Yixing porn

How to Avoid Fake Puerh Scams and Get What you Pay For

What is “Fake” Puerh Tea?

Fake Puerh tea is not as easy to define as most fake products. Fake gold is a metal which is not gold. A fake Rolex is a watch that was not made by the Rolex company. But, what is “fake” Puerh tea?

First, fake Puerh tea can be fake in the sense that it is not actually from Yunnan or from a Puerh varietal and processed as Puerh. For example, if I took Guangxi Liubao tea, pressed it into cakes, and claimed it was Puerh tea, that would qualify as a fake. This is the most black and white test of whether a tea is a fake Puerh.

From there, it becomes a bit gray. Some people will consider any misrepresentation of the following traits to be “fake”:

  1. Quality of the material (is it plantation material or old arbor, etc.)
  2. Region or origin of the tea
  3. Date of the tea’s production
  4. Season during which the tea was picked
  5. Age of the material
  6. Factory/producer/brand
Stacks of Puerh
Stacks of cakes with vague wrappers are commonplace in Chinese tea markets. The tea is what matters, not the brand.

If the first two factors are indicative of being fake, then nearly 95% of Puerh tea on the market in China and abroad is “fake”. The amount of cakes labeled Gushu [old arbor] Laobanzhang [a famous tea region] are beyond measure. Some of these mislabelings and misrepresentations are done with the intent to trick high-end buyers, but for the most part, there are small fish trying to capitalize on a famous brand name or low-quality, factory teas trying to parade around as something more rare than the 10,000 ton mass production.

Number three through five on the list are all misrepresented with great frequency, but not as much as the region and material quality. These are also more minor offenses. Who cares if a tea is from the fall of 2012 or the spring of 2011 if it is good? I would rather have quality tea than a specific vintage.

Number six is a whole ‘nother hornets’ nest worthy of several articles, but I will try to briefly address this issue towards the end of the article.

The “You Should Know Better!” Fakes

I’ve seen multiple threads on reddit’s /r/tea pop up in the last few months about a certain “1990’s” shu Puerh brick for $7 on ebay. Examples here and here.

This tea falls into the category of teas that are so obviously fake that you should know better! That is to say, they are obviously fake to the point that they were not meant to fool the educated Puerh tea buyer, but meant to trump up the quality of a low-quality tea in effort to force a sale. If you are trying to up your game and learn how to avoid fakes like this, here are some handy guidelines that will hold true the majority of the time:

  • If every ebay seller has it, it is not good tea. (A search for the term puerh on ebay yielded 19 results with this same exact brick…on the first page!)
  • If the age of the tea exceeds the price of the tea in dollars, it is not good tea. (15 years old > $7 = Do not drink) This is tongue in cheek, but suffice it to say that if a price seems too good to be true, it almost always is!
  • If it has a wrapper that says “1990” on it, it is almost always fake. Nobody dated tea wrappers back in 1990’s. Seldom even in the early 2000’s.
  • If a Chinese ebay seller is selling the tea, it is generally bad tea. (Just my opinion, there are definitely exceptions)
7581 Puerh
A 2002 7581shu Puerh wrapper; oft faked.

If every seller on ebay is selling the same tea, that means that the production volume was massive. Tea is an agricultural product. The higher the volume of the production, the greater the difficulty to maintain quality control. Bricks like this were probably produced in the tens of thousands of tons range. It is not to say that every huge production of tea is bad, but with a brick like this, they likely are.

If the price tag doesn’t reflect the age, that is a red flag. On a recent trip to Hong Kong, I visited several tea shops and rarely did I see an old tea of any value under the $100 mark. (and to be more discriminating, the $200 mark) For a brick like this to be over 20 years old and sell for $7 would not make much logical sense. Who held it for 20 years? How much did they sell it for to this middle man? How much could they possibly be earning? Do you know any business people who are willing to purchase and hold an asset for 20 years in order to make $2 of profit and not outpace inflation? No matter how you slice it the price does not make any sense.

Another clue is the date on the wrapper. During the early 2000’s and before, very few companies dated their wrappers or cakes. Look at real photographs of cakes, such as this 2002 Xiao Huangyin [Little Yellow Mark]. No date. If a brick has a big ol’ 1990 on it, 9 times of 10, it is fake. In some cases, it may have been an unwrapped brick which they later wrapped, but this brick is clearly attempting to knock off the style of the wrapper above – the generic shu brick wrapping of the era. (Notice: no date)

Lastly, I am generally weary of Chinese ebay and taobao (the Chinese ebay) sellers. There are definitely exceptions to this rule, but for the most part their tea will be low cost, low quality, and labeled as a 1990 brick for under $10. Are there deals out there? Yes. Will you be throwing darts to hit the deals? Yes. Will you probably waste more time, money, and energy than if you just purchased good tea in the first place? Probably.

The most important consideration is whether the tea is good in the cup. But, not being lied to would also be a plus.

The Paris Hilton Fakes

These are the fakes that capitalize on the public craving for fame without much actual substance in the tea, hence the name. What does Paris Hilton actually do? Why is she famous?  (Oh…right. But, aside from that)

These fakes are usually an attempt to copy a famous brand or famous production. Some longer-term readers on the blog might remember a post regarding the 2011 Gold Dayi raw puer cake from back in 2012. This cake’s fame and price have done nothing but sky rocket since its release. Along with that fame came a deluge of fakes.

A recent kerfuffle on teachat had some customers scratching their heads and comparing wrappers regarding allegedly fake Dayi cakes. I admire the sleuthing abilities of these Dayi devotees, but on the other hand, wouldn’t it just be better to buy a tea that wasn’t famous enough to be faked?

Real Dayi
An image of an authentic 2011 Dayi cake

Some tips on how to avoid cakes that might be Paris Hilton fakes:

  • If the price tag is too good to be true, buyer beware. Good tea costs. No vendor is silly enough to sell real 1990’s 7542 for $100
  • If the production or brand is very famous, the likelihood of fake tea increases exponentially
  • If you are not extremely familiar with the intimate details of the wrapper and material, it is better to consult someone who is before making a purchase

After a tea becomes famous, the rise in price should be a deterrent for the wise Puerh buyer. There are better teas to be had. I am obviously biased towards my own productions, but I lament the fact that some folks are chasing after the 2011 Gold Dayi whilst my 2014 New Amerykah is available for 1/3 the price. But, this opens a gushu [old arbor] vs. plantation debate that is best left for another article.

When seeking a specific production of a famous tea, there are always more reasonably priced options which will allow the consumer to avoid fakes and save a few bucks. Dayi productions will rarely afford either luxury. It is not a secret that China is the world’s most skilled forger of all things, be it Louis Vuitton bags or solar panels. Puerh is no exception. Entire businesses are dedicated solely to faking Dayi products.

Let me repeat that again for emphasis. There are businesses out there, in large wholesale tea markets, whose entire livelihood is built around making and selling fake Dayi products. Consumers who desire certainty of authenticity ought look to smaller factories with less fame. Sometimes a less flashy brand will afford the confidence that you are getting what you pay for.

Or better yet, pay attention to what is in the cup, not on the wrapper. Follow this simple advice and you will never be disappointed.

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
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.

Tea Beer in China

Tea Blog Night at the Great Leap Brewery

Tea blog posts usually become more and more coherent as they progress. The caffeine starts fueling increasingly enthusiastic prose, and the tension builds to some revelatory climax. This tea blog post will be nothing of the sort. In this post, I will be recounting a night of tea beer drinking, where the prose gets progressively more drunken and the climax is a heartfelt and  slurred “This guy right here…this is the guy…th’s guy…I love you, man.”

For those of you who caught my last post, I was looking forward to venturing into the old neighborhoods of Beijing to have a night at Great Leap Brewery. The craft brewers from America are tucked away in an old courtyard style Chinese home that has a ton of character and is far off of the beaten path, if a little hard to find. It had been several months since my last visit. This visit was prompted by a 1,000 liter brewing of their latest concoction, Yunnan Amber.

Yunnan Amber Tea Beer from Great Leap Brewery
Yunnan Amber Tea Beer from Great Leap Brewery

Yunnan Amber is brewed using black tea from Yunnan called Dian Hong [滇红]. It’s a deep blood-orange color. I decided to start off with a pint of the amber, while I still had my wits about me. The first sip revealed a strong sweetness. Floral on the entry (a product of the tea) and very bright with notes of sweet potatoes. The beer’s bitterness comes out after the entry and the finish is full of flowers. It’s a complex beer and I wanted another pint, but there was a problem. That problem being that the menu boasts several other tea flavored options, including a Silver Needle White (made with silver needle white tea [银针]) and an Iron Buddha Blond (made with Tie Guan Yin [铁观音]). As a sacrificial duty to the tea blog, I abstained from a second amber and ordered a silver needle, but the pour was slow, and my friend came over with a round of Honey Ma Gold. Long story short, I fail at turning away free beer and the honey ma makes its way into the tea blog post.

Honey Ma Beer
The mildly numbing Honey Ma Gold

The round of honey ma, which doesn’t contain tea, but for the sake of science will be analyzed anyway, is made with Sichuan peppercorns. (photo below along with the puer tea that is lifting me out of a hangover) Sichuan Peppercorns [花椒] are the Ma [numb] in the Honey Ma name. For those readers who have never had Sichuan peppercorns, they numb the mouth, and are a staple of Sichuan cuisine. Great Leap Brewery made its name by making interesting brews combining Eastern and Western ingredients to make fusion brews like this. My first visit to Great Leap was due to this beer. The peppercorns leave a slight numbing in the mouth and throat that is unique in the beer world. It’s a spectacular beer, one of my favorites on their menu.

tea blog sichuan peppercorns
Sichuan Peppercorns on the left, 2002 6FTM puer on the right. Goodbye, hangover.
Tea Beers
A couple of pints on the bar at Great Leap Brewery

The silver needle white was finally poured. A few beers deep at this point, so my smart phone notes are containing increasing amounts of mistyped notes. (my favorite being “2 sweat on entry”…I think I meant sweet) The silver needle white is the sweetest of the beers I will mention, much more so than the Yunnan Amber. Some jasmine flavors fight through the beers other elements, but the sweetness overrides most of the warring flavors. When discussing these beers with the brewers at Great Leap, they mentioned that it is a challenge to have the tea shine through when creating a beer. This tea is the best example of that struggle. The character of the tea is having a difficult time expressing itself in this beer.

Silver needle white tea beer
Two pints of silver needle white (left and center) and a mystery pint on the right
Iron Buddha Tea Beer
The Iron Buddha Blond – made with Tie Guan Yin

The last tea beer of the evening, the Iron Buddha Blond, gets bonus points due to my being well lubricated by the time I drank it. I noted in my phone

Not sweet, lingering bitterness in the throat, honey on the tongue, pretty drunk, nice.

Wise words from a wise man. I don’t think the Iron Buddha got a fair shake in the review category, but I also noted it was my second favorite beer. Would I make an inaccurate statement like that when inebriated? Perish the thought. I did note there was some of the oolong showing up in the brew, but the Amber had the most pronounced tea character.

 

Tea Blog Tea Beer Ranks

Ranks for the beers:

  1. Yunnan Amber
  2. Iron Buddha Blond
  3. Honey Ma Gold (Doesn’t contain tea…but, it’s damn good, so why not?)
  4. Silver Needle White

I also tried to grab the attention of the two brewers present by offering puer from my personal stash to let them mess around with. There is a 2005 fake Zhongcha Yellow Label Shu that I have in mind. It’s dark and syrupy, lots of red date flavor. I can envision it in a porter, even though I couldn’t brew my way out of a paper bag. I hope they take me up on the offer, it would give me a reason to return for more beer and create another tea blog post fueled by alcohol.

Visit Great Leap on the web at (Directions/address are on there site): http://www.greatleapbrewing.com/

Leaping Into the Tea Blog Fray

After years of absorbing information from the online tea community, it seemed only fair and fitting that I start a tea blog and contribute to the ever expanding collection of information and reviews. Being lucky enough to have been based in China for what is inching closer and closer to a decade, I have been exposed to a lot of tea drinking opportunities. I began my love affair with puer tea in 2006, and regret that I waited so long to start keeping more complete records of what has graced my cup.

Two Dog Tea Blog Cup # 1
The first official cup of the tea blog

 

What to Expect from Two Dog Tea Blog:

 

  • Reflections on what teas I am currently drinking (I am mostly a puer drinker, with the vast majority being raw)
  • Frequent references to low brow American pop culture
  • Poorly framed basketball/tea analogies, which will likely alienate all but .01% of my readers
  • General musings and smarmy commentary
  • Sketches and/or poorly photoshopped images to illustrate various points
  • Occasional off-topic babbling

 

Do not expect to see the following content on the Tea Blog:

 

  • Tea blends that sound like Strawberry Swirl Mocha Latte English Breakfast Mango Fruit Medley
  • Teas with titles akin to Dragon and Phoenix Battle in the Moonlight on a Jade Throne Imperial Blend
  • The Church of Scientology
  • Teas marketed with the term monkey picked

 

That ought to do for a rough outline. And obviously, for the sake of superstition, I am starting my blog on 8/8, because as we all know, 8’s are lucky.

 

Welcome! Hope you enjoy the blog.

 

-TwoDog2