Old Pu'er Real or Fake?

One of the intentionally aged teas, Pu-Erh has a loyal following.

User avatar
Dec 19th, '08, 18:53
Posts: 72
Joined: Dec 14th, '08
Location: Torrance, CA

Old Pu'er Real or Fake?

by vibrantdragon » Dec 19th, '08, 18:53

The Pu'er industry was broken up during the Late Middle of the last century. Till the 1980's it was not producing much tea. I am not sure of the beginning date it was broken up, but it did not really get back to full steam till 1990s.

How much of the old Pu'er we see is real?

I have spoken with some of the original people that restarted some of the tea factories and they said if they found old tea cake most of them sat around and drank it, so I would doubt these stories of old cakes being found and saved to sell.

Mine own opinion is that if you see tea older than ~ 1985 assume it is fake. Almost no way to really prove unless we do some expensive analysis.

I do know that very few tea factories were making tea before the late 1980s.
What does everyone else know?

User avatar
Dec 19th, '08, 20:59
Posts: 2066
Joined: Jan 11th, '07
Location: Los Angeles, CA

by wyardley » Dec 19th, '08, 20:59

I don't think most of it was stored in Yunnan. A lot of pu'er went to Guangdong (Canton) or was exported to HK. I think there are a number of fairly well established HK merchants who have large stock of old tea -- a few of them have been continuously in business for quite some time. Plenty of tea is in the hands of private collectors as well, who may sell off some of their collection.

Does that mean I think every "aged" tea is as old as it's supposed to be (or well stored)? No. It's pretty well documented that there's a lot of stuff out there that's fake and / or misrepresented, and there are lots of vendors who are dishonest.

And the concept of "dry storage" didn't really exist before the late 80s / early 90s, so it's pretty rare to find completely dry stored stuff from before then.

User avatar
Dec 19th, '08, 22:47
Posts: 1955
Joined: May 22nd, '06
Location: Trapped inside a bamboo tong!
Contact: hop_goblin

by hop_goblin » Dec 19th, '08, 22:47

I believe your analysis is to some extent is incorrect. First of all, the state owned tea factories were still producing under the auspices of the CNNP; however, not to the level that they are today under private ownership. Secondly, you have to remember, that pu-erh in the 1980s and well into the 1990s, was still a very common commodity which was typically localized in one area of Yunnan . As a result, old stock was not uncommon to find. Furthermore, you have also to take into consideration that the metropolitan areas of China believed that pu-erh was a rustic drink for the credence and not part of the culture of the growing middle and upper class and therefore only drunk by a particular few-relatively speaking. However, during the SARS outbreak, some believed that pu-erh could actually protect individuals from the disease. As a consequence, some enterprising Taiwanese business persons bought up nearly all of the old stock in Yunnan essentially monopolizing the entire aged pu-erh business. This factor coupled with the ever increasing popularity of the tea worldwide explains the astronomical prices we see today.

Wyardly is correct in that Dry storage was not recognized until the infamous '88 beeng cha, so yes, most of the older stuff is and was accelerated stuff with the use of high humidity. But then again, they didn't care about dry stored stuff or even knew what it was. They just wanted puerh to drink and was not as academic of a subject as it is today.

User avatar
Dec 28th, '08, 03:19
Posts: 72
Joined: Dec 14th, '08
Location: Torrance, CA

by vibrantdragon » Dec 28th, '08, 03:19

I see that issue 4 of the Leaf has some good info on older Pu'er teas being fake or not. THe article in the leaf seems to think much of the really old Pu'er is good not fake. Plus, I just read a great article from Jinghong Zhang, and she has listed modern and older production numbers from Yiwu.

"First, Yiwu has both tea trees and shrubs. The former are grown naturally on old
plantations and have a stronger taste. The latter were developed
by people later and are much shorter and younger than the former,
but can grow much more quickly. In recent years, the former in
Yiwu has an annual production of 70 tonnes; the latter 250 tonnes.
However, the annual figure appearing in the market labeled Yiwu
is no less than 3000 tonnes, and most are marked as ‘from trees’,
which cannot easily be verified by a common consumer. Where do
those surplus teas come from? It is really questionable. Secondly,
the over-use of pesticide in tea shrub planting is a common
problem on many tea plantations."

In her aticle and in the last issue of the Leaf they spoke about the new tea having a big problem with fakes. It seem much of the new tea leaves are coming from the surround areas around Yunnan and much of the leaf used to make our dear Pu'er is coming from young tea bushes not the trees. I know for one of my personal special Pu'er bricks the government sent a person to live on the Yiwu tree farms to ensure that the farmer did not sell to some one else the good leaves or use lower quality leaves from GuangXi. The source of the leaves have become a big issue and the ratio of the big to small leaf a big question in modern Pu'er.

Also in Jinghong Zhang's article she said that Yiwu did shut down tea production after 1953 untl Zhang Yi restarted it in the mid 80s. Now this is just one region, but a very important area.

Let me know what else others can find.

User avatar
Dec 28th, '08, 15:23
Posts: 119
Joined: May 6th, '08
Location: NYC, NY

by Jeremy » Dec 28th, '08, 15:23

I think its a bit much to assume that ALL puerh before the 80s is fake. In my opinion there are two types of areas that you see fakes.

1. A killer deal from a small vendor. Like its a lao ban zhang cake for 3$. But this is usually seen as an impersonation of type.

2. As far as old cakes, if you are talking about googling some rare cake and buying it from one of the vendors that comes up in your search. I might have to agree with you a little. If the cake is indeed real, and you have thousands of dollars for it, then it could also be stored improperly.

Finally, the only way I would ever buy anything like that are through trusted channels, I wouldnt trust the interenet. So I guess I am agreeing with you in a way.


User avatar
Dec 28th, '08, 16:40
Posts: 2350
Joined: Oct 23rd, '06
Location: Seattle Area
Contact: tenuki

by tenuki » Dec 28th, '08, 16:40

I've drunk some delicious fakes and similarly some crappy authentics. Tea's value to humans is taste, aroma and Qi, all else is artifice.

( As far as artifice, I agree with Jeremy on all points )

User avatar
Dec 28th, '08, 17:15
Posts: 72
Joined: Dec 14th, '08
Location: Torrance, CA

by vibrantdragon » Dec 28th, '08, 17:15

I guess I expect my tea to be what I ordered. I know that the real older trees have much better Qi in the leaves. The leaves from GuangXi and other areas have the wrong micro-organism on them and they have the wrong balence of chemicals to make the correct product from the secondary fermentation. Qi is built within the cake by coversion of the leaves organic matter into Qi. Plus, the health of the cake is best when the right type of leaves are used. I know my tea with the best blend of small, medium and large leaves give me the best Qi. I can not imagine a fake having that same power. By fake I mean a cake or brick being made from leaves not from the correct location and having the correct blend of organic power within them.

User avatar
Dec 28th, '08, 20:21
Posts: 72
Joined: Dec 14th, '08
Location: Torrance, CA

by vibrantdragon » Dec 28th, '08, 20:21

i have provided quite a bit of data on the industry. Yiwu no tea from 1953 to ~1985 all factories closed (Jinghong Zhang). Others areas had some tea but production cut way back. (the leaf and other sources say this not just me) They just did not make much tea during that time. Plus, in Yunnan most of of the old tea found was drank by the returning workers. (these are personal stories from some of the early workers). Only the old tea that was being held outside of China is maybe real. That was the tea in HK and than sold to merchants in Taiwan before the transition back to China. In my earlier post I said shut down late middle of last century - ~1950s to middle 1980s. The CP did keep some of these open,but not many. Tea production in China during that period did drop all over not just in Yunnan.

Than look at the chemistry post i made. Pu'er is made by the conversion of the organic matter to new compounds. That is the process that occurs while Pu'er is aging and/or during Fermentation. This unique process is what makes Pu'er the great tea it is.

Dec 28th, '08, 22:26
Posts: 1566
Joined: Mar 19th, '06
Scrolling: scrolling
Location: On the couch
Contact: Proinsias

by Proinsias » Dec 28th, '08, 22:26

vibrantdragon wrote:Than look at the chemistry post i made. Pu'er is made by the conversion of the organic matter to new compounds. That is the process that occurs while Pu'er is aging and/or during Fermentation. This unique process is what makes Pu'er the great tea it is.

The process of converting organic matter into new compounds is not unheard of outside the world of pu-erh, it's pretty common in all walks of life and helps explains why we have tea to age in the first place.

+ Post Reply