understanding bingdao

Bingdao, historically recorded as Biandao, is a word in language spoken by the local Dai minority group, meaning a village stockaded with bamboo fence. All Pre-1960s records documented the village name as Biandao, which was a better representation of the pronunciation. Bingdao literally means “icy island” in English, and frankly is often mistaken as Iceland by people who are not familiar with pu-erh.

Nowadays Bingdao is an administrative village known as Bingdao Cunweihui governed by the village committee of Bingdao. Bingdao Cunweihui governs 5 naturally formed villages – Bingdao Laozhai, Nanpo, Bawai, Nuowu and Dijie. A small river named Nanmeng runs through this region. Bawai and Nuowu locate on east-bank mountaintops and the other 3 sit on top of west-bank mountains. Difference in the plant orientation and soil components 0f mountains on both sides of Nanmeng River delivers distinct flavours of tea, even though they are just one river apart. It is necessary to differentiate which one of the 5 natural villages the tea is originated when selecting Bingdao pu-erh.

Bingdao is a place renowned in the Yunnan tea industry. Situated at 1400-2000 meters mountaintops, it is the one and only high altitude village occupied by Dai minority group in the Mengku town region.

When Hantingfa took his position as the new Tusi to govern the Mengmeng (Shuangjiang) county in 1480, Bingdao already existed as a village. New county chief Hantingfa sent Bingdao Dai tribes to Xishuangbanna and had the tea seeds brought back in 1485. The Dai people planted these tea seeds in Bingdao which establish the 500 year-old tea growing legacy.

Bingdao Laozhai used to be the private tea garden for the chief’s family. According to Dai elders of Bingdao Laozhai, no one was allowed to export Bingdao Laozhai’s tea seeds without chief’s permission; violators were punished by imprisonment. Possessing this pu-erh was considered a prestige. Bingdao Laozhai pu-erh was only shared amongst the higher ranks and was used as tribute and dowry to enhance relationships between the different tribes. In 1760 (the 25th year of Qianlong era in Qing dynasty), Mengmeng’s chief Hanzhuangfa united with Shunning’s chief by marrying his daughter to him. As part of his daughter’s grand dowry, Hanzhuangfa included several hundred kilograms of tea seeds from Bingdao Laozhai. This was recorded in Mengmeng chief’s family archives. This book of family archives was written in ancient Dai language and stored in the Yunnan Provincial Archives, only scholars proficient in Dai history are able to read and comprehend.

The large-leaved arbor tea trees in Bingdao are characterized by their broad, thick and supple leaves. Bingdao Laozhai pu-erh’s bitterness and astringency levels are extremely low and have pronounced honey-like flavour. Another unique characteristic of this tea is that it taste even sweeter when cooled, while most others would taste bitter. Pu-erh from Bingdao Laozhai is honoured as the “queen of pu-erh”.

Every year, only a total of approximately 1000 kg of ancient tree pu-erh is produced from Bingdao Laozhai. Due to its premium quality, rich history, high reputation and limited supply, pu-erh from Bingdao Laozhai had always been highly sought after. Almost all of Bingdao Laozhai pu-erh will be sold before the harvest even begins and you will be hard-pressed to find anyone willing to sell you pure, single estate pu-erh from there. This severe lack of supply and high profitability has created incentives for pu-erh from the other 4 nearby villages (Nanpo, Bawai, Nuowu and Dijie) or other tea mountains to be marketed as Bingdao Laozhai pu-erh. It is not uncommon to see many Bingdaos in the market selling for less than $100, but their authenticity and quality will be highly questionable. Therefore, it is important to get this tea from reliable and trustworthy sources. It is considered a privilege to own genuine single estate Bingdao Laozhai pu-erh, just like how wine collectors pride themselves on having a bottle of 1982 Château Lafite Rothschild.

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