Pu’erh marketing is filled with noise that ranges from the mildly inaccurate to absurdist comedy. One of the most important lessons you learn early is to filter out out information that isn’t important. In the end most of us can come to an agreement that the most important thing is the tea quality, taste and your own enjoyment. That is a lot easier said than done when trying to figure out what to try online. Information and descriptions still play a key role in decision making for purchases. You may just say sample.. But none of us want to or can afford to try everything. This is also the treacherous land of pu’erh, where you will be far better off playing the role of the skeptic until proven otherwise. A vendor like TwoDog has gone so far as to basically refuse to give out any information on his teas. He’s received a fair amount of negative feedback but his point remains. With so much BS out there, do those cookie cutter pu’erh descriptions (xx village, yy tree age, etc.) mean anything at all?
Regions… Big Region, Small Region.
Pu’erh regions are a prominent part in just about every vendor’s (minus W2T) marketing. Most of us westerners have not stepped foot in Yunnan, and certainly not to any of the pu’erh growing regions. Village names are tossed around very casually and often inaccurately. The use of regions makes it really hard to have perspective on the actual regions. Are these growing areas the size of a large rural county or are they the size of a couple trees in Mr. & Mrs. Smith’s suburban backyard. It’s hard to say without a little perspective and framing areas into larger and smaller areas.
- Mengla County (close, but not exactly the same as the six famous mountains or greater Yiwu area)
- Menghai County
- Simao (Pu’er Prefecture)
- Xishuangbanna (contains Mengla, Jinghong and Menghai County)
These areas are decent sized and not insignificant. While it’s certainly within the realm of possibility for a vendor to lie about these largerareas (i.e. calling leaves bordering eastern Xishuangbanna, Yiwu), it’s often a reasonable and also quite helpful statement to say something is from one of these larger areas. Even TwoDog will occasionally drop a hint that a tea features may be from a certain larger area.
These sorts of regional divisions and classifications began to catch on towards the beginning of the modern pu’erh era around the 1990s-early 2000s.
Yiwu is kind of a tricky term because it stands for a township and a famous mountain. It’s an overused geographical term but it’s sometimes used to term the greater area around it which composes of Mengla County and the six famous tea mountains.
Some of the Biggish Areas
All of these areas are contained within one of the big areas listed first. Bulang and Nannuo are in Menghai County. Mengku and Yongde are in Lincang. Manzhuan and Yibang are in Mengla County. It has been pretty common to see these semi-big regional terms put into tea names starting in the early 2000s.
Examples of Areas with Tiny Amounts of Arbor Trees
These areas are not particularly big but are very famous. Grab the salt jar. There is far, far, far more tea being sold as these areas than actually exists. When supply is low and demand is very high, it results in a huge pricetag and most legit old tree from these areas will be very very expensive and likely be peddled behind the scene. Eyebrows should be fully raised if the tea is being sold lower than what it should be. Even if a tea is sold at a higher price, it is buyer beware.
While some of these have historical significance (Mansong was allegedly a source of tribute tea), most of these areas gained their acclaim fairly recently and used to be more associated with the area around them. Ten years ago, very few people had any idea these micro areas existed.
There’s also a danger with being overly associative with some of these regions. For instance don’t drink a tea that is supposedly a “Chawangshu” old arbor tea and get too attached to the supposed “Chawangshu” taste. There’s a very real chance you have not had the really thing. Even if the tea quality is very good, that does not necessarily equate the region to being very accurate.
- This situation with tiny areas can be compared to the Wuyi Zhengyan region where there are many caves and tiny areas that have their own microclimates.
- If a production is exclusively from one of these areas, it should end up being a very small production.
This is one of the most over marketed terms and often falls into the tall tale category of possible truths. They may’ve been to Yunnan and met the farmers but don’t buy the hype.. Old trees are rare and certainly don’t grow overnight. The market for old tree tea has also been around long enough that there aren’t many old trees being discovered that are still cheap. Ripe pu’erh also isn’t ever made from trees that are 800 years or older and then sold for $50/cake. Just sayin..
There are many reasons to buy or sample a tea. In my opinion, alleged tree age should be at the very bottom of that list of reasons.
Keep in mind what the vendor is actually claiming. Not all regional claims are created equally.. Generally, the taller the claim the more skepticism should be drawn on it. It is one thing for a vendor to claim that a tea comes from Yiwu. It is a far taller one to claim a tea comes from “Old Arbor Chawangshu” trees. Treat them accordingly.
Don’t be drawn to a tea because of obviously false marketing. If a tea is being sold for $0.50/g and comes from 1800 year old trees, why the hell are you curious? That is obviously a tall tale and unless you actually think the tea might be good there is no reason to support that kind of false marketing by giving them business. There is a certain fascination I’ve seen from people in the tea community about these clearly false claims. Does it really matter if the vendor is maliciously lying or is simply passing down misinformation. Call me cynical but I don’t get the appeal at all.
Avoid the trap of blind buying a tea because it is an underpriced XX region (Guafengzhai, Bingdao, etc.) tea. Buy the tea because you like its qualities and are OK with the price it is being sold as. If you just buy the cheapest alleged “Bingdao”, “Guafengzhai”, and “Bohetang” you can find on Aliexpress you will end up with none of the above.