Ban Zhang – A “New” Kind of Pu-erh Tea
Big Leaf Tea from an Ancient Hidden Forest
In 2015 I was in Yunnan province in China buying new teas for The Chinese Tea Shop. On a visit to a Pu-erh tea factory I was given a tasting of a wonderful Lao Ban Zhang (Raw/Green) tea. This was a very lucky day as it is quite rare to find this kind of Pu-erh tea. I have wanted to buy Ban Zhang tea for ten years but could not be sure of the quality until now.
For those who have tasted Lao Ban Zhang, their first experience is often overwhelming. This tea has a very unique bitter-and-sweet taste and the “cha chi” (tea energy) is very strong, but leaves a balanced and long lasting sensation in the mouth and throat. The distinct bitter taste dissolves within seconds and turns into a sweet after-taste or “hui gan”. Another special characteristic is its mild sweetness that becomes more and more apparent after multiple infusions.
There are a few types of Ban Zhang teas on the market.
- The best quality is from Lao Ban Zhang village. The plantation is in an ancient forest which is not easily accessible by outsiders so this Pu-erh tea was largely unknown until 2008. The rarest teas are made from 100% Lao Ban Zhang leaves and are not blended with any other types of leaves. Today this tea is regarded by connoisseurs as among the very best of Pu-erh teas.
- More common are leaves grown in nearby villages such as Xing Ban Zhan and Lao Man Erh. These are often blended with leaves from other parts of Bu Lang Mountain. The appearance, flavour, energy, long lasting “hui gan”, special aroma and other unique qualities is similar to Lao Ban Zhang.
Because of the growing demand and rising prices, many fake Ban Zhang teas have come on the market which have no Ban Zhang leaves whatsoever. If your Ban Zhang tea has a bitter taste that does not go away quickly, it may be an indication that the tea is “tai de cha” (mixed with bush tea).
What constitutes the best Ban Zhang and how it is different from other Pu-Erh teas is still very much a fascination to many tea drinkers. This is due in large part to its scarcity on the market because the best ones are kept by collectors who appreciate this tea and know its true value.
I have brought back limited quantities of two Ban Zhang teas. One is the Organic Xing Ban Zhang Tea Cake from Import/Export Corporation (CNNP) and is a good quality and reasonably priced. The other is the 100% Lao Ban Zhang Collector Edition Tea Cake I found at the tea factory I mentioned above. This tea was a special order by a private collector who requested young tips and large leaves in the recipe which gives the tea a delightful sweet and intense taste. I was able to purchase some of these cakes from the factory who had kept some extras for their own collection. The Collector Edition comes with a beautiful wrapper and calligraphy and is more expensive but a must for Pu-erh tea connoisseurs.