Spring 2015 Puer Tea

Reflections on Spring 2015 Puer Tea

Early Rain in Spring 2015

This year, the rains came early to Yunnan and it had a strong effect on the Puer tea in every region. I had to work harder this year than in previous years in terms of tea tasting. Teas from some areas, and farmers that I have worked with in previous years, seemed to be lacking. After two months in Yunnan, I could still keep pressing on further to sample and find better teas. Perhaps there is always a better tea? At least my stomach was thankful we were taking a break from fresh tea.

Rain in Menghai
Spring rain in Xishuangbanna, 2015

In many areas, the tea budded and was picked later than in 2014, particularly the old arbor Puer trees. For reference, spring Puer tea is ready to be plucked at different times depending on the age of the trees, amongst other factors. As a general rule, older trees bud much later than smaller bushes. We even heard of some old arbor trees in Laobanzhang that still hadn’t been picked by mid-April. At the absolute earliest, small bushes are ready to be plucked by late February. For old arbor trees, the earliest I have ever seen or heard of spring tea being ready is mid-March. Example, this year our spring old arbor Yiwu tea was plucked on April 5th. Anything else listed as spring that was picked pre-March is either not spring, not old arbor, or both. Just a fact we thought might be worth clearing up…*cough*…

We have already pressed some of our spring teas, and some of the ripe teas are still being pressed this week. We look forward to the second Spring harvest this year; there might be some really excellent teas, but it is totally weather dependent. I’ll be going through samples in late May to see what is out there.

Fluctuating Puer Tea Prices

The prices in the Spring of 2015 were unpredictable. Generally speaking, areas with lesser fame had a slight reduction in their old arbor Puer prices. Areas with major fame, such as Laobanzhang, maintained stable prices. Producers with high quality tea sold out early, and those with lesser quality tea still have plenty of stock as of the writing of this article.

As a trend, this is good news for the consumer. It indicates that high quality tea will drive the market. In past years when the Puer market was booming, all of the tea was swallowed up by speculation. Good and bad, old arbor and young tree. When the thirst for Puer tea is so strong that even low quality tea from young trees is purchased with fervor, it does a disservice to the market. Quality is disregarded in favor of quantity and the tea that hits the market is both low quality and overpriced. This year the trend reversed slightly, with quality being a driving factor. Hopefully this trend will continue as it forces producers to focus on making the best tea they can, rather than sheer volume. As I have mentioned in the past, I believe the long-term bubbles in the Puer market will collapse for low-quality, overproduced material, whereas high-quality tea will always hold (most of) its value. If you are new to Puer tea, think of it as a real estate market. When a real estate bubble bursts, downtown Manhattan still has a market, but far flung suburbs might see a drastic price drop. Regardless of the market, there will always be a wealthy group of people who want to live on 5th Ave and drink old arbor Yiwu.

Xigui Puer
Xigui Spring Puer Tea, 2015

As always there are exceptions to the rule, with some regions rising in price in spring 2015 rather than stabilizing or declining. Most notably Xigui’s prices rose from the previous spring. I spent a week in the area and visiting Xigui early in the spring. I personally think the price hike is justified. All prices equal, I would prefer Xigui over Bingdao. And considering the major price gap between the two, it does not seem odd that Xigui prices would increase. The increased market demand for limited, high quality material will always drive two things: higher prices and a deluge of fake tea. So, if you want to start buying fresh Xigui now, proceed with caution.

What to Buy and What to Avoid

As usual, my recommendation for consumers looking to purchase Spring tea is to avoid the hype and famous names. There is plenty of quality tea to be had in any given price range and not much reason to chase villages with overly inflated prices. If this sounds like generic advice, it is. It’s less generic when you consider that I practice what I preach. As it happens, I really enjoy Xigui tea, but I didn’t buy any this Spring, not even for my personal drinking. I did purchase some to drink in the previous years for my own collection. Long time followers of my blog will know I have had a penchant for Guafengzhai for quite some time. These last two years, their village has been so woefully full of fake tea and the prices so high, I didn’t purchase old arbor tea from them either.

Large Puer Tree
Puer Tree in Xishuangbanna, 2015

This year, I will also be making a move towards intentionally not labeling specific village names and misleading tree ages. I want to re-focus on the tea, providing broad guidelines like “this tea has strong bitterness and is from Menghai area” rather than “Laoman’e village pure ancient tree!”  Labels are so blatantly misused that they have become meaningless. Every website seems to have ancient tree tea from villages that ostensibly only have a precious few hundred kilograms of gushu in a season. Not to mention the conspicuous ages of the trees – did they measure the age of each tree? And…how? There seem to be a lot more 300 year old trees in the market than I’ve seen with my own eyes in the tea mountains.  Rather than continue with the name dropping and inflated age hype, I think it is better to focus on the tea itself. If you avoid the hype, your wallet and mouth with thank you.

With that being said, the final word is to follow your own tastes and your own budget. Buy what you like and can afford. And most of all, enjoy drinking the new 2015 Spring tea.

 

P.S. Follow our instagram. We will be having a tea giveaway with our 500th post.

  • Mihu Gong

    Hi,
    thank you for this detailed article. Seems good that the market craze isn’t escalating anymore this year. David vom EoT posted an article a couple of days ago, he was quite disappointed that it seems more and more to find pesticide-free tee anymore. I’d love to read what you think about that subject.

    • TwoDog2

      To me, the article seemed geared towards frightening people about pesticides and portraying EOT as a crusader with a zero tolerance policy for pesticides, rather than offering thoughtful discussion.

      There are trace chemicals in everything. Our grains. Our water supply. Our organic vegetables. Is it an ideal situation? No. Is it the modern reality we live in? Yes.

      He tested a small sample of tea and it was well within the EU standards, which are considered to be healthy and strict by most people. If less than 0.03mg per kg were a truly dangerous amount, they would not have set the allowable amount at 0.5mg. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want to chug a bottle of roach killer anymore than the next person, but we are talking about an extremely minimal trace residue. The reality is that these kinds of trace chemicals are commonplace in the modern world.

      Maybe for some people even 0.00001mg of residue is too much, in which case I wish them the best of luck farming a small plot of land in rural Siberia. For the rest of us, it does not seem like something to be devastated(!!!) about when your tea is well within the legal standards of health and safety.

      • Mihu Gong

        thanks for the quick reply.. its always good to get another opinion. Like so often with food, its difficult to know what to make of the whole thing.

        • TwoDog2

          No problem. There are many different opinions out there, hope that you can add mine to the pile and sort out what works best for you.

      • Ian

        I had similar thoughts related to this post: 1. There is no such thing as completely avoiding contaminants/toxic shit in the modern world, and if you really try you’ll probably end up like Julianne Moore in “Safe.” If you’re being at all mindful about what you’re consuming just on a quality level, you’re probably better off than most people anyways.
        And this leads into 2. The proof is in the pudding, and if the tea is good quality, I would bet it’s most likely from a decent environment and was produced by people who care. It’s impossible to make great tea (or any agricultural product) in an environment that’s overly compromised, or by using too many chemical “shortcuts.”
        3. It sucks that David found tea he liked and thought was clean only to realize it had trace chemicals and was no longer worthy of full enjoyment. While I do appreciate his transparency and diligence, it kind of brings up the point of not *wanting* to know. If the tea is good and falls in the “safe” zone, I really don’t want to know about how it contains traces of this or that just like I don’t want to think about the touch of lead or prescription drugs in my water or exactly which pollutants I’m currently breathing. Of course I’d rather buy tea that’s as clean as possible, we all would, but complete purity is an illusion.
        4. Also these are agricultural products that aren’t produced in a vacuum. For all we know the tea might be fine and some dude might’ve been spraying for roaches outside his house next to the pressing factory and the wind was just right. We’ve all found hairs and rocks in our cakes (and *lots* of other crap), water- or airborne contaminants don’t seem out of the question.

        PS Thanks for the report Twodog, always super informative to hear about the vintage w/r/t weather, picking dates &c. Looking forward to your new teas!!

        • TwoDog2

          I agree. Complete purity is an illusion.

          • Especially when it comes to mail order brides.

      • essenceoftea

        If it was always just a trace twisting, it wouldn’t be so bad. We just had another tea sample come back flabOmethoate test with 10 times the EU permitted level of Omethoate.

        This isn’t an anomaly. So far 3 out of 4 otherwise good teas have come back with pesticide residues at some level.

        I understand your reluctance to tackle this issue and perhaps it is just easier to stick our heads in the sand, but if you feel this issue of safety is just a marketing point I think you’re very far off the mark.

        • TwoDog2

          For me, it would depend on whether it was a safe amount, rather than what the residue was. 10 times the limit? No thank you! However, I’d rather drink a good tea with .03mg per kg residue of a chemical that the EU legally allows .5mg/kg than a lower quality tea that has no residue. I’d prefer to have good Puer than zero tolerance purity. I’m also sure that mg per mg, the impure tea would not be the most harmful thing my body encounters during an average day.

          Like I said, for some people even the slightest, smallest trace residue might be unacceptable. That’s fine. To each their own.

          • essenceoftea

            I think the thing for me is that there doesn’t have to be a compromise in quality. As you know, Yunnan has many remote and relatively unspoilt regions. It’s still possible to find very good teas with no traces of agrochemicals. For me, there’s no need to compromise -it just means working a bit harder to find them.

            These teas are from remote regions – there’s really no way that the residues detected are environmental contamination. I find it difficult to find any explanation other than that some or all of the trees have been sprayed at some point.

            Without testing how do we determine what is safe? I don’t think this makes me a crusader or that I’m embarking on some scaremongering or marketing as you suggested, just that I’d like to know what’s in my tea and am happy to be open and transparent about the results. If it comes back from the lab with pesticide residues detected, I’d prefer to leave the tea and keep looking.

          • TwoDog2

            Let’s say I buy 1 kg from a farmer and test 10g, and it comes back clean. I have just scientifically proven that those 10g were clean, but what about the other 990g? I only tested 1/100th of the material. What if it was 10 kg? Then it was 1/1000th. Now, if that sample comes back clean, can I then reasonably say “My tea is 100% absolutely pesticide free, with not even a trace of chemicals!”? How can a sample size of 1/1000th the total weight serve as a purity test for an entire batch, which comes from multiples trees? Not to mention, if you are buying 1kg, testing it, and then returning to the same farmer to buy more material, you can’t say with 100% certainty it’s the same material. You’d need to test again. Purity is a very tough standard to meet! Then, what about aged teas? Some of those productions are in the multiple ton range, with material from several different areas. At what point of testing can you call them pure? Testing each jian? Each tong? Each cake?

            I’m sorry if you took offense to me calling it marketing, but it seems strange to me that you would be devastated by less than one tenth of the EU legal limit. I think that is pretty good! As another commenter mentioned, 1/10th the legal allowable limit of residue is better than some organic food you can get from the grocery store in Canada, America, or anywhere else. It’s important to keep in mind that organic doesn’t mean pesticide free. This is modern agriculture and for most people reading this blog it is a part of their food supply. It’s not the most ideal situation, but it is a modern reality for people who are unable to grow their own food.

            In the end, I assume we are on the same side (or at least similar) of this battle. I do not want dangerous chemicals on my teas. I do not want to ingest harmful pesticides. I don’t think anyone does. Where we part ways is that I am not particularly afraid of small amounts of residual chemicals. I live a healthy lifestyle and I can not imagine that the .03mg per kg is the worst thing I encounter on a typical day. As with anything, you have to pick your battles and decide if it is acceptable for you. If you want zero tolerance, I can’t fault you for it, but I can ask that you can pass the .03mg/kg stuff my way! It’s surely better than a lot of the tea in the marketplace.

          • essenceoftea

            I don’t think I’ve ever claimed that our teas were 100% pesticide free, just that the lab tests for the ones we’ve tested came back with none detected. Rather than conclusively proving the absence of pesticides, testing is a good way of flagging the ones that are definitely a problem. Testing a 50-100g sample taken from throughout the tea that you will actually buy seems the only reasonable way of doing it.

            Flagging up a small amount of pesticide residue in the sample would make me question the wider batch. Having this in both of the teas that sent for lab tests at that time was what I was devastated about. Especially since I had high hopes for them being clean. The next one came back with 10 times the EU limit. Without testing, this one could have been bought, pressed and sold in good faith.

            There is no ideal solution, but I don’t think avoiding the issue or pretending there isn’t a problem is an approach I can take. Lab testing a sample might not be perfect, but it’s a step in the right direction. What I am trying to do is to tackle the issue and be open and honest about the results.

          • TwoDog2

            Then I misunderstood your comment that you “set the limit at zero” as meaning you were going to be 100% pesticide free. I don’t fault you for preferring to aim for purity. Every person has a different level of tolerance with these things.

            In any case, it is definitely an interesting topic worth discussing and I hope the situation improves. Seems it has sparked more discussion than my original blog post. Couldn’t we discuss something more black and white, for example, that tea picked in January and February does not constitute “spring tea”? 🙂

          • TwoDog2

            Then I misunderstood your comment that you “set the limit at zero” as meaning you were going to be 100% pesticide free. I don’t fault you for preferring to aim for purity. Every person has a different level of tolerance with these things.

            In any case, it is definitely an interesting topic worth discussing and I hope the situation improves. Seems it has sparked more discussion than my original blog post. Couldn’t we discuss something more black and white, for example, that tea picked in January and February does not constitute “spring tea”? 🙂

          • Cwyn

            Okay, I’ll bite on a redirect since your point re: spring tea “coughs” up my April 9 blog post.

            Puerh tea is a business rife with a range of Relative Truths. All of the vendors who weighed in have cried foul on Misty Peaks. But the counterpoint tea in that same blog post is a factory cake with “10% Lao Ban Zhang.” To vendors, there might “seem” to be a difference in truth between these two teas. I am suggesting that in fact there is zero difference for BUYERS.

            There is no way anyone can prove or disprove whether a cake contains 10% LBZ or 5% or 0%, or whether the cake contains 2 single strands of new spring tea picked the first week of March (the Misty Peak cakes were first marketed around March 9 or so). Market practice also “allows” cakes pressed in 2015 to be called “2015” even if that cake contains all 2014 material or any other year. Additionally, we are sold the idea that a Good cake contains a blend, often of fall material included with spring material.

            People wondered why I didn’t “come down harder” on Misty Peaks, but I’m not sure people got my point that Misty Peaks cannot be faulted without applying the same standard to Tea Urchin and the rest of the industry. I might have been too subtle, but in fact I was not interested in taking out vendor trash. I was interested in pulling a string of tension to probe Buyers to look critically at what we are buying. My point of criticism was directed more to buyers, because we can’t really control how tea is sold. So buyers, why is Tea X more honest than Tea Y? This was really the question I was posing.

            Perhaps you can help by explaining how marketing tea without region labeling or without a leaf quality tier is a move toward transparency, rather than more obfuscating that buyers have to sort through?

          • TwoDog2

            In this Puer world of ours, black and white issues are in short order. In a comment reply to your blog, Nicholas said that spring tea is picked in “early January and usually early February most years.” This isn’t some difference of opinion, it’s saying 2+2=7. If a tea vendor says this sentence (and has old arbor yiwu in early march in America) all I can say is that you might want to do a 180 degree turn and run in the opposite direction. That’s not spring tea. That’s not old arbor tea. It’s probably neither. Black and white. Unfortunately, I think most people have been misled by him already and they will not be interested in hearing from me, or EOT, or from basically any person who knows about Puer. This really is 2+2 basics. Scott from Yunnan Sourcing very politely called him out on Steepster….I believe he is still patiently awaiting a reply.

            Though EOT and I were bantering back and forth above, I can’t say he is black and white wrong about anything we discussed, just that we have different opinions about how much pesticide we tolerate. That’s fine and it happens all the time in the Puer world. He can make his tea and I can make mine. And we can shake hands and go on our merry way.

            The Misty Peaks situation was actually a catalyst for me and my decision for “less transparency”. If that Misty Peaks “old arbor spring Yiwu” is what a large portion of people recognize as 200 year old Spring Yiwu old arbor, quite frankly, i don’t think the label is useful to me or to consumers. So, I am not moving towards transparency and I guess it is more obfuscation for consumers to deal with. I hope they get a chance to drink my tea and decide for themselves. And if they write me off because I don’t write the words “old arbor” or “Yiwu” on my cake wrappers, that is up to them, and i understand. Also, I can’t totally blame MP, i generally think labels in the Puer world, whether they be village names or tree ages, have become meaningless over time due to misuse. The MP case just happened to be the most recent and directly connected to the Western customers I have.

          • Cwyn

            This is why I haven’t really bothered myself to spend time with scads of samples to distinguish regions. I just don’t believe factory cakes disclose all the tea and maybe they buy big piles of maocha, stir it up, and add it in every cake they make. As a tea buyer, I just don’t know and have no way to prove anything. I can distinguish a “Yiwu” taste but I have cakes just over the border from Laos too. The tea there doesn’t care whether the border is Laos or China, it is just a price tag issue for me.

            A Steepster buyer made a good point about buyers using regions simply to distinguish flavor and to buy what they like and avoid what they don’t like. So I imagine that buyers will be looking carefully at other descriptors and need to ask questions like if the tea is smoky or not, etc.

          • essenceoftea

            The ‘zero’ in this case referred to the amount of pesticides detected in a professional lab test of a sample of the tea. There’s no other ‘zero’ that I can reasonably offer. There are limits to the sensitivity of a lab test, and I can’t test every leaf before it goes into your pot.

            … but yes, I’d say January and February were still winter.

          • bef

            One of the subjects that I’ve became interested in was to know how much the pesticides are transfered in the actual liquor we are drinking, once the tea is brewed.

            Turns out the FAO has evaluated that matter and calculated a “brew factor” for some chemicals (some are missing, though): http://www.fao.org/fileadmin/templates/est/meetings/tea_may14/ISM-14-3-Brew_Policy.pdf

            According to this report, some chemicals are only transfered to the liquor at a rate of 0.1%, while other have a rate over 80%. So some chemicals are probably pretty much harmless in tea, while other can remain dangerous. But overall, most of them they seem less dangerous in tea than in other food, which makes sense.


            That being said, most of the fruits and vegetables I personally consume every day contain pesticides residue, sometimes (often?) over legal limits. Strawberries are known for being often over limits here… Hell, a study even showed that around 50% of organic fruits/vegetables contain pesticides here in Canada (you can google that)… So there is no way I can avoid pesticides, unless I grow my own stuff, which I can’t do where I live. Fact is, I will continue to ingest pesticides on an almost daily basis for the rest of my life.

            Paul, while I agree with what you said here, i think that it is still interesting to know if a given tea is over the limits or not (or even better might be to have the actual tea liquor checked instead of the leaves). Camellia Sinensis did that kind of report on a few of their teas, and for the ones that contained pesticides residues, they were undetectable in the brewed liquor – in my opinion, this is the most important: the amount of remaining residues in the liquor.

            I don’t care that much when buying small quantity of tea, but when we’re talking kilos of the same tea, it’s a different matter, as you can expose yourself to the same tea for hundreds of sessions…

            Anyway, I really enjoyed reading your blog, as always!

          • TwoDog2

            Great points. I would also be very curious to see in depth studies of what amount of a .03mg per kilogram amount shows up in the cup, or for any amount of any chemical. As you said, it is not always a direct correlation.

            My main point was that for my daily life, I don’t consider amounts that are ten times less than the EU limit to be factor in my decision making. Or even the legally allowed amount. I imagine I encounter far worse things dozens of times per day, and I live a generally healthy life. However, I do understand that certain people may draw the line at zero tolerance, and that is their choice to make.

            For me, you, and most people, I suspect that the option to move off to a small plot of land, grow our own vegetables, and find a 100% pure water source is not a logistically easy move. It’s important to decide what is tolerable for yourself, since avoiding residual chemicals in the modern world is extremely difficult.

  • Marc Peterson

    Greetings.

    I happen to respect the fact that David looks for “clean” teas and informs the public of the problems with pesticides in tea. The issue with turning cheek when it comes to minimal pesticide residue is that then it becomes “acceptable” for a little more and a little more. Greed is an evil thing, and it spreads like virus as communities become more modernized.

    We cannot replace the pristine forests and old arbor trees. I believe every measure should be taken that invasive pesticides and invasive minds stay away from them for as long as possible. It’s like other natural resources, they quickly deplete, maybe not this lifetime, but in the lifetimes of our grandchildren or further down the line.

    That said, I understand the way scare tactics work, but if there is truth in the fact there are more pesticides detected in this years teas than in previous years, that’s a tidbit of information I’d like to know as a consumer. I believe every tea vendor should test their teas and keep tabs on fluctuations of residual pesticide , even if only in the hundredth decimal range. Trends are easy to spot!

    All else aside, I’ve enjoyed the reads in your blog so far. A wealth of information and no nonsense approach to the tea business and promotion of good tea in general. Thanks for all this sharing of invaluable knowledge!

    • TwoDog2

      Thanks.

      • Cwyn

        Everyone is against pesticides until they bring home bedbugs from a swanky hotel in Manhattan.

        • TwoDog2

          That’s why i rub myself down with pesticide heavy Puer after my late nights in swanky Manhattan hotel rooms. Kills the bed bugs and you smell like tea. Win/win.

  • R.C. Agarwal

    It is incredibly, very user-friendly and user friendly. Great job for the fabulous site.Ramesh Chandra

    Agarwal, Slimming Tea, Tea Bag Manufacturers, Tea Bags,