Sunday, February 19, 2012

Pu-erh tea- a long way to go

written by 'He Cha Qu' (an assumed name), a tea blogger from Henan.

Pu-erh tea-- a long way to go

These days, I often hear friends saying they have so much tea that they don't know what to drink; eventually, they choose Pu-erh tea. In the market of Northern China, this kind of situation is common. Many tea amateurs have fallen in love with Pu-erh tea. They can make the difference between the taste of Banzhang,Yiwu, Bingdao, Jingmai, Nannuo... They debate about 'red marks', 'blue marks', '88 Qingbing', 'CNNP era tea' , they even know about the trends in each tea mountains. They talk about Deng Shihai, Chen Zhitong, Shi Kunmu, Chen Guoyi, Bai Shuiqing, Guo Zaitian and other Pu-erh tea masters. They review the last products of Dayi and Xiaguan: the main Pu-erh tea factories. This is the very difference between Pu-erh tea and the other kinds of tea: it is fascinating, attractive, addictive... It pushes you to permanently dig in, to learn new things.

It's only around 2000 that Pu-erh became really famous in Southern China. People were total beginners and started to learn, they are now highly knowledgeable. Even though the Pu-erh boom was slowed down by a market crash in 2007, it has recovered since then. The Pu-erh tea market in southern China is now very well established; the upper class spends more on tea than ever.

Nowadays, due to this higher level of understanding, we can often hear debates about 'single mountain vs blend' or 'Southern storage vs Northern storage'

Both blend and single estate have pros and cons. This is actually a sterile debate. It's just about mixing different teas together or not. Considering famous tea, let's take Longjing as an example, there is 'Xihu Longjing', 'Hangzhou Longjing', 'Zhejiang Longjing'... Xihu Longjing can be divided into 'Shifeng', 'Meijiawu', 'Longjingcun' and so on; Maojian from Xinyang can be classified into 'five cloudy mountains (Yunshan in chinese), two ponds (tan) and one village (zhai)' (Che Yunshan, Ji Yunshan, Lian Yunshan, Yunwu Shan, Heilong Tan, Bailong Tan, Hejia Zhai); Biluochun is called according to whether it is produced in the West of Dongting lake or in the East. The name of tea varies according to its production area and its tasting profiles.

Those legendary teas have unique characteristics, are limited in quantity and are not mixed with other leaves. They are premium products destined to the high end market. Regarding Pu-erh tea, ancient trees tea from Banzhang, Yiwu, Bingdao and a few other places have a unique taste and make the premium cakes. When it comes to blend, all of the tea factories and companies mix different teas together; they do that to adjust the quality and costs of their products. It is the same for Pu-erh tea.

Northern China storage versus Southern China storage:
People from the South prefer southern storage and those from the North enjoy best north China storage. It's like tastes for food or alcohol: northerners like to drink hard liquor while southerners prefer beer. The shame is that there is few aged teas in the North: you won't find much tea from before the 90's. If we wait for fifty years, we will get good aged tea from the North; it will develop a different taste. Maybe even in the north, we'll write books about tea, who knows...

1 comment:

  1. As we can notice, the pu-erh tea market in China still have room for development. Tea culture is not that developed in the North. Tea in China is also seen by young people as something old fashion: it is ancient traditional culture.

    Can we see the same trend out of China? Is tea considered as something cultural, with a history and traditions? You are welcome to give your opinion!

    When the author talks about Northern storage and Southern storage, I presume he refers to Northern storage as dry storage (Kunming, Beijing, Xian...) and Southern as wet storage (Guangdong, Taiwan, Xishuangbanna...).

    Another tea master told me that each city gave a different result for aging. This capacity to age makes every single cake unique, each one has its own history. One day, a tea expert told me that a Pu-erh cake is like a human growing, its origin is like a DNA and the way it is stored, his experience. As the tea ages, its 'experience' tends to overwhelm its 'DNA'.