Have you ever heard of gunpowder green tea? Have you ever heard of milk flavored gunpowder green tea? And have you ever heard of a Puer tea cake, mini tuo cha, or any other type of pressed Puer tea? If you have heard of those types of teas, it’s time to go deeper into the dark side of the blending business.
The pinnacle of puer tea was in 2007 in China. People were crazy about it and bought up puer tea in bulk as an investment. The longer you age puer tea correctly, the more the tea will likely rise in value, taste better, and increase in health benefits. But 2007 was the height of puer tea in China because after people bought up all the puer, they also started to do some research and found out how to distinguish good puer from bad puer. People discovered that it was best for the tea to be in the form of a pressed cake because it can improve maintenance of the tea’s quality during storage, keeping the nutrition inside without being influenced by air. Many tea factories used the cake form to make bad puer tea appear to be good tea.
Puer tea has two types: raw Puer and fermented Puer (Also called Ripe Puer tea). So let’s see how the traditional raw puer and fermented puer are processed:
Raw Puer Tea Processing Workflow:
Pick Yunnan large Leaf -> Stir fry fresh leaf -> Rolling -> Drying -> Steaming ->Pressed into a cake, etc. -> Drying
Fermented Puer Tea (Ripe Puer Tea) Processing Workflow:
Pick Yunnan large leaf -> Stir fry fresh leaf -> Rolling -> Drying -> Piling (Fermentation) -> Steaming -> Pressed into a cake, etc. -> Drying
This is the general processing workflow for raw puer and fermented puer (ripe puer). So, Let me explain to you what part of this can lead to poor tea quality.
The best puer tea, whether it’s raw puer or fermented puer (ripe puer), must be made from pure Yunnan ancient tea tree big tea leaves, not bush tea leaves, because ancient tea trees have a much more stable aroma, more nutrients than bush tea leaves, more polyphenols, and because ancient tea trees have already been growing for hundreds of years, you don’t need to use any chemical on the ancient tea trees. They have proven their strength and resistance, and are already deeply in harmony with the surrounding environment. This is the most precious aspect of ancient tea tree leaves.
The quality of the tea leaves at the time of picking determines the quality of your cup of tea. Most ancient tea tree tea leaves are larger and thicker than bush tea leaves, so most factories will pick very few ancient tea tree tea leaves, or even none at all, because an ancient tea tree may not have many leaves left, so they can be quite rare and expensive. Then they’ll pick lots of different sizes of bush tea leaves and separate them for later use.
You might already notice that the only difference between the raw puer processing workflow and fermented puer processing workflow is the piling step. This is the step that decides whether the tea will become a fermented one or a raw one. But whether it’s in the raw puer processing workflow from drying to steaming, or in fermented puer from drying to piling, both can have a hidden blending process. This is another critical point for determining whether the tea is good or not.
From 2000 to 2007, more and more people started to realize the health benefits of puer, and that storing it longer will likely increase its value and improve the taste and health benefits. Lots of people didn’t realize this, and lots of factories found an opportunity to sell low-grade tea at a high price. The factories started to collect tons of different sizes of bush tea leaves, and after drying the leaves, they used large bush tea leaves on the exterior of the tea cake and small ones for the inside. After pressing, the outside of the tea cake looks as if it was made from very large and nice ancient tea leaves, but you never know what’s inside until you buy them and taste them. This is for raw puer.
After this type of blending, the piling process also has a crazy step for making “high quality tea.” Piling is putting all the leaves together in a special room like a greenhouse. The moisture and temperature must be strictly controlled. The idea is to encourage microbial strains that will naturally ferment the tea through adjustments in temperature and moisture. The result is puer tea that has excellent health benefits such as aiding digestion, losing weight, lowering blood lipids, etc. But the real fermentation process usually needs at least 3-5 months until completion, but some people don’t want to wait that long. They store the tea in a dirty and unsanitary environment that quickly turns the tea the same color as fermented puer, even though the process isn’t yet complete. There was even a story in the news where people put tea leaves right next to pigsties so that they would “ferment” very quickly.
They always say beautifully that blending pu-erh tea is to make the tea taste richer, but the real truth is - they use cheap and low quality tea leaves instead of precious ancient tree tea leaves to reduce costs while reaping huge profits.
The good thing is that people doing this type of “fermentation” were punished by the government when the public found out about it. Despite that, the use of bush tea leaves to deceive people is still successfully pulled off all the time.
Yunnan Province is a unique place in many ways, one of which is that there is strong sense of community. In Yunnan, you have name of the tea. As an example, start with Jingmai Shan (景迈山), which means Jing Mai Mountain. In the area of Jing Mai Mountain there are perhaps over 20 villages growing tea. One might be called Mangjing Zhai. These different villages are known under the umbrella of Jingmai Mountain. Then there is the village name which serves as a sort of subtitle, and under that subtitle, you often have the producing family’s name. Yet for all that specificity, there are often many communities, families, and villages contributing, and there is system by which profits are allocated to all the different families, so it has the sense of a cooperative.
In some areas, you can find villages that have big tea factories, and all of the farmers will bring their tea to the factories to be processed. The factories could be owned by one person or belong to the whole village. If you fail to produce a certain amount, you’ll no longer be part of this cooperative. As for sales, the cooperative refuses to deal with small buyers. Big tea companies or trading companies will come and buy in bulk.
I hate to name anyone specific, but here is an example. There is a village in the Bulang Mountains in southern Yunnan. In this particular town in 2014, the tea price had reached USD$2000/per kilo. The teas reaching such a high price was not because they were the best, but because they were the first to be discovered by buyers. Tons of Korean businessmen as well as Singaporean, Taiwanese, and Hong Kong millionaires come themselves to the region, select some tea, select the production process of the tea and the factory, and they will buy up the entire year’s crop with cash, just like the mafia. The tea is personally taken to the factory by them for processing. The price then goes up among tea aficionado circles. The price of the low quality teas drunk in the West is more about the quantity demanded. In Asia on the other hand, the price is based more on the quantity supplied or rarity, as well as reputation. Some teas will be purchased before they are even harvested.
Where do they sell those teas? It’s like a kind of stock market – people buy and sell millions of tons of tea, but as an investment rather than for the purpose of it being drunk by anyone. There are some problems that arise from this system, such as the tea farmers suddenly becoming overnight millionaires; the teas might even sell for a higher price than meth or other illegal drugs. But just like the stock market, the price can also crash overnight, and that investment will suddenly be worth a lot less. Tea farmers are generally not businessmen though. When people come in droves to buy, the farmers go pick tea leaves in large enough quantities to satisfy demand, and the ancient tea trees are usually hurt or killed in the process. Years later, when there are very few ancient tea trees left, those villages start to change their strategy by switching to coffee production. There are now lots of coffee plantations in Yunnan.
So, in this chaotic, evil market environment. We decided to make this rule for our own tea:
1. we never touch the tea from those famous tea mountains, because if you want to get really good quality tea leaves from those famous tea mountains, the price is always controlled by those "gangsters", we can't afford to buy and we don't want to work with those people. In addition, most of the tea trees in the famous mountains are now growing in an increasingly harsh environment, and people are over-harvesting and cutting down those rare ancient tea trees in order to make huge profits, and we don't want to be part of them.
2. We only look for those tea trees that are untouched and not famous, but really grow in an ecologically diverse forest environment, because of their limited number, they also do not attract much attention. After we pick them, we keep the raw materials from the original source of each area, and we refuse to mix them with any tealeaves from any other areas, so as to truly preserve the flavor of the original source of their tea.
We do this not only to maintain the purity of the source of each of our teas, but also for your health and to follow the will of nature. We believe that any perceived over-control will make the natural foods we ingest less natural.
If you are interested in where our Pu-erh tea comes from and how it is made, please find out more from:
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