Identifying Old Tree Leaves


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Identifying Old Tree Leaves

Postby Tead Off » May 24th, '13, 03:01

We always hear that the old trees make better puerh. Certainly, the vendors use it as a marketing tool and sell it at a premium. Drinkers are always talking about the ancient trees 300, 500 years old.

When I ask long time drinkers how they can tell if the leaves come from old trees, 2 aspects of the leaf often come up. The thickness of the spine, and the serrated edge of the leaf. I've been told the thicker the spine, the older the tree. And, I've been told smaller serrations on the edge mean older. Because I have no way of verifying this information, I put it out there for other drinkers to comment.

I can compare spines from different cakes and read what kind of trees the vendor says it comes from, but this is not a sure-fire way to be sure. Vendor descriptions mystify me many times.

I will post a photo of some leaves without mentioning where the tea comes from. I would love to hear comments about age or anything else you may notice.
Example 1.jpg
Example 1.jpg (104.42 KiB) Viewed 1940 times
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Re: Identifying Old Tree Leaves

Postby lordsbm » May 24th, '13, 07:30

I think best way to ID an old tree is tasting it :lol:

I'm never good at ID based on leafs, but for the fun of it my guess is,

Spring but not early spring, don't look like old (meaning under 80yrs) tree to me but it's big leaf. Main reason is the leaf looks too green, I notice old tree leafs normally the edges are a bit yellowish, the stems may have reddish color. But I'm likely wrong :lol:

Anyway, those interested at looking at photos of processing of young tree and old tree can look at An jie's TB photos. That's her family's jingmai plantation.

Young tree
http://item.taobao.com/item.htm?spm=a1z ... 3027660202

Gu shu
http://item.taobao.com/item.htm?spm=a1z ... 9374391983
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Re: Identifying Old Tree Leaves

Postby tenuki » May 24th, '13, 14:08

lordsbm wrote:I think best way to ID an old tree is tasting it :lol:


+1

But yes, I have been looking at the spine and serrations for a few years now and have fooled myself into thinking I can sort of tell sometimes... ;)
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Re: Identifying Old Tree Leaves

Postby teaisme » May 24th, '13, 15:08

lol does she really wear that dress all the time?

nice topic, I too wonder these things
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Re: Identifying Old Tree Leaves

Postby shah82 » May 24th, '13, 15:13

It's not actually all that easy to taste it either. Old tree tea doesn't necessarily taste better--the point is about an interesting and engaging tea that talks to you in terms of dynamicism and feel. You have to learn to play with your tea in your mouth before you figure out what is actually old/quality leaf.
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Re: Identifying Old Tree Leaves

Postby teaisme » May 24th, '13, 15:32

from vendor claims, and then personal inspection, it would seem like thickness of stem does have a relation to age

but obviously there are hazy areas (note I have only been delving into pu for less then two years) because some japanese oolongs I have gotten also had thick stems

Perhaps instead of just spine, we also include intricacy and pronouncement of veins connecting to spine, could that help determine age?

so any plant biologists know about serrations as indication of age?
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Re: Identifying Old Tree Leaves

Postby gingkoseto » May 24th, '13, 16:01

First of all, it's such a complicated topic. I guess there are leaves that are obvious on one side, and there are leaves that cheat.

Shi Kunmu once wrote a story in his blog about leaves of a Guan Zi Zai tea labeled "plantation" look exactly like big arbor tree leaves in his eyes, and he could tell only after he tasted it.

Besides there are all kinds of poor and good ancient trees, and all kinds of poor and good plantation bushes and old plantation short arbors. So there are many layers of grey in between the two sides.

I don't think what a tea is called matters. What matters to me is the quality and the price. (actually price comes first because there are more teas that I can't afford than teas that I don't like...)

But if we really want to go into theoretical level (because we have too much time... :?: ) we may think of what affect the differences in appearances and tastes of leaves between old tree and young bush.

What I could think of at this moment are:
1, nutrients, minerals - old trees have deeper roots to reach deep soil nutrients (young bushes don't have usually have access to such nutrients, one can give them the nutrients, but rarely anyone would do such an expensive thing)

2, the proportion of green tissues (leaf, bud, young stems...) and woody tissues (bark, cells with nothing but cellulose). This is associated in the nutrients proportions in the plant in a rather complicated way (especially carbon:nitrogen ratio, which is important in almost all plants, very important in tastes of edible plants, including tea and probably even more important in tea).

3, size of vascular system - this is due to the distance that water and nutrients have to be transported from below ground to the top of the tree. That's why some people observe that arbor tree puerh leaves and old bush yancha and dancong leaves have more prominent leaf vein (also affected by elevation level). This itself might not be important for taste, but this is the infrastructure that's responsible for 1 and 2.

I would imagine 1 and 2 are responsible for most taste differences between big arbor tree and plantation bushes in most cases.

There must be more of other factors. You guys can go on. I'm off for some coffee now :oops: :mrgreen:
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Re: Identifying Old Tree Leaves

Postby lordsbm » May 24th, '13, 20:07

teaisme wrote:lol does she really wear that dress all the time?

nice topic, I too wonder these things


Unlikely, nothing wrong with wanting to show off their traditional costume :lol: Just part of their culture.
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Re: Identifying Old Tree Leaves

Postby Tead Off » May 25th, '13, 23:45

I can see this thread moving into directions that will not address my original enquiry and why I posted this. You see, the problem with choosing a tea begins before you ever taste a tea. Because there are myriads of teas to choose from, and their descriptions written up by the vendor who may or may not have first hand information about the tea from the type of trees to their age and location by village, we can only choose by either ordering a sample of the tea and tasting it, or by the illustrated evidence of how the tea looks in the vendor's photos.

Current selling points are old trees vs plantation bushes, single estate vs blends, big leaf vs smaller, etc. Whether these comparisons that make a tea better are true or not, we have to make a decision what to buy and these descriptions will influence our decisions.

The specific question about identifying old leaves should have an answer. Old leaf should look different than newer bushes. How? If there was not a distinction, why would tea people mention it? This has nothing to do with taste. We don't know yet how it will taste. I am only talking about the decision making process of looking and buying.

Example: Hojo says high altitude and ancient trees are the way to go. So I buy a high altitude/ancient tree tea and I think it's nothing special after drinking it. I taste a blended plantation cake from a famous maker and I think, wow, this is way better than this expensive, high altitude, ancient tree tea. Maybe the vendor was mistaken and it wasn't high altitude or ancient tree.

My point: There has to be a way to identify these trees even if it doesn't lead to superior tea drinking. I would like to hear from many of the seasoned tea drinkers here on this forum. Don't be shy.
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Re: Identifying Old Tree Leaves

Postby shah82 » May 26th, '13, 01:51

1) Defining old tree as basically over 150yo.

2) Most serious old tree tea is not very available, and very expensive when they are. Doubly true when we're talking anywhere north of Jingmai. There are not-so-great old tree tea trees (and areas) as well.

3) Other old tree tea is quite overpicked (or stumped for easy picking) and is a poor performer relative to what the performance should be.

4) Many brands seem to use arbor grown trees (da shu cha) in place of lao shu cha. Or they cut with that leaf.

5) Therefore, there is really no way to tell from observing dry or wet leaf whether that's a quality leaf or not.

6) In the mouth, unless you are pretty experienced (or you get a stunning example), it can be hard to tell or prefer old tree tea, especially as people have upped their game to get quality leaf from younger trees.

7) If people want to educate themselves, I suggest getting samples of normal 7542 and special grade 7542 from between '96 and '03, with similar storage. Many of the special grade teas should have some old tree teas sprinkled in. Good tea was very, very, cheap back then, particularly before '02, and only started to be expensive from about '04.

8) Broadly speaking, after 2009 and definitely after the late spring of 2010, great examples of old tree tea became rare. Sanhetang's product quality fell by quite a bit after 2009 for the run of the mill tea, and to get the nice stuff, well, that was over $200 a bing in 2010, and almost $300 in 2011, and now, about $300+ for the tea with some buzz in the mouth and throat. There are still some quality old tree teas normal people can buy with some oomph, but they mostly come from areas like Bangwei, which cannot hope to match the best Mengku, JingGu, or Jingmai teas. Unless you're buying the leftover teas from various shops--and they're leftovers because they aren't from top areas, the top stuff, or they're blends, you really shouldn't assume most tea you get is exalted unless you paid lots of money to people you're pretty sure has the connections (particularly wrt to anything from Banna, it's locked down).

9) I talk about the "good stuff" because, well, there are plenty of old tree teas out there. What people who aren't trying to flatter themselves and who want to buy great tea ask for, is for quality old tree. I've had the XZH '09 Diangu and the XZH '11 Diangu. Same place, same brand, not nearly the same quality. Old tree, though, in both cases. If your priority is price, what you really should look for is da shu or shengtai, given that most "affordable old tree" is either not so or from dead cheap areas. Sometimes, if the brand is good, old tree is simply an indicator of quality.

10) Will a plantation tea ever beat an old tree tea worthy of the name? No. Certainly not over a number of sessions. If a plantation tea is beating an old tree tea, there are a number of reasons that could be so. First of all, you may not like that particular old tree tea for some reason not relevant to all old tree tea. The tea might not be good, or it might be poorly stored. You might simply not have developed a consistent means to appreciate old tree tea. Tea drinking is about expectations. If you're expecting plantation tea, you may drink plantation tea qualities and miss old tree tea qualities from your session. Plantation tea is what it is pretty much because it's rather limited. The aroma won't really endure. The taste hits narrowly. The aftertastes are rather short. Typically, young plantation tea has an obnoxious green edge. Better cared for plantation tea can approximate good gushu, but they simply don't have the registers gushu has.
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Re: Identifying Old Tree Leaves

Postby lordsbm » May 26th, '13, 02:10

Tead Off wrote:My point: There has to be a way to identify these trees even if it doesn't lead to superior tea drinking. I would like to hear from many of the seasoned tea drinkers here on this forum. Don't be shy.


haha I think those who THINK they know a lot about pu erh will try avoid what you are asking, as they have higher chance of getting it wrong and hurt their ego. The smart ones are likely to remain silent about it, which I'm the fool who had made his guess :lol: But hey, just for the fun.

You'll likely end up with people giving lots of unwanted answers instead of simply just guessing what they think about the tea leafs you'd posted. And the real answer you seek of how to tell the leafs apart. :lol:
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Re: Identifying Old Tree Leaves

Postby Tead Off » May 26th, '13, 02:15

do you really think that Shah's response is useless? The point is to communicate and share your ideas. If they turn out to be erroneous, you stand to gain, not lose. We are not discussing ego but tea. Every drinker has their take. Some more seasoned ones may be more deluded but I think there lurks some discriminating drinkers here who can put forth some things to think about as Shah has done with his last post. Thank you, Shah :!:
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Re: Identifying Old Tree Leaves

Postby lordsbm » May 26th, '13, 02:36

Tead Off wrote:do you really think that Shah's response is useless? The point is to communicate and share your ideas. If they turn out to be erroneous, you stand to gain, not lose. We are not discussing ego but tea. Every drinker has their take. Some more seasoned ones may be more deluded but I think there lurks some discriminating drinkers here who can put forth some things to think about as Shah has done with his last post. Thank you, Shah :!:


I wasn't targeting anyone specifically, don't need to be overrate :lol: It just happen I post after his post, but quote was yours. :roll:

Question have you found your answer to your original question about ID tea with leafs yet from all who replied here? If you have please enlighten me, I'm too dumb get an answer out of these replies :lol:

edit: gingkoseto has infos closer to your question, do remember to thank him like u thank shah :wink:
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Re: Identifying Old Tree Leaves

Postby Tead Off » May 26th, '13, 03:36

gingko is a woman. :D
I think she understands me quite well. Please thank her for me.

The questions I have elicit responses that will be weighed over time. If I don't receive any replies, my questions will be asked in face to face meetings with other drinkers and through private email with people I know. I'm in no rush.
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Re: Identifying Old Tree Leaves

Postby lordsbm » May 26th, '13, 04:17

haha I didn't know gingko is a she pardon me.

Since I have the time and I'm misunderstood of targetting shah, I'll just quote his (or her?) post and reflect my views there :lol:

BTW it's OK to disagree with what I said, I'm not worried about being wrong. :lol:

Edit: BTW Shah hope u won't overreact being quote, I'm just doing for the fun of it :lol:

shah82 wrote:1) Defining old tree as basically over 150yo.

It depends as there's no fix standards even in books. But safe to say above 100years.

2) Most serious old tree tea is not very available, and very expensive when they are. Doubly true when we're talking anywhere north of Jingmai. There are not-so-great old tree tea trees (and areas) as well.

Mainly cause those seriously old trees are pass of as gushu by sellers, so they command gushu prices even if labelled as old tree. How great they are also have other factors like wet or dry years. Quality varies from year to year, no sure confirm way that it'll be as good as previous year.

3) Other old tree tea is quite overpicked (or stumped for easy picking) and is a poor performer relative to what the performance should be.

True that some popular areas are more over picked, result to poor quality. Those unknown, unpopular areas won't be over picked. Just too much a hazy to travel there.

4) Many brands seem to use arbor grown trees (da shu cha) in place of lao shu cha. Or they cut with that leaf.

It's just a name, like you can't seriously believe XG Jia or Te tuos are made of Jia and Te quality leafs right? Or maybe just have some content of old/gu tree in them.

5) Therefore, there is really no way to tell from observing dry or wet leaf whether that's a quality leaf or not.

You can't, I can't, but I believe there are people who can. I'm open minded to these things. 一山还有一山高.

6) In the mouth, unless you are pretty experienced (or you get a stunning example), it can be hard to tell or prefer old tree tea, especially as people have upped their game to get quality leaf from younger trees.

Side by side, a lao/gu tree with young tree, I think most can. But that needs to be proven. Part of tea education, no?

7) If people want to educate themselves, I suggest getting samples of normal 7542 and special grade 7542 from between '96 and '03, with similar storage. Many of the special grade teas should have some old tree teas sprinkled in. Good tea was very, very, cheap back then, particularly before '02, and only started to be expensive from about '04.

Not good example, as there could be storage issue. It's better to compare same year tea from same area, just that one is from a reliable source the other is from less reliable source (like passing off young as old tree). The result will be much more educational.

8) Broadly speaking, after 2009 and definitely after the late spring of 2010, great examples of old tree tea became rare. Sanhetang's product quality fell by quite a bit after 2009 for the run of the mill tea, and to get the nice stuff, well, that was over $200 a bing in 2010, and almost $300 in 2011, and now, about $300+ for the tea with some buzz in the mouth and throat. There are still some quality old tree teas normal people can buy with some oomph, but they mostly come from areas like Bangwei, which cannot hope to match the best Mengku, JingGu, or Jingmai teas. Unless you're buying the leftover teas from various shops--and they're leftovers because they aren't from top areas, the top stuff, or they're blends, you really shouldn't assume most tea you get is exalted unless you paid lots of money to people you're pretty sure has the connections (particularly wrt to anything from Banna, it's locked down).

There's so much pu erh out every year. Ya you need connection to get the best leafs which is normally from 1-3 tree in a village, but it MAY not mean you are paying a heafy premium. Which area is better depends on individuals taste, can't assume all the same. Of cos those without real connections, can only use money, but that doesn't mean you'll get the best. I think majority here are just happy to get a old/gu tree they can believe and be happy with it. Having the best doesn't mean you'll be truly happy, it's the content of the heart that u'll be truly happy.

9) I talk about the "good stuff" because, well, there are plenty of old tree teas out there. What people who aren't trying to flatter themselves and who want to buy great tea ask for, is for quality old tree. I've had the XZH '09 Diangu and the XZH '11 Diangu. Same place, same brand, not nearly the same quality. Old tree, though, in both cases. If your priority is price, what you really should look for is da shu or shengtai, given that most "affordable old tree" is either not so or from dead cheap areas. Sometimes, if the brand is good, old tree is simply an indicator of quality.

Quality as in it taste good right? Old tree source from a less popular village processed by experience people can be better than those popular village processed by inexperienced.

What I mean is good or bad, really need to taste, before you can comment. Also tuition tea really means you aren't getting what u are paying for. So in this sense those who pays a premium over an illusion of getting the best but aren't is actually buying tuition tea. I think safe to say the DY snake cake at current prices is a tuition tea :lol:


10) Will a plantation tea ever beat an old tree tea worthy of the name? No. Certainly not over a number of sessions. If a plantation tea is beating an old tree tea, there are a number of reasons that could be so. First of all, you may not like that particular old tree tea for some reason not relevant to all old tree tea. The tea might not be good, or it might be poorly stored. You might simply not have developed a consistent means to appreciate old tree tea. Tea drinking is about expectations. If you're expecting plantation tea, you may drink plantation tea qualities and miss old tree tea qualities from your session. Plantation tea is what it is pretty much because it's rather limited. The aroma won't really endure. The taste hits narrowly. The aftertastes are rather short. Typically, young plantation tea has an obnoxious green edge. Better cared for plantation tea can approximate good gushu, but they simply don't have the registers gushu has.

That's your view, and I can respect that.
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