Topic: Custom or small batch pressings.

I am hoping someone here may know more than the inner workings of China's Puerh Tea Industry than the little that I do.

But with several places especially those available to westerners coming out with their own custom pressings, i've come to certain conclusions, and I am wondering if people think they are likely true, or if my conclusions are just wishful thinking and guesses.

Mainly, Its my belief that with these custom pressings you are more likely to get material from the actual area that is advertized with the selling of the cake.  Maybe not necessarily high mountain, old tree or anything (even if advertised that way) but the area is probably more accurate then you get with these big company productions.  That is my first hopeful belief.

Secondly,  I feel that while these teas are probably more than likely from the specified area they may not be the best examples of that area, or the top quality* leaf from that area, but as they are usually hand selected and not done in giant factory sized orders, the leaf quality is not horrible either.

* It is my belief that the top quality leaf typically gets bought up by Chinese officials, or Wealthy Chinese Tea house owners who do their own custom pressings.

I would be interested in hearing peoples thoughts on this.

Re: Custom or small batch pressings.

Not my area of expertise, but since we were chatting about it earlier, thought I'd throw in my $0.05. I think it really depends on how close the supervision actually is - is someone just rebranding an existing cake? Choosing the maocha from stuff available in the market? Supervising entire production, from picking the leaves on (and if so, is this really true or is the vendor just coming up with a good story).

I do have this feeling that something claiming to be something that's not very famous is more likely to be what it is said to be than a really big name type of tea, but I could totally be wrong there... vendors know some people think this way and might be playing that card. I think if you have the experience and the palate (I'm not saying I have either!), the tea itself is probably the most important thing to pay attention to. And it's important to have the confidence to trust your own judgements (within reason), or else seek out the opinion of someone you trust (and listen to what they say).

Re: Custom or small batch pressings.

These comments are based on my own experience purchasing maocha on Nannuo and Jinuo/Youle mountains.

Response to AdamYusko:

1. Provenance of materials - it is true that when you go to the mountain and purchase the leaves from the farmer, the chances of this leaf being from that particular area is high. When you purchase maocha in bulk from from a shop in Jinghong or Menghai, the chances that the tea is "true" is good if the area isn't famous. With famous areas, such as Yiwu and Banzhang, chances are you won't find old tree leaves in stores. Most of the maocha I tasted at stores in Jinghong was pretty disappointing.

2. Quality of materials - the quality is only as good as the farmer's stock. Every farmer I visited had two or more grades of tea available, usually tea from larger trees and tea from bushes. Usually more of the latter was available. In fact, the old leaf youle/jinuo material was rare enough that my maocha hadn't completely finished drying after processing before I purchased it, and the farmer only had a few kilos to sell me. The plantation/bush tea was markedly different from the older bushes just a few hundred feet higher up, more bitter and smaller-leafed. Truthfully, most grades from farmers tasted very good and were well processed. Deciding what to purchase became a matter of choosing other characteristics, such as mouthfeel, huigan, brewing tenacity, etc.

An additional note: quantity plays a big role in veracity. When speaking of limited productions for these "small" batches, is this a discussion of tens of kilos, or hundreds? You'd simply be hard-pressed to find any old tree leaf from one village available in the hundreds of kilos quantity. Even when you do find these quantities, it requires many families or even entire villages pooling their old tree maocha together, which can be a crapshoot regarding processing. To get a 400 kilo production of nannuo together, you'd have to visit several villages.

All this said, maocha on the mountain was better than maocha off the mountain.

Also, anecdotally, the small factory where I took my maocha for pressing pressed a brand that was once tied to a university (the factory logo looks like Saturn). They blended face material from Nannuo and back material from Dehong into most of their cakes. Dehong material was $4/kilo, vs. the high 2007 price of $30/kilo for nannuo bush tea. They made quite a lot of money that year passing off their cakes as Nannuo material pressed at the foot of the mountain.

Keep in mind that the above is only one small factory, and not an individual small batch producer. I wouldn't draw conclusions from it.


"Beware the man of one book" ~Thomas Aquinas

Re: Custom or small batch pressings.

I agree with most of things that bearsbearsbears wrote. I visited Yiwu for a few days and drunk tea with a few producers. Blending of gushu and taidi is pretty normal even with the small producers. They never admit it. There are leaves that are brought from different location out of Yiwu, even farther location that Mansa mountains too, they blend it with an small amount of Yiwu leaves to get the a bit of feeling of it at least. During my trip to Xishuangbanna in 2009 i met many tea farmers and traders too.

After a few years of tasting the samples I gathered and got sent afterwards I ended up with a man I spent on my trip just an half an hour as no more time was left that day and no more time was needed. My new buddhist friend's teas were clear and really different from others. It costed although a lot more that the others, later Ive found out that his tea is sold in a few weeks after the spring and autumn pressing.  Mainly to Taiwan and Hong Kong. There was no need to any persuasive words.  I so far buy tea from him and from one other local tea fan.

I personally by now I have to admit that it would take a few more years to acquire myself skills to distinguish a real GOOD gushu tea from blended or in better case just spoiled during the frying or other steps of processing. I am getting the feeeling at least and trust my body what is says. The 'clean' gushu tea should make you feel good beside the good taste. The later, the bad proccesing judging, does not take that many years of skills to distinguish.

The other thing is to sell such good tea here in Europe. I am not a type of person that write long and complex description of teas, I just  say what I know and if the person like the tea, ok, let him buy it. It would take a long time to our gourment group of western customers to appreaciate the real gushu tea. Its like saying in terms of religion, if you would meet the God or the Buddha in your work or elsewhere, would you recognize him? or you just will call him another new age lunatic? Its the same with gushu tea. So that I buy each season some tea, one third of it is bought by my long term tea friends and rest I store.

here are a few lines with a guy from Yunnan I trust and I have to say its difficult to trust any of the tea traders in China : ;-)

me: When you buy maocha you never know what the farmers and what quality they would have, right?

Jimmy: The tea leaves are a kind of a farmer product, so you never know what quality they would have before the tea leaves are made.

me: The good maocha is not burned, its not too smoky?

Jimmy: The quality of tea leaves usually depend on the weather.

me: sure... I believe the skills are very important, or taught by masters, weather too

Jimmy: This is a very reason why I have to stay on the mountain to chose tea every tea season

me: sure,very good way, so that you may guarantee the quality…

Jimmy: yes

Jimmy:  I trusted a factory in the past, but I was cheated. Each factory mix taidi into gushu so this is the  reason I just do this work by myself. The factory put 40% gushu and 60% taidi to make cakes and they would call it Gushu Pu-erh tea.

me: do you have ‘your’ farmers? can you trust them?

Jimmy: I pay the price of gushu so I do not want to get any taidi.  I know some farmers that can be trusted. I used to know many before but these days trustworthy men are rare. If you really want to get real good tea leaves, you have to stay in the village.

me: you stay in a village and wait for the tea leaves?

Jimmy: I will stay in the village about 3 or 4 days a time and I choose and collect maocha. In some villages I have a trusted and experienced village farmer to collect maocha for me.  I buy the maocha with him , I check it and if the maocha is good I will pay him.


me: My question is whether you buy maocha that leaves are sorted like one bud and two leaves?

Jimmy: The maocha I use for my cakes is made in a traditional way. The leaves would be one bud with two or three leaves

me: yes,could be, ive checked some of your cakes wet leaves after drinking the tea... The good tea is not burnt during frying like many other teas, the tea liquid is then very clear which says it is good, I believe.

Jimmy: The clear liquid is the basic condition of an eligible tea cake. If the liquid is not clear then such tea will be killed in my mind. The opacity of tea is caused by drying process. In Yun-Nan tea mountains during summers rains a lot. The drying of tea leaves is harder than in other seasons of the year. If the leaves are not dried in a short time, they would start rotting on the surface. The tea liquid may be opacity also in the spring. If the peasants do not put the fried tea leaves out to the sun for drying instead they heap it and leave it humid. Then different bacteria would appear on the leaves which will will make the leaves to ferment soon. So the leave will rott in a short time.
You can try to rub or roll the wet the leaves between two fingers to feel the texture of them. If the wet leaves are rotten it would indicate that the maocha was not dried enough.

me: How do recognize gushu tea?

Jimmy: The straight and simple way to recognize if the leaves are gushu tea is to feel the lasting throat feeling remain down the throat. Usually the taidi (young age tea tree, or terasse tea)could not give you a obvious throat-feeling.
The harsh taste is the feature of taidi tea. The harsh taste will stay in your mouth for a long time otherwise the harsh taste of gushu will disappear very soon. Once the harsh-taste disappeared, the mellow and sweet taste will come out.
The taste of bad tea will stay in the mouth. The taste of good and pure gushu tea is feelling like going down into your stomach. The lasting throat feeling of good tea usually begins on the tip of your tongue following down the throat without disruption. The taste of taidi or bad tea usually only stays in the mouth. It has no richness, fullness and profoundness.
We say in China that it’s like a young man that is clever but not wise.