Wednesday, November 17, 2010

vintage tea - pu'erh

i am not a serious or regular drinker of chinese tea. my interest in chinese tea was perked after i heard a friend extolling its benefits; no, not the health kind but the monetary kind. he was telling us about how someone made a bundle from selling his old collection of chinese tea. he had bought it many years ago for $20 a piece and recently sold it for $500 a piece.

according to him, the value of a certain type of tea has increased by as much as 25-folds over the years. i have heard of vintage wine fetching astronomical sum of money, but vintage tea? it was the first time i was hearing about it. it seems tea connoisseurs and speculators, especially those from china, are willing to pay premium prices for old pu-erh tea.

i decided to visit some of the better known tea-houses in the chinatown area to find out more about chinese tea. the tea chapter on neil road sells a wide variety of tea, including pu'erh which it classifies as a black tea. the pu'erh is sold in the form of a brick or a cake. a piece of raw pu'erh tea brick dated 1980 costs around $880. this tea house also conducts tea appreciation lessons for individuals as well as groups.

i have always thought that tea is best consumed fresh, shortly after production. but, no, here is a case of a tea that matures and mellows with age. it seems that pu'erh tea can be drunk immediately or allowed to age for many years.

at yixing xuan tea-house, which i visited on the same day, there was a school group attending a tea art session. you can get a variety of chinese tea from this shop. it sells four types of pu-erh tea. the costliest is 18-year old pu-erh which is sold at $60 per 100gm.

pu-erh tea comes from yunnan, a province in china. it has a strong earthy flavour. it is processed using an ancient technique - which used to be a state secret - that involves aging the leaves. it is often formed into bricks although you can also get pu-erh in a loose form. some prized pu-erh can be as old as 50 years.

in a country like china when something commands a high price, what do you think will happen? yes, the counterfeits started appearing on the market. unscrupulous tea manufacturers started producing adulterated versions and some added chemical to the tea to hasten the fermentation process. just like in the milk powder scam, these greedy people did not care if the chemical was toxic or harmful to the drinkers.

the same friend also told me that not only is the pu'erh tea sought after, the sticker (nei fei) which is usually embedded into the brick during pressing is also valued. the sticker is seen as a proof of the authenticity of the tea. the sticker usually states the factory where it is produced.

so, if you are thinking of buying pu'erh tea, it is best to get it from a reliable source and you have to look out for the sticker.


yg said...

my walking partner who just returned from india - he went on the buddhist/buddha trail - bought me a packet of indian masala chai (mahamaya tea). he also passed me a packet of 'one leaf tea' from yunnan. i like the 'one leaf tea'. one leaf, literally, is enough to produce one cup of fragrant tea.

Yu-Kym said...

This thing about old tea is new to me. I also thought that tea is best consumed fresh.

yg said...

yu-kym, i have drunk pu'erh tea long ago but i cannot remember its taste. i don't think i can afford to drink 50-year old pu'erh.