2014 Spring Puerh

Reflections on Spring 2014 Puer Tea

Finally back to my perch in Beijing after spending two months and change in Yunnan scouting out Spring puer tea.

Spring Puerh 2014
Tea in Menghai, Yunnan, China. Spring 2014

There are too many stories of great people, teas, and adventures, so I thought it might be easier to bullet point some broad observations about the puer tea and tea market this year:

  • It was an excellent year for early Spring puer. There  was very little rain. Some places noted that the last rain they saw was in October of 2013. This drought is by no means good for the region or good in any sense, other than the fact that tea which sprang forth in 2014 was strained, concentrated, and powerful
  • Most of the best teas I experienced this Spring were low on fragrance but had flavor and fragrance buried deep within the soup, rather than “on the top” or surface fragrance. This might make people who are fragrance chasers upset, but for fans of aging puer with depth 2014 is ideal. Many villages still use a fragrance heavy method of production, but in my book those teas are all flash and no guts.
  • This Spring had more tourists than I have ever seen on tea mountains. Lots of people with big hats, fanny packs, Coach bags, and sunglasses coming up to the more famous locations like Laobanzhang, Laoman’e, and Jingmai. Some people flew in to Xishuangbana just to go and visit Laobanzhang. They all assured me they purchased some very real Laobanzhang because they know some guy there or something. They likely all left with fake crap.
  • Lots of problems with fakes in areas that were previously not full of fakes. Big factories like Yulin and Chenshenghao set prices high enough to make it lucrative for the farmers to bring in material from their cousins in other villages and sell it off as their own. This was always the case in places like Laobanzhang, but now it is happening all over. No point in buying Yulin cakes, they are expensive and chocked full of low quality material.
  • Processing skill in smaller villages seems to get increasingly better. Many tea entrepreneurs are mentoring tea farmers about how to best process their leaf. Some of the villages that had poor quality processing in 2013 improved greatly over the last year.
  • Prices are high almost everywhere. You can still get cheap teas in far flung Lincang, but for consumers who are demanding top tier quality teas from Yiwu or Menghai, there are very few bargains. Best to look to some aged teas if you are on a budget.
  • Roads continue to improve. The paved road to Laobanzhang is almost completed and they are building a paved road to Laoman’e. This bodes well for tea travelers and tourists, but is not good news for anyone anticipating a price collapse of of Laobanzhang old arbor tea.
  • Construction is everywhere. Villagers are upgrading from wooden homes to 5 story cement buildings with 20 rooms. One person in Laobanzhang was building a 20+ room guesthouse!
  • I am very excited about the teas I pressed in 2014!
Laomane Tea
Construction in Laoman’e. New homes being built everywhere.

All of my Spring cakes are pressed and on the way to the warehouse. They should be up on the site in the next week or two.

Share your thoughts and discuss on twitter or in the comments.

Tea and Poker

Tea Stories and the Danger of Tea Table Talk

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.

Laobanzhang Puerh
Tea tasting in Laobanzhang, 2014 Spring.

“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)

Banpen Puer
Fresh leaves in Banpen, 2014 Spring.

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.

Puerh Gushu

Notes from Yunnan Spring 2014

Spring 2014 in Yunnan, Awards and Honorable Mentions

Last year I made a couple of lists of funny and interesting things I encountered during the Spring of 2013. After traveling around Yunnan for a couple of weeks this spring,  I thought it might be time to list some funny notes before returning to tea related content. In no particular order;

The Best Moonshine

Medicine Filled Booze
Medicine Filled Zikao Jiu

Steeped for one year in a plastic bottle, with half the bottle weight being medicine, this corn liquor was excellent. The color was reddish after coaxing out the medicinal properties of all manner of unidentifiable barks and roots, along with whatever plastic leeched into the mix. (Note to self: See a doctor) Aside from packing a wallop from the alcohol, they claimed this liquor to be good for soothing aches and pains. But, what double shot of 80 proof alcohol isn’t going to make you feel less achy?

Moonshine Tea
Beer in the background, also good for aches and pains

I am waiting to return to this village in Bulang next week to pick up more tea, at which point a fresh batch of his homemade booze will be ready for the drinking.

The Most Bizarre Moonshine

Wasp Liquor
Wasps and medicinal roots. Supposedly good for lower back pain

As we I traveled further out into the nether regions of villages near Myanmar, I had lunch in a village that had another home brewed medicine mix, but this time with one important ingredient the previous liquor lacked. Wasps. I wonder if Mickey’s malt liquor would sue this guy for branding infringement? This stuff was more of the “oh fuck I am going to go blind” level alcohol, I am guessing 60%. The perfect pairing for fried hedgehog with chili peppers (below on the right). To any of my customers, don’t say I never do anything for you. Your tea often comes at the expense of my liver and gastrointestinal tract. Such is the situation in Yunnan, that finding far off gushu is becoming increasingly difficult.

fried hedgehog
Sonic’s lesser known third cousin, Stumbles the hedgehog (1991-2014)

The Most Profound Quote

I…um, what?

Gives to the new times sincerely, intellectual aristocrat. That is way too deep for me. I think I need more moonshine before that is going to make any sense to me.

Let’s end on a more comprehensible tea note, how about a picture from Laoman’e?

Laoman'e Gushu
Laoman’e Spring growth
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.

Pasha Puerh Tea

What tea should I bring back from China?

Advice on What Tea to Buy in China

A common question I see asked on tea forums goes something like this, “My great aunt Hortense is going to China. I like tea. What tea should I have her bring back from China?”

My stock answer, “Probably none.”

This makes  a lot of people angry. They want tea from the source. If they are going to China, shouldn’t they get some tea? In a perfect world, they certainly should. But alas, China and its tea markets are not a utopia.

A handful of maocha from Pasha
A handful of maocha from Pasha

The Exceptions

First, let me qualify the above “Probably” with a few ifs and maybes. There are a few circumstances where you can correctly throw my advice out the window. If you or your relative:

  • Speak fluent Mandarin
  • Have the name/address of a trustworthy vendor
  • Know tea prices and quality well enough to avoid being duped
  • Don’t care about the quality of your tea
  • Don’t care how much you pay for said tea
  • You think I am an idiot and read my blog only to fuel your hatred

In these cases, maybe  my advice is useless to you, but keep reading anyway – you are here and all.

Tea tasting puerh tea
A tasting of a few teas in Pasha at a farmer’s home

So, Why Shouldn’t I Buy Tea in China?

First, full disclosure, I sell tea. I just wanted to get that out of the way. This article is not a devious plot to discourage people to buy tea in China and instead from vendors like myself. Rather it is me sharing of my own knowledge and experience after 8 years in China drinking puer. Take it how you will.

So, there are few broad reasons why buying in China is rife with peril. Here is a short, non-exhaustive list:

  • Small tea shops and wholesale markets are often middle men with a limited knowledge of tea
  • It is difficult to discern the “true” price of tea, even if you are an experienced buyer
  • There is a lot of tea with dangerous chemicals and processing and very little regulation of either
  • Many tea sellers do not know the source of their tea

I mentioned in my article about three strange things in Yunnan a man from Henan province who was a tea seller. He has a stall at a Henan wholesale tea market and was making a journey to buy puer. His non-stop commentary  led me to believe he knew nothing at all about puer tea or tea in general. After we embarked on a trip to a tea mountain, he proceeded to start pointing at huge trees and saying, “Wow, look at that tea tree!” These were of course not tea trees at all, just giant trees. Anyone who has seen a tea tree wouldn’t have made such an error. The point is not that you need to have seen or touched tea trees to understand tea (though it helps), but that this is the person in charge of distributing tea (and the knowledge of said tea) to smaller tea shops in his area. Imagine playing the game telephone. One person whispers into another persons ear, on down the line with several links in between you and the message. Now imagine the people in between you and the message barely have an understanding of the language of tea. It would be easy to purchase a cake of puer tea from a random small shop and be completely misinformed about its origin, quality, or price. After all, the small shop owner might have bought from this fellow from Hennan, who fed them faulty information from the starting line.

One more anecdotal story, in Yunnan this Spring I also encountered a couple who were purchasing tea for their small shop. They similarly knew almost nothing about tea. Their only goal and motive was to purchase the cheapest tea they could and mark it up and call it something else. They would ask questions like, “Would this pass for Laobanzhang? How much could I sell this for?” These people own a tea shop. Your great Aunt Hortense might stumble into their trap. Which brings us to the next point, if your kindly old auntie wanders into a shop like this, then what? If they offer her 10 grades of oolong tea, will she be able to determine a fair price? Or will she be at the mercy of people who are trying to make the biggest possible margin on their already shitty product? As if this situation weren’t hopeless enough, if you throw in a language barrier and a tourist with no tea knowledge, you are just begging to be swindled.

The third issue is safety. Eugene from Teaurchin recently wrote a post on his tea blog on the subject of pesticides, and I encourage you to read it. Keep in mind, he is mostly discussing gushu [old tree] puer, which is on the low end of the list of concerns in my book. If you want to be appalled at pesticide spraying, visit terraced bush tea areas in Fujian province. Even a careful vendor has a lot of guessing to do about chemical use and finding safe teas. I won’t speculate on specifics, but if somebody who doesn’t know much about tea gifts me neon green tieguanyin [Iron Buddha Oolong] I refuse to drink it. It ends up in the trash bin. Apologies to anyone who gifted me tieguanyin and reads my blog,…I surely drank yours. I am referring to everyone else.

Which brings us round full circle to the last concern on my list, the origin of a tea. I outlined a typical supply chain in my post on packaging. The quick and dirty version is that between the tea farmer and the final seller there are several links in the supply chain. In many cases, a seller might not know the exact origin of the tea they are selling. This becomes an issue with both safety and price. And if the seller is unclear on the specific details of origin, what chance does your surrogate buyer have? Hopefully your visiting relative has something more to inform their decision than a glittery puer cake labeled Yiwu Tea King.

Puerh Maocha
Another mystery handful of maocha from Pasha. Gushu? Plantation? Who knows.

You Shat on my Dream of Buying Tea in China, What Now?

My advice would be to buy from a person who is based in China and cares about the tea they source and sell. Shameless plug, you can buy from me at White 2 Tea. Honorable plug (and suspect business decision; please, buy from my competitors!), you can buy from Eugene at Teaurchin or Scott from Yunnan Sourcing. These are vendors who have a lot of experience with tea in China, and live here full time. If you are a gambler, take your chances at a random shop, but you will probably save money and get better tea buying from a China based Western vendor.

*Pics in this post are from my Spring trip to Pasha Mountain
Two Dog Puerh Tea Blog

Three More Non-Puerh Related Things from Yunnan Spring

Puerh Bloggin Return

I am adding h’s to my puerh for this post because I am an SEO sell out who wants to show up on searches for “puerh” in google at least once. But if this post is any indication of puerh edification I can potentially provide to new readers, they are screwed. Furthermore, I don’t even know if that is how SEO works. What I do know, is that if you google “Puerh Blog Bathroom Tile Young Vixens”, this will be the first result.

Here is more non-tea related non-sense from my Spring in Yunnan. I swear I will get back to puerh blogging after I catch my breath. In the meantime, take a look at the top three interest bits from the back end of my trip. I saved the pictures of a water buffalo being butchered (an honorable mention coming in fourth place) in favor of the following.

1. Bathroom with Tiles of Young Vixens

Sensual tile
Front view of the hotel bathroom, complete with sensual tile
Toilet view puerh town
Toilet view
Toilet tank sticker model
Toilet tank sticker model

For those of you keeping track, that is not one, but two attractive young women who will be staring at you while you drop some kids off at the pool. What makes this aesthetic decision of placing this tile all the more enjoyable is how intentional it is. Somebody sat down one day and thought, “You know what would be a great idea? A picture of a scantily clad vixen in a nighty right above the squat toilets in my new hotel. I love having beautiful women watch me take a dump, and I assume the guests in my hotel will as well.” Which is great logic, if you want to telegraph your taboo fetish to the world. And for the record, I am not judging people with such fetishes. I don’t want anybody checking my browser history anymore than the next guy; my only point is that this tile may not have been the classiest choice for a hotel bathroom.

2. Raw Sour Olive Moonshine

Moonshine tea
Moonshine steeped with sour fruit

Drinking moonshine is a mandatory task on trips to meet with tea farmers. Some brew their own booze, others buy high octane swill from the local distillery. This bottle was one of my favorites from the entire trip. This tea farmer from lower Hekai village bought the  50%-60% corn alcohol from a local still and then steeped it with these raw olive like fruit. If you eat the fruit fresh it is incredibly sour, but after the sour wave passes there is a wake of sweetness in the mouth. Couple that sour/sweet combo with the burning/warm of the liquor and you have yourself an interesting shot. The pork in the background of the picture was also delicious. Props to the pork fat for preventing my stomach from being scorched to death by the liquor.

3. Myanmar Medicine Lady

Myanmar Medicine Woman
Yamaha, I am waiting for payment for product placement

Nothing like a woman with a bindle full of heavy prescription strength medicine from Burma to soothe what ails you. Want to treat that malaria? No need to drive to that pesky hospital 5 hours away on mountain roads, just pick up some Mefloquin some this lady. Discontinue use if you start seeing pink elephants.

Her presence adds convenience to villagers who are a long journey from the nearest health clinic, but you have to wonder about the safety of these drugs, when even mainstream pharmaceuticals in major Chinese cities have had a questionable quality control track record. The elder women smoking and chatting with her did not share my concerns.

Woman smoking a pipe tea blog
Woman smoking a pipe at the pharmacy

The Three Most Interesting Non-Tea Related Things I Have Seen in Yunnan This Spring

Yunnan Spring Tea Hunting Derailed

What a cop out blog post this is going to be. I have been busy running around Yunnan to try and find good Spring puer tea and am way too lazy to start processing all of my photographs. So, here are three enjoyable pictures to make it look like I maintain my blog with the Puritanical work ethic that I may or may not actually have.

1. This Motor Repair Shop Ad

Mountain Chainsaw Ad Tea blog
Love it.

Hot chick w/ protective goggles. Check.

Inexplicably holding a chainsaw in front of a barren mountain hellscape. Check.

Lightning striking said chainsaw. Check.

Photoshopped repair shop boss pasted in the foreground. Check.

The level of what the fuck in this ad is unparalleled. Why is she in front of a mountain range? Is she going to go cut rocks and ice? Did she just level an entire mountain forest? Why the lighting? I don’t care. I’m in. If I ever need to repair a chainsaw in Mengsong, this is the dude I am calling. Take my RMB sir, you’ve earned it. I kind of want to search this guy out and get drunk on mountain moonshine with him, but I have other appointments.

2. The Monkey King

Monkey King Tea
Carry on.

Random guy from Henan province meets my friend in Xishuangbana ten minutes before we are about to depart for the mountain. He talks a lot. Introduces himself as “Houge” (HG), which means Monkey King, from the Chinese Journey to the West stories. HG knows not much about puer. Later come to realize HG knows nothing about tea in general. HG apparently sells tea. HG asks to hitch a ride with us to Bada. Friend says sure. I cringe.  Houge talks the entire time. We start climbing a mountain on foot to check out an old tea garden. Houge points to various large trees in the forest and says, “That tea tree is huge!” Not tea trees. HG, do you really sell tea? HG becomes impatient as our journey up the mountain is steep. We keep climbing. Finally get to some gushu. [old tea trees] HG says, “Twodog, take my picture!” Houge starts doing handstands and can do the splits in the air.

Didn’t see it coming, Monkey King. Well played.

3. The Taxis and their Respect for Elders

respect your elders tea
The sign in the middle states free rides for anyone 70 or older

Shall we end on a happy note? In Menghai city there are small cars and 3 wheeled bike taxis everywhere. They have a policy that anyone over 70 years old can get a ride anywhere in the city for free. There is a 33% discount for anyone over 60. Chinese culture has a great general respect for elder folk. It’s a good thing.

Daddy’s Going to Buy a Pack of Cigarettes…

I’ll be back, just wait here. I promise to write more tea related things later, but after doing nothing but drink puer for the last few days, (In the past 4 days alone, 60 teas, according to my notebook) I needed a break from tea. And writing about that Mötley Crüe mechanic’s poster just had to make it into my blog. It found a way.

Tea Packaging Chinese Tea Market

Can anyone identify this Chinese tea packaging?

Deciphering Chinese Tea Packaging

Any frequenter of Western tea forums will come across more than their fair share of threads with titles like “Can somebody tell me what this is?” or “My Chinese co-worker brought this back from China, what is it?” and my personal favorite “My friend went to China and brought back this tea, it is really rare and expensive!” These posts are all well meaning. People interested in learning about tea packaging and understanding their newly found gifts or purchases. However, there is a problem with these lines of questioning. Most people ask these questions under the assumption that the packaging has a direct relationship with the contents of the package. Unfortunately, this assumption is often false.

This assumption typically comes from people in countries where packaging and truth in advertising are well regulated. If I purchase a package labeled as Organic California almonds in the USA, in all likelihood, that is what I will be getting. The company who packages the almonds could be held legally accountable for misrepresenting the product and the penalties are usually enough of a deterrent to keep companies honest. (although that is assuredly not always the case) In China and specifically in the tea markets, this assumption no longer holds true. A wholesale market might work through a ton of tea every day, carted in in large cardboard boxes or plastic bags that are quickly chopped up into smaller quantities and whisked off to tea sellers and tea drinkers around the country. Once the tea makes it to its final destination there is very little, if any, accountability or oversight. Tracing the exact origin of a tea is often a daunting task, even for tea sellers.

So, where does the disconnect begin? First, as mentioned above, only a wholesale distributor will have an accurate idea about their tea source. And, truth be told, in some cases even their conception of where a tea originated could be incorrect. An example that occurs in the world of puer, perhaps a tea dealer purchases directly from a farmer, but they do not know the farmer very well. The 10 kg bag of material that they purchased was sold as X, but is actually a mix of X and Y, because the farmer cut their original material with something else to increase their profit. In this case, even the original seller may unwittingly have some misinformation about the source of their tea – and this is before the tea even makes it to the factory for pressing.

tea packaging
A sea of tea packets

Second, packaging is often generic. Any wholesale tea market, or even small tea shop, with have a plethora of different bags and boxes with generic phrases like “Tie Guan Yin Tea King” or “Organic Top Quality Jin Jun Mei”. These bags and boxes can be filled with anything, and sealed on site. A bag with the label “Long Jing Green Tea” could just as easily be filled with high quality green tea as it could with a very low quality green tea.The packaging is no more an indicator of the bags’ contents than a sack with a dollar sign is an indicator of how much money a cartoon bank thief has stolen. Maybe he took $100 ? Or maybe $100,000? Maybe the tea you were gifted is high quality rock tea or maybe it is cat crap. At best, the bag can offer the viewer a broad category and nothing more. (and in some circumstances, even that will not be correct)

Why would tea vendors and customers want inaccurate packaging?

First, tea is often given as a gift. The receiver of the gift will not know much about tea 99% of the time. Regardless of country, the majority of the general population would be at a loss to distinguish between excellent tea, mediocre tea, and bad tea. China is no different. I have personally witnessed people purchase tea on several occasions where the packaging cost outweighs the cost of the tea by a factor of two or even three. That is to say, they bought $2 of crappy tea, to put into a $6 box. The packaging is beautiful, extolling the glorious rarity of the tea in the box. The tea is borderline garbage. The gift giver appears to be giving a very expensive gift – which gives them face [pride,status] via displaying their wealth. The gift receiver is none the wiser. Everybody wins…well, everybody except for me, who receives multiple gifts of completely shit tea from various acquaintances every month. Hopefully none of them read my blog… If you are reading this and gifted me tea, clearly I don’t mean you. Your tea was great! … Moving on.

Second, it presents an opportunity for unscrupulous tea sellers to make an extra dollar. Real Jinjunmei costs in the neighborhood of a thousand United States dollars per kilogram. The processing of this Fujian red tea became famous in recent years, and suddenly (and unsurprisingly) every tea seller in China was stocking authentic Jinjunmei by the 1/2 ton! Was  most of it real? Don’t be daft! It’s mostly other Fujian teas (or even red tea from Anhui or other neighboring regions) bagged into small pouches bearing the familiar name. Suffice it to say that if your uncle went to China and stopped by a tea market to buy you Jinjunmei where a tea seller told him stories of a rare and expensive tea, in all likelihood he was tricked. The label on that Jinjunmei bag in your hands has all the significance of a certified organic sticker slapped onto a bottle of pesticides.

Tea blog
One shelf, in one store. There are a hundred thousand more where this came from

So, does my packaging mean nothing?

Packaging can still be a general guideline. For example, it could give you a broad category of tea. You might now know that you were gifted Puer tea or Tieguanyin, but as for knowing what region the puer is from or what grade of Tieguanyin you have, you are up the river without a paddle.

Take packaging with a grain of salt and don’t judge books by their covers and [insert some other relevant idiom here]. Tea markets are full of “Spring Laobanzhang” and “Yiwu Gushu” labeled puer teas which are barely worth a few dollars and downright torture to drink. Learning to ignore packaging and flowery stories about tea is crucial to understanding tea. In fact, the first step toward tea enlightenment may very well be to discard all prior conceptions about any given tea before the cup hits your lips.


Cel A. Don (2008-2012)

broken gaiwan
R.I.P. Mr.Don

Cel A. Don or “Gai”, as he was known amongst close friends, was born in 2008 in Southwestern Zhejiang province. Shortly after birth, he joined the green berets and was shipped off to active duty. He served three years as a lid and won several national awards; most notably for covering civilian leaves who were under hostile fire. Mr. Don passed away in a tragic cleaning accident early Sunday morning, when he collided with the floor. After being rushed to a local hospital, he was pronounced chipped at 9:34 A.M. He had one day left until retirement.

There will be a small service held in the comments section, where friends and relatives can pay their respects.

Mr.Don is survived by his wife, Wan.

Tea blog gaiwan
“Gai” (top) making out with his wife Wan (bottom) prior to the accident – August 2012