation of tea gardens: 4920-5905 feet above sea level
- Mountains cover 90% of its land area.
- Climate:sub-tropical and monsoonal with an abundance of rainfall.
- Average temperature: 64. 6°F
- Relative humidity: 82%
This mild, warm and moist climate provides superior natural conditions for growing tea trees, resulting in dense and rich tree growth. Mannong is a truly natural environment with an excellent tree canopy cover and a biologically diverse environment that is blessed with rich soil and an ecologically pristine tea garden landscape. There are no conventional, clear-cut tea farms in Mannong. The areas under our organic and fair trade certification are the true old-growth tea trees that exist within the forests and villages of Mannong and Manmai. Most of the tea trees are the Menghai “Da Ye” antique cultivar and other antique Da Yeh Arbor varietals, planted by ancient people more than 1,500 years ago. The average height of the tea trees is between 10–23 feet (3–7m). Today, nearly 1,650 acres of ancient tea gardens exist in the Mannong and Manmai tea growing area, which produce approximately 250,000 kg of high quality tea each year.
Rishi Tea founder and tea buyer, Joshua and local friend Zha Ge in Manmai Ancient Tea Village holding “Yunnan Da Ye” broad leaf tea varietals.
Lahu villager during spring harvest of ancient tree tea.