Strong Personalities, Big Tea Stories
Yunnan attracts a lot of strong personalities in the Spring. Self proclaimed tea masters and tea experts. Rich bosses seeking to purchase the best tea, or at least something to pass off as the best in hopes of gaining face amongst their rich pals. Old school puer drinkers and adventurer types who are quick to decry anything as inauthentic or not up to their impossibly high standards. In the last month and a half I have witnessed three intense verbals altercations around the tea tray, one of which was teetering on the cliff of fisticuffs. Take two big fish and put them in the same small pond and there will be a ruckus. Or in this case two grown men boasting in a way that would make Muhammad Ali blush.
“When I came to Yunnan in XXXX year, nobody had ever heard of XXXX mountain. I paved the road to that village with my own two hands.”
“I used to be the police commissioner of XXXX and all the people in XXXX village give me the best tea. They all call me Old Uncle XXXX.”
“My warehouse has XXXX tons of [insert famous region]’s puer tea. I had to sell all of my none old arbor tea because I didn’t have room for anymore old arbor puer.”
Of the above three quotes, two are real and one is fake. It doesn’t matter which is which. The quotes simply illustrate the mindsets of some of the people who descend on Yunnan each year when the new growth arrives. Which archetype am i? After listening to the unabashed bragging of these ass-hats, I probably fit into the annoyed foreigner archetype.
Numbers Don’t Add Up
The events that inspired this post were all happenstance. I kept running into one loud mouth tea god after another, until something very funny happened. The claims of 3 separate people that I encountered exceeded the yearly production of a mountain. “Aha!”, I thought to myself. “One of these braggarts is not telling the truth!” Not that I ever had a bet placed on the truthiness of their bragging, but now I had proof at least one of their mouths had written a check that the puer gods wouldn’t cash.
Naka mountain has a very limited amount of gushu [old arbor] trees. I do not have an exact number, but the average of several people I consulted was about 2 tons of Spring gushu puer tea. (Some guessed as little a few hundred kilograms)
Amongst the three boasting tea bosses, their total purchase amount of Naka Spring old arbor tea? Five tons. The stories were as follows:
“I know some of the Lahu people there and they set me up with two tons of gushu.”
“I have been purchasing from Naka since 2004 and they sell to me every year. I get the best two tons they have.”
“I buy [insert ridiculously unbelievable purchase figures from several other mountains here] and also one ton of Naka gushu.”
No worries guys, only two and a half times what the trees can bear!
The saddest part of this tale is not that these fellows are filthy liars. Nor is it that one, two, or all three of them are coming here and purchasing fake or mixed tea by the ton. The saddest part of this story is that these are only three random people who i encountered. There are surely another 100 tea bosses out there buying up fake Naka, both wittingly and unwittingly. The fact that I happened to bump into three such personalities, all laying claim to the same territory, is a window into the greater problem of the current puer market. But, that is a topic for another day.
Morals of the Tea Story
As far as I can see, there are two big takeaways from the above anecdote.
1) For every “famous” tea mountain, there is a very large demand for the old arbor tea and a very limited supply. This results in a lot of fake tea. If a village becomes popular there is an influx of low quality tea, both fresh leaves and processed, which is then sold as the genuine article. Consumers are the loser in this battle. If a boss coming to the village in Spring and leaves with fake tea, what chance does the average tea drinker have to get anything real?
2) The 3 huge egos in my story each have their own wholesale stores and tea houses. They will be disseminating their false information and false teas to hundreds of people in China. Their customers will assume that Master so and so is telling the truth, and the vicious cycle of misinformation will continue.
Which leads to the moral of the story; Don’t believe everything you hear at the tea table, or on tea blogs, or any outside information on tea. Be a tea Buddhist. Question everything you hear and discover the truth on your own. Discard labels. Ignore origins. Close your ears and eyes to the marketing and the noise. Listen to your mouth. Listen to your body. Listen to your own gut. Research and be open.
Come to think of it, you shouldn’t even believe this post. After all, it is just a tea story.