Smart Tea Buyer is an article is about buying tea in China or buying Chinese tea on internet. Mostly aimed on pu-erh tea. Please also note that this is not a static article but dynamic one , we do update it time of the time with new information!
Buying fresh spring tea
Is commonly known that spring tea is the best and specially the first flush ( in China called “tou chun”. Well, not true for all teas. Of course green teas or most of oolongs are great when “fresh made” , but many black teas are better few months later or even next year. Black tea “shai hong” is even better after 2 years and can be stored up to 6 years.
Especially “tipsy” Dianhong teas like : Jin Si, Jin Ya etc. are not really great in “tou chun” edition. You might experience grassy notes “qing wei” which tastes not really well in black teas. Also many “gong fu” style black teas need time to settle the taste / let the processing taste fade away. 6 – 12 months. Dancong Lao Cong Shui Xian is the oolong which can be stored for few years and has quite good maturing ability.
Scent of dry tea leafs
Probably the biggest mistake of tea drinkers or tea vendors is the judging the tea quality by smelling the dry tea leafs. You are not going to smell much from 10g of dry tea leafs in your hand or in small sample zip bag. Different case would be sticking the head into the 10kg bag. Yes , some teas like green tea or oolongs , some “gao xiang” or oolong type black teas can have very distinctive scent , but that doesn’t mean that other leafs are low quality.
The best way how to smell the dry tea leafs is to out them into the hot gaiwan, close the lid , shake it , then slightly shift the lid and smell it trough the gap.
I guess no postal service or couriers work for free in any country and China is not an exception. This marketing model works in many cases and has been even pushed to vendors as obligatory in some online shop platforms in order to get visible on their search database.
Sending 357g puerh tea cake from Kunming to US in durable padded envelope or small box via EMS small pack (e-packet) costs around 7 – 10$, sending a tea pot same way , packed safe , could vary from 8 – 15$. Some countries don’t have e-packet option so packages are calculated per kilo, so sending the same stuff can cots even 20$.. .. you do your math;-)
The shipping fee gives a buyer clear idea of actual price of the product and easier way to compare between each of them or between other shops.
Orders above XXX$ – free shipping , means that vendor makes enough profit on that sale to be happy even cover the actual shipping fee for you.
Tea storage ( pu-erh tea related )
Many beginning pu-erh tea drinkers are wondering why Guangzhou, Shenzhen, HK or Shanghai pu-erhs are much cheaper from Kunming ones. The answer is the wet / dry storage , and those are the key words I suggest you to put in google search in order to learn more.
Buying directly from China or from local vendor?
In simple logic you should be ( at least most of the cases ) getting better deal if buying a tea directly from the place / country of origin. But it has many downsides : like expensive shipping fee , long time delivery ( only EMS can deliver within 3-7 days ) , import tax, inconvenient payment ( not all vendors can support payment via credit card , not mentioning the tea farmers ) . So if you are up to buying 50g of black and 50g of green , better check your local tea vendor.
Buying tea on Tao Bao or other Chinese platforms
Very popular way of some pu-erh tea drinkers how to venture Chinese wild online tea market. Since it’s a Chinese consumer orientated market , some of the prices are overrated for few reasons.
1) “cheap is just cheap” – an old Chinese saying , so many people wouldn’t buy low price product just because afraid it’s not good quality.
2) Protecting the offline customers ( retailers ) which are a more reliable and stable income for tea whole-seller. ( some whole-sale suppliers also sell on TB )
3) re-selling other shops tea – if you ever happen to be in some Chinese tea market , you might notice some shops with very little tea but having a few computers, big light box or any other professional photographing equipment. These are Tao Bao guys:-) What they do, is just re-sell tea from the shops in that market. Having a shop, even small one, on market like Xiong Da or Jin Shi in Kunming is not cheap, so that would show up on price.
In fact, some Taobao vendors just re-sell goods of other TB vendors with higher price, catching up the customers on mentioned “golden rule” cheap is cheap;-)
Yes, you still might get lucky and catch something nice there, but it has a few downsides : you can’t buy a sample there and you can’t get a refund if not buying it in China. Sometimes you can’t even get refund even when you buy it in China , if the failure of the product is not provable by pictures. Also , as it’s well known, many “fake” aged teas or teas from Gu Shu ( ancient tea trees ) and so on. It does require certain skill / knowledge how to shop on Tao Bao and being able translate using automatic online translators is not the important one. Even if your are able determine the fake feedback below the products , the real ones still don’t have to be a genuine. Why?
1) leave positive feedback , we treat you – very common and it’s also known from Ali-express, when vendor was promising to refund the bad goods in exchange for positive feedback.
2) plugin for negative feedback – some TB vendors have a software / plugin to see which buyer leaves negative feedback in other shops , then they might refuse to sell anything to buyer who wasn’t happy with previous purchase. ( So some people are generally afraid to leave any negative feedback )
Taobao is a good way how to play a “roulette” and get some tea with wrapper which you might not get from other online tea shops. I purposely highlighted that, because that’s what might only be different. It’s high competition out there, so it’s very hard to sell “genuine tea” ( name , price equivalent to the tea quality / grade and origin ) .
There are some smart ways how to buy on TB, like sharing orders , but that requires to be in certain group or follow the forums. It’s an opportunity how to get some samples before purchasing the full cake. But you might ending up paying additional “fee” if you are interested in full package ( cake ,brick..etc. ) later. Usually the person collecting those sharing orders doesn’t reveal the link to the actual product ,so you never see the real price.
Buying factory teas
I would say that most of the foreign pu-erh tea drinkers ( just in our experience so far ) still would choose some famous brand over the small pu-erh tea producer . Of course many reasons like , quality standard , investment ( like DaYi, Zhong Cha etc. ) if you are interested in re-selling it later. But generally tea material is the cheap bush tea or mixtures. It’s hard to generalize but in our experience , we would say that approximately 60-80% is the up-marked price to cover tea factory’s expenses for running the business and marketing ( adverts , participating on exhibitions etc. ) We had an opportunity to see some marketing strategy of one well known tea factory and figured out the price of the same tea material can be even doubled from what small private producer could offer.
Buying aged or semi-aged pu-erh tea
Many pu-erh tea drinkers can’t stand new sheng pu-erhs and don’t even call the tea “pu-erh tea” unless it’s at least 5 years old;-) Well yes, there is something about it. The downside of it is that price is higher than new ( if exactly the same tea ) , storage can be various ( wet / dry ) , availability is limited ( older – less ) and of course genuine age issues ( in GZ tea is maturing faster than in KM ) .
For eliminating all those problems there is a one simple solution. Make them age in your stash. Buy a new pu-erh every year and in 5-6y you have semi aged ( 100% not fake ) every year right in your home.
1) price – it’s difficult to write in some “%” of how much pu-erh price is goinging up each year because of many factors are involved. Quality tea material, storage, availability on market and with factory teas, also their marketing strategy. Big factories sometimes purposely up-marking their teas every year much higher than it’s worth in order to keep investors interested. And that’s the one of the concepts on which is pu-erh tea business built on.
2) storage – sometimes the tea might be good but because of bad storage it’s just not drinkable or very poor taste. Many pu-erh tea drinkers experiencing an issues with Guangzhou stored tea which loses the scent / taste after some time. “Have I done something wrong with storing the tea?” ..common asked question in those cases. Not necessarily. The water is naturally vaporizing and so the wet stored leafs ( absorbed more water than dry stored ones ) reveal the scent much stronger due to that natural effect of vaporizing. So effect is that tea cake smells very intensively and nice ( if not too long and bad stored in wet environment ) woody, fruity etc. Also the taste is softer, less astringent , much sweeter ,more fruity etc. While that excessive water vaporizes out ( the tea “dries off” ) , you start to experience , lets say :” the real taste / scent of this tea ” . It still could bet be good , but also bad. Which way is it , is very individual. Depends if drinker is just upset with changed characteristics of the tea and counting it as a faulty , or if the tea is actually dull and colored bitter water with no any pu-erh tea characteristic like “sheng jing” or “hui gan” . In any case , making your own aging is the best way to avoid those problems ( unless you are fan of wet stored teas and your place is dry or vice versa )
Is’s also good to know what is the difference between dry and wet stored pu-erh tea in matter of further aging. There is no particular standard of humidity and temperature for optimal aging of the sheng pu-erh tea. Said that, the excessive humidity causing the fast natural aging influence the tea leafs for further maturing, especially when changing the environment ( moving to dry or semi-dry place ) . You can think it of it like shu pu-erh which is not changing as significantly as sheng pu-erh stored in same environment. That’s why lots of vendors can get away with not genuine age of shu pu-erh.
3) availability – which makes sense not only with the tea but in most of the products. Not only big tea factories but also small producers would adjust the tea price based on how much left in stock. If you can approx. calculate how much pu-erh tea you drink per year , you might as well keep refilling your stash and keep your overall budget lower than before.
4) fake age of pu-erh tea – is the probably most common problem of buying a pu-erh tea. The common practice is to buy the “mao cha” loose leafs , usually summer or autumn cheap harvest of bush tea material. Leave it 1 year mature bit in Menghai , press it into the cake and wrap it with dates as 4-10 years old tea ( depends on idea / selling concept of the vendor ) . Then send it to Guangzhou / Shenzhen for 2 -5 years to get matured and then to Kunming to get dried out. Output is the nice dark color leafs semi aged sheng puerh with whatever years old label with Kunming storage tag price. This is the still “reasonable” example , the most ridiculous cases are usually happening with shu pu-erh. ( more about that further down )
There are also other methods of fake aging which will be content of separate article.
In that case, as mentioned above, is safer to buy new pu-erh and make them age in your place. You can also buy 1-3 years old tea which is more than likely not to be fake aged.
Direct tea sourcing from the tea farmer
This is one of the common myths among the tea buyers : buying directly from the tea farmer is better and cheaper.
This is unfortunately not always true for few simple reasons:
1) processing – not every tea farmer actually can handle processing of their fresh tea leafs. Many of them only sell fresh tea to the processing company . Some of the farmers pay to this company to process their fresh tea leafs so they can sell it to random tea travelers / small buyers. So price could be very same or even more expensive than buying from a middleman . Some of them are trying to do the processing them self’s but not always with acceptable output.
2) knowing a market price – not every farmer knows actual market price of the tea and expenses of the tea vendor coming to his farm. So it’s very common that you’ll get offered very high price based on farmers assumptions how much you could pay ( foreigners always get higher bid , even if come over with local ) , how much his tea worth compare to what they hear about prices from around. Which usually is comparing with famous places like Laobanzhan or Bingdao. So you would have to have a very good understanding of local economy and prices of tea, to avoid being ripped off.
3) cheating – now, that might sound like casting a bad light on poor farmers , but unfortunately some of them are already “smarted up”. Please note: that comes form our personal experience when dealing with some tea farmers and witnessing cases of other vendors being cheated. Details , solutions and how to avoid being cheated? This unfortunately we are not going to share with you. This part is of the each vendor’s “know how” … thanks for understanding 🙂
( you might get a bit closer picture if read trough our previous blogs )
Chinese tea farmers online
As many of you probably have noticed, there are more and more tea farmers available on Facebook , Instagram etc. Sometimes claim to be a son , daughter , sister of the tea farmer or any other very close relative which suppose ti make a tea drinker / buyer feel getting a better deal because of direct tea sourcing. This kind of concept exists on Chinese online shop platforms many years , some of them could be real but most of them are fake ( The pictures of hugging the old tea tree is not really good proof though. ) . What is the situation on foreign online world with this we haven’t surveyed, but here is the something you can think about:
1) language barrier – the tea farmer ( specially Yunnan ones ) sometimes can’t even speak proper Mandarin Chinese , not mentioning English.
2) internet skills – tea farmer hardly uses internet ,not mentioning the special software to get an access to blocked social medias like FB or Instagram. Not mentioning put together some decent online shop based website …and in English 🙂
3) international shipping – there are no many shipping options available in small towns in China , not mentioning the village somewhere in the mountains. So for 100g of tea you would have to pay shipping fee calculated as 1kg already.
4) tea farmer relatives – good to know a little bit about Chinese language here though. Chinese people might address each other “jie jie” , “ge ge” – sister , brother , even without being actually relatives but only friends.
OK, lets skip all that and assume that the person on FB is:
1) farmers close relative – well, again , it’s good to know the culture and understand economy situation in China. If you can communicate in foreign language and actually capable of doing business with foreigners , you are possessing a valuable skill set which you are going to turn into the financial profit. Simply said , you are not doing it for free. Which means , you will add your price to the original price of tea from the farm and usually in same range as other tea vendors.
2) actual farmer – there is big difference in price per gram if you buy 1 ton , 10kg or just 50g. For example our last trip to Mang Fei , where the 1kg price difference between buying 1t or 10-50kg was four times. So doing the weighting, packaging , labeling and shipping is extra work which you obviously have to pay for…. as you would pay the regular tea vendor.
Some tea processing companies / factories or tea farmers do their retail business. Selling 100g packed tea in box with their logo etc. But they are not doing it to give customer better deal, they do it to make more money or just make any money if not wholesale buyers not coming over. Because no farmer is happy to waste time with packaging 25g samples, sometimes they are not even get bothered to sell you 5kg , you have to take whole box 10 – 15kg.
And again, if farmer can see the market prices ( prices of other online shops ) he/ she will more than likely apply similar range.
You might notice that some of them even have bigger selection of teas, not only those they produce , so at that stage they are becoming a tea vendor / re-seller and so the retail prices are applied again. In very tea touristic places the tea farmers are not eager to do a wholesale anymore because making more money on retail sales during the harvest seasons. We are happy for them and avoiding them:-)
So is it better to buy from tea farmer or tea vendor?
If you are committed to buy bigger amount of one or few types of tea which tea farmer actually produces, then you will get a better deal from the tea farmer course.
Some people feel better when supporting the tea farmer by buying their tea directly ( even if buying small amounts ) rather than via tea vendor who buys from that farmer big bulks. We absolutely support that , although it might not seem like that. Many tea farmers have no other job and if they don’t make enough sales during harvesting seasons, they must a look on other solutions. So if you are sure that you are actually buying directly and happy with price / quality ratio, please do buy tea from them.
Searching quality based on price
Another misconception of judging a grade of tea which is very common on Chinese market and not only applied to the tea. More expensive = better quality. When buying tea online it’s hard to judge quality because you have only pictures with description available and you don’t want to sample every tea they have in order to make a decision. You see price in one shop and then half price of the same name / looking like tea in other shop. Naturally you try to figure out if first is overpriced or second has just lower quality which is not obvious from images.
Well, couple of thoughts:
1) location – is vendor located in place of origin of the products he / she sells or travels from his / her country every year to get new tea or pottery ? ( travel expenses much higher than local vendor’s , life expenses are more than likely different as well )
2) experience & knowledge of local environment – is vendor experienced in purchasing products on the field ? this is very hard to determine since everybody who is coming to China buying a tea or pottery , runs the blogs, Youtube channel , FB etc. And shouting around : “Hey look! We are here at the source! ” Which should make their fans feel : “Cool, they gonna get some good stuff for good prices” Unfortunately that’s not always truth. In the eyes of most Chinese people , still the foreigners are being rated as rich people, so the prices are equivalent to it. I have seen many foreign tea vendors or tea lovers coming to Yunnan and being cheated on tea farm or ripped off in local tea market. Understanding such a “cheating and deceiving” based tea biz doesn’t only require to speak Chinese or have somebody local with you. Knowledge of background stuff helps a lot . Knowing actual prices and ways of negotiating is hardly being obtained by coming to Yunnan twice a year, but constantly being on tea market or tea farm ( depends what sort of tea biz you are aimed on ) and look around /listen /learn and learn and learn. Lot’s of new things are happening every year and constantly developing tea business which is not shared even on Wechat .
I guess this doesn’t apply only with a tea business in China but in other fields in other countries. Just a common sense;-)
3) vendor’s running business costs – is something what is not obvious from the website but it is possible to find out by following the vendor on soc. medias. blogs etc. to get him/her know better ) . Is vendor working ( buying tea, packaging, labeling, shipping etc. ) him self / with family or hires some other people to do? ( costs of employees also vary, depends on country where the shop is located )
4) vendor’s business concept – is vendor Tea lover or Tea Businessman ? This kind of term is used in China and many vendors of course would claim ” I’m a tea lover who loves his/ hers business” or something like that. Well, we all do:-)
In this case the term “Tea businessman” is not about that. Here it means a person who sells the tea only for the profit , and I can assure you, in China are lot’s of them. From online vendors you can feel it by few ways. Pictures or videos being in some famous tea villages is not one of them ( That’s what more than likely the Tea businessman would do, in other to get more likes and search traffic thanks to the popularity of that place ) .
Mostly you can see it from the concept of website it self. ( pictures, description, other related links ) . Sometimes from soc.media personal profile , blogs or other articles etc. , Of course , busy vendor might not have much time for posting but you should still be able to catch something.
The Chinese tea business is quite messy and enthusiastic tea vendor is the “filter” between you ( tea buyer ) and that chaotic market. That’s the feeling you should be getting from your vendor. The “Tea businessman” will just stick on the site products with famous labels without any personal judgment of it. Logically , because it’s a guaranteed sale and no time to bother actually trying it.
Please note: it doesn’t mean that’s bad. It is just a different business model which works well for many sellers and buyers.
Fake tea ( the tea is real, wrapper is wrong )
Seems like very hot topic among the pu-erh tea drinkers last few years. Finally even foreigners abroad started to realize that getting a 20 + years old pu-erh for 100$ or so , is quite …actually even being able to get it online or in some Chinese tea shop …..lol;-)
Read a bit Chinese / Yunnan history from that time, preferably tea related, then make the numbers 🙂
Probably the most ridiculous is Wen Ge – The Cultural Revolution Shu pu-erh tea , pressed into the brick and labeled with dates around 1970’s or so. It comes in various wrappers and prices on online shops like Taobao and then appears among some tea drinkers abroad posting it on soc. media : ” I feel like sitting in time machine , traveling back to the 70’s” :-0
Good tea vendor will try to filter those out and if offer for sale ( some of them might be good teas after all ) , then with honest explanation and obviously with equivalent price tag. The “Tea businessman” would just put it on the site and let the customer decide if it’s genuine ( usually without offering a sample ).
One example of how to recognize “fake” old tea even from the box. Puerh Tea Group. The “Group” word in the company name has been implemented in 2005 , also sticker shows the date 1999 but serial number of registration is 2002.
Understanding grades of tea
There are plenty articles and videos about how to determine quality / grade of tea only by the picture ( since we talk about online tea biz ) . So we I’m not going to write about that.
What is very confusing in sort of “grading” , consequently also pricing the tea is the pu-erh tea.
Already mentioned above “fake” aged tea which could be determined by knowing a bit of the history, wrappers and a bit of local economy ( which means : for this kind of tea the Chinese tea drinker would pay 1000$ , so why the heck they would sell it to a foreigner for 100$ …for example )
Gu Shu ( ancient tree ) , Mu Shu ( mother tree ) , Da Shu ( big tree ) , Xiao Shu ( small tree ) , Lao Shu ( old tree ) , Dan Zhu ( single tree ) , Qiao Mu ( arbor tree ) , Tai Di Cha ( bush / tableland tea ) ..etc. More details in Ou Tea section on our website.
More rare – more expensive …logically .
And that’s the another factor on what is the pu-erh tea business built on. It’s built on not knowing, not understanding but desire to have something special / rare.
Yes, Gu Shu ( ancient trees ) tea is rightfully rated higher than others and not only for being less available on the marked, but that’s the whole point of writing the sentence above with highlighting “the key words“.
The term “Gu Shu” has been misused as far as Gu Shu oolong tea, Gu Shu coffee or white tea Da Bai Hao pressed into the 250g cake called Gu Shu White Pu-erh tea from 300y old tree. The article about actual name “White Pu-erh tea” we also posted in our G+ account in Tea Comparing section here.
Being able to distinguish what is the reasonable categorizing / grading/ pricing difference, requires a bit experience in very randomly developing tea market and of course common sense. Being able to taste the difference between tea from bush / tableland or 100y old tea tree and 300y one , consequently paying multiple price differences , requires a bit of training. Knowing the market real prices of each grades / categories , knowing what tea is being substituted “faked” with which tea this year..etc ,all that requires to be quite often on tea market , talking to local vendors, listening the gossips. ( we leak sometimes on tea forums 😉 Knowing the actual prices from the source requires to be on tea farm or near by quite often.
This information is quite valuable and it’s something you are not going to find on FB or blog of your favorite vendor. Coming to some plantation / tea garden 1st time and think to get the real deal , is very common mistake of many not only foreign vendors arriving to Yunnan for spring and autumn harvest.
It does take a certain time and knowledge how to buy the tea from tea farmer for the right price , without being ripped off and as per our last unsuccessful tea trip also understanding quality-price ratio. ( means made right decision , buy or not )
Even us, being in hart of all that , still keep exploring how much we don’t know. All the time we hear , see and learn something new from tea farmers , other tea vendors or tea producers what hardly gets outside of their closed community circle, not mentioning on www.
The 1000 years old tea tree
Well,….where to start? Let’s say this way ( just generally speaking ) : If it comes from a Chinese vendor – it’s a marketing strategy . If it comes from foreign vendor – it’s lack of knowledge. Please note : it’s only generally speaking, it also could be vice -versa.
Apart of the common sense ( such an old tree is something very very valuable in any country, not mentioning the China! ) , it’s good to know few facts. The one of them is , that tea trees in that age category are protected by Chinese government and some of them are even illegal to harvest. Some of them are harvested under the control. There are also younger than that offered on the market , like 400-800years old . And again, it’s good to know the availability and demand on that kind of tea material in local market. These types of tea trees are usually booked ( purchased ) upfront by some rich investor or tea drinker and not used for general re-sell on some tea market , not mentioning shop or online shop.
Also good to know the way is tea tree age estimated. Yes, I highlighted that , because there is no way to know exact age of the tree unless it’s been cut off and growth rings are counted. If the tree is tall , thick or both, it doesn’t mean it’s very old. Smaller tree can be even older. Tea farmers mostly estimate the age by being told by ancestors that this or that particular tree has been around since their childhood or so.
But of course , this kind of information is being misused more and more. These days many tea farmers would claim any age in order to sell their tea with higher price tag and at this stage all tea business around the arbor and ancient tea tree material is getting very messy. It is normal that you go to some farm and tea farmer will tell you this tree is 500 years old and if you come back there few years later , the same farmer would claim that exactly the same tee tree is 800 years old. They just simply follow the market demand and now ( for few years already ) is a big boom around Gu Shu ( ancient tea tree ) ..older is better. There is no any particular manual how to distinguish different age of tea tree material by drinking either, it is all bout your personal experience which could be based only on learning by comparing. The problem is, unless you have a trusted vendor who lives in area or going often to places where old trees are growing and same time experienced enough to determine all that marketing rubbish in order to get the real stuff , you have no opportunity to learn. You might ending up buying from different vendors different Gu Shu tea and non of them might be what it says on the wrapper ( mentioned fact at the beginning ) . Going to tea farm your self is a nice adventure and experience , but hard to say that you would learn about that much either ( especially if you don’t know the environment and language ) ..of course you’ll get cheated:-)
Old tea tree in Pa Sha ( estimated age 600 – 800 years )
Generally speaking , there is not much legit tea on internet older than from 300y old tea tree. Anything older than that is very rare even in Chinese tea market ( if we talk about the real stuff ) . You can choose to believe that your favorite vendor from Europe or US comes to Yunnan , gets such a valuable tea material and offers it for resell in his/her’s onlen shop for affordable price….your choice 🙂 As mentioned above, you would have to know Chinese economy , availability & demand in order to know how much local tea drinkers would be willing to pay for such a jewel.
The demand is going so big that Chinese tea vendors / makers are investing in neighboring countries like Myanmar , Laos or Vietnam and making the tea directly there for Chinese market. And again, valuable tea leafs from very old tea trees hardly reach the internet , even if somebody claims directly sourcing from that country. In most of the cases the tea makers / masters are actually Chinese, because local people don’t have big experience with making pu-erh tea. Tea travelers visiting such a places are more than likely being simply cheated. Being showed old tea trees and then offered already processed tea . It is very hard to even control the legibility during the processing, as we mention some cases in our previous articles. As said above, doing a tea business in this kind of level ( old tea trees material ) requires more than coming to the place few times per year.
Gu Shu Tea marketing concepts
There are many concepts to sell the tea under such a marketing successful name and some of them are just ridiculous. Once I was wandering local Kunming tea market ( Xiong Da ) and spotted 357g sheng pu-erh cake labeled with Gu Shu name. Curiously walked into the shop and asked price which was quite bellow of what usually old tea tree material is. After trying it and finding out that there is only cheap bush tea material inside , the vendor’s reaction was : ” I haven’t said it’s a gu shu tea, the ‘Gu Shu Cha‘ printed on the wrapper is the name of this tea cake”.
Other example would be like tea vendor selling Gu Shu shu pu-erh tea. Nobody is stupid that much to use at these days such an expensive tea material and “devalue” it by fermentation. Generally the shu pu-erh is sold cheaper than sheng pu-erh.
The most common concept is mixing / blending. Using the old tea tree material mixing with other , cheaper tea ( arbor or bush ) . Ratios are very variable and it’s difficult even for experienced pu-erh tea drinker to estimated how much Gushu is in actual pressed tea cake. Also please note , that different areas have different understanding / concepts of naming the tea trees , like in Mang Fei everything over 100 years old is already called Gu Shu Cha.
Gu shu cha health benefits
So far I haven’t seen any legit research or study about the health benefits being bigger form tea leafs of old grown tea trees than from bush tea ( tableland tea ) , but there is a certain study from CN agriculture department about that bush or younger tea trees are richer on vitamins and nutrition ( in certain way it makes sense due to the fact, that tea is basically a living thing ..”younger = stronger” )
If you have seen any legit research about that matter, please do not hesitate and share with us, we would be more than happy to update this info in our blog!
Buying Tea Samples
As mentioned before, the best way to buy any tea is to try it first in small amount. Good vendor will offer the samples. In Kunming tea market people usually don’t buy less than 50g of tea and some vendors wouldn’t even bother to give any samples unless they can feel further purchases from you. Of course many tea drinkers prefer small samples like 6-10g in order to try as many as they can in certain budget. Same time being afraid of buying tea which they don’t like and stuck with ” waste ” later. It is good idea if you think that you will eliminate good tea from very bad tea, but not good idea if you try to eliminate tea you like from tea you don’t like , because the tea in certain way is same as a food – you don’t like it now , but might like it later ( or some of your friends might like it even now ) . When we tasting a new tea ( especially pu-erhs ) , we try it few times , different days. Sometimes the very same tea tastes different in morning and evening , sometimes tastes different if it’s cold rainy day outside or sunny hot weather. Also tastes different based on what were you eating that day , how is your mood, blood pressure and actually speak of the weather before , the air pressure can influence your taste buds as well ( specially if you live in higher elevations ).
Buying very small tea samples can get very expensive and not coming from the quality of the tea but from the actual work of the vendor. You can try it your self. Take a big 10kg box out of the shelf , take out 10g of tea, weight it , pack it into the bag , print and stick the label on. Worse is chipping of the pu-erh tea cakes where you have a wastage of broken / crushed leafs . Make 20 bags like that and pack them in small box the way the tea would survive 1- 2m free fall ( post office offloading the truck ). Measure your work time and add the possible costs of the tea. You will get an approx. idea.
Smart tea buyer will buy tea samples which can try at least 3 times , if don’t like it 1st time, put it away for a while and try later ( days, moths..depends on tea ) , then try again ,maybe with friends this time. If like sample, then decide if buy bigger amount / full cake / brick or invest and buy full tong for example. Very good teas are flying out of the shop, so next year might not be available ( speak of the particular batch of pu-erh tea ) .
Unless you are doing some tasting research , we suggest to brew your samples the way you usually drink your tea. After all ‘it’s just a tea’ and should bring you a pleasure from drinking it. Some teas require different water temperatures or brewing times / gram . Those values can vary based on many factors, so we do not provide any brewing details on our website in order to avoid any misleading information. Plenty blogs and forums about the brewing methods are on internet already.
At the end , how much you believe in your vendor it’s only up to you.
Follow your instinct , use common sense and buy samples before making any bigger purchase 🙂