fake puer tea

Food Fraud and Fake Tea

Thanks to a blog post from the NPR blog, The Salt, I recently discovered this Food Fraud Database.

The long list of fraudulent and dangerous food additives is daunting. Not that we needed evidence of mankind’s thirst for increasing profits at the expense of consumer welfare. No doubt our leaves are also victim to the trend.

A search for ‘tea’ returns around 20 results of bad additives and trickery; colored saw dust, Prussian blue, and copper salts. Prussian blue?! That is a lovely pigment, but I wouldn’t want to find it in the bottom of my cup. The next time you encounter a particularly blue-ish black tea, you might want to call a doctor.

In addition to these, there are also several results for teas of wrong “botanical origin”, that is, ‘tea’ that is not tea at all.

fake puerh tea
A tea I once had that was made with pressed red tea and presented as puer

Fake Tea

The research that snared my interest above the rest was the  “tea of non-authentic geographic origin” test. Any puer lover, or tea lover of any kind for that matter, ought to know this is a common form of tea fraud.  The scientists seem to have studied the origin by:

Classifying the variety, production area and season of Taiwan partially fermented tea by near infrared spectroscopy

Where would one acquire such a machine? How wonderful it would be to save time drinking fraudulently labeled puer. Zapping leaves and knowing their region, variety, and maybe even date? Swoon.

Puer fakes are everywhere. From my recently mentioned worst Bingdao fake in history, to some really convincing 80’s Xiaguan bricks I plan to mention in a future article. I am really yearning for a magic tea lasergun.

Is this Laobanzhang? Zap. Nope.

Is this Taiwan Oolong?  Zap. Nope.

Where can i buy this mystical machine?

Maybe my fantasy is romanticizing the accuracy of such a device, but it is still nice to dream. Given that these tests were conducted by trained scientists with fancy labs,  we common folk will probably need to wait until their is an infrared spectroscopy function and app for our iPhone 79s.

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Huang Pianr

Huangpian, Tea for Bedtime

Huangpian Gets No Respect

Somewhere along the line, huangpian [the huge, yellow/gold leaves in some puer blends] got a bad rap for being ugly. In most Chinese markets, consumers will pay a premium for buds, or two leaves and a bud. Maybe it is carry over from enthusiasts of other teas? Maybe most people find them aesthetically displeasing? Maybe people hate (or think they hate) the flavors of the big leaf? Whatever the reason, it is a modern aesthetic. Traditionally, the huangpian, also called jintiao [golden strands] in the past, were left in when processing cakes. Even the shift in nomenclature from huangpian to jintiao suggests a widespread lowering of its status.

Huangpian
Dried huangpian from Guafengzhai

However, this shift is actually good news for people like me who enjoy huangpian for a few reasons:

  1. I can buy huangpian that other people pick out of their puer for a discount
  2. When you tell farmers you want to keep some huangpian in your blend, they love you because it increases their tea weight and lightens the work load
  3. You can feel superior to the whiny princesses out there who want perfect, pretty tea. Toughen up, Sally.
Huangpian Puer
A picture of a Huangpian only cake from 2009

Some people’s love of huangpian is so deep they don’t drink anything else. The above cake was that I got from a farmer in Guafengzhai who said he drinks majority huangpian from fall. He told me that he prefers them because they are not as fussy, and he pressed the cake above to give to friends who visit. Admittedly, this is more cost effective than gifting high grade gushu [old arbor tea]. But, I appreciate the gift. Gushu huangpian is in my tea rotation.

There is a litany of other reasons why huangpian are great, but this artcle is going to focus on just one; it is perfect for drinking before bed.

 

Huangpian: Lower Caffeine, Better Dreams

 

Huangpian have naturally lower caffeine than the leaves which are higher on the stalk. I learned this just from trial and error. You brew a pot of huangpian and steep it 5 times and there isn’t a caffeine kick like a fresh green tea or other young puer tea. Luckily, someone out there actually did scientific testing to back up my casual observations (Thank you, Elmwood Inn):

Nigel Melican’s caffeine percentage findings are:

Bud-6.3%

First leaf-4.6%

Second leaf- 3.6%

Third leaf-3.1%

Fourth leaf-2.7%

Leaf stalk-2.0%

Two leaves and a bud-4.2%

Stealing Mr.Nigel Melican’s data, we can see that there is a steady decline in caffeine content as you go down the stem. Reason enough to keep a pot of huangpian near the bed stand.

Huang Pian Puerh
Huangpian tea, ready to chug out of an old teabowl that lost its lid

The other important fact to take away from his study is that the amount of caffeine that remains in the leaves decreases as you steep. If you are particularly sensitive to caffeine, you could brew and toss the first few steeps and get an even lower caffeine intake.

Huangpian puer tea
Huangpian puer soup

The other obvious solution for the caffeine sensitive tea drinker is just drinking caffeine free herbals or warm goat’s milk, but if you have read this far in the article, you are probably a puer addict anyway. Herbal? Come on. Who are you trying to kid?

For me, it is a matter of mood. I do drink herbal teas. Fresh mint or licorice root are favorites on mine at night. But, sometimes I need that depth. A huigan [sweet aftertaste] or kuwei [bitterness] or a mineral feel in the mouth. And my trusty ol’  huangpian are there to rescue me.

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Bingdao Tea Puerh Blog

Fake Puer Tea Without Any Effort, 2006 Bingdao Tuo

Fake Tea Quickie

Once in awhile there is a sample that makes you throw up your hands and say, “Come on! You aren’t even trying!”

This “Bingdao” tea is to Bingdao what baking soda volcanoes are to science fairs. A last minute frantic attempt to salvage poor quality work and a lack of understanding of the assignment.

Well, here we are Jimmy. Let’s take a look at this fascinating study of Mt. Vesuvius, before we throw this in the trash and send you to remedial science with a  purple Participant! ribbon.

On the rinse, things are still a bit tight, nothing really happens. A quick note to anyone unfamiliar with Bingdao, it is an area that has the honor of being amongst the most expensive of all puer regions. I have had real bingdao only a handful of times, and over 95% of what is labeled as Bingdao is not Bingdao – similar to Laobanzhang in volume of fakery. Buyer beware.

Bingdao Puer tea
Dry “Bingdao” tea
Bingdao Puerh
Is that a human hair on the upper right? Super.

Then on steep one, BAM! A baking soda explosion of foam, er, uh… fragrance. But not subtle fragrance. More of an uppercut to the jaw . The smell is of sweet fruit and is chemical in nature. Kind of like the strawberry flavor of Nesquick, which tastes nothing at all like an actual strawberry, but everything like the vague idea of fruit that is imagined in a far away laboratory. This artificial smell fills the room like an old ladies perfume, reducing my interest in this session from a 7 to a 1.

Nesquik_Bingdao
That rabbit is a neat mascot

By the way, no offense intended towards Nesquik and their corporate overlords. I’d rather drink their crappy* product than this tea.

I gave up around steep 4. Here are pics for anyone who cares about the soup and leaves. I won’t waste your time describing the thin liquid that was left when the perfume was gone. Enough of this Bingdao impostor, to the garbage with thee.

tea cups and tea tray
Soup.
leaves of tea
Leaves. Man was this stuff toxic.

Let’s not end a post on such disgusting tea. Has any else been listening to the new Sly & he Family Stone box set Higher! ? Or how about that Breaking Bad finale? Let’s talk about anything but this tea.

*some offense intended

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