Reading & Drinking Numbers, Numbered Recipes in Pu’erh

I’ve seen the hashtag #drinkingnumbers around instagram used by a few pu’erh heads. This usually means that you’re drinking a tea labeled by the recipe number.. The recipes are usually four digits, and you’ve probably seen them attached to certain teas, both raw or ripe pu’erh. 7542, 7572, 8653, etc..

Dayi 0622 Mini-Cake
2006 Dayi 0622 Mini-Cake.

What do the Numbers Mean?

Numbered recipes usually follow a pretty straightforward pattern. Let’s take one of the most famous recipes: 7542. In this case, the initial two digits 75 mean the year the recipe was developed in 1975. The third number 4 means the average leaf grade. This is not a quality metric and has to do with leaf size, ranging from 0-9. Leaf grade 9 are the largest and leaf grade 0 the smallest. The recipe 8582 would have larger leaves than the 7542 (8>4). The final number stands for the factory. 2 is Menghai Tea Factory aka Dayi, 3 is Xiaguan, and 1 is the Kunming Tea Factory.

Here’s some of the bigger recipes (there’s a lot more than just these).

  • Dayi Raw Recipes – 7532, 7542, 8582.
  • Xiaguan Raw Recipe – 8653.
  • Dayi Ripe Recipes  – 7572, 8592, 7452.
  • Kunming Ripe Recipe – 7581.

Production #

There’s also a couple other numbers that are sometimes listed in conjunction with the recipe. For instance 901 or 902 are sometimes used with Dayi recipes from 2009. There is a 2009 Menghai 7542 901 production and a different 2009 Menghai 7542 902 production. In this case, the first digit 9 stands for the last digit of the production year (2009). The latter two digits 01 stand for the production number. 01 is the first production, 02 is the second production, 03 is the third. This is only how some factories such as Dayi choose to list their productions, others like Xiaguan usually release the date it was pressed, i.e. January 2005.

While this is starting to sound like unnecessary details for only the most pedantic of pu heads, the individual production can actually be pretty important and often will have a substantial impact on the quality and price of the tea. Generally speaking, earlier batches are considered better and will usually cost more. For instance, I know two people who bought 2005 7542 from Taiwan. One was the 501 batch and sold for around $200, the other was the 502 and sold for about half the price! This was not an outlier, and accurately represents the value of the two productions in the eastern marketplace. I’ve also experienced this when I gambled on taobao with a 2005 8653. I immediately noticed that the prices could vary significantly for that tea within the same year. Not knowing better I went for the cheapest (the October production). While I initially thought it was OK for the money, I quickly soured on it and ended up composting the tea. I’ve since tried (and enjoyed!) a few other 8653s from that same year and vendor..

Of course these rules don’t always necessarily hold true. The 2005 8582 504 sells for nearly twice as much as the 2005 8582 501 and 2005 8582 502. Welcome to the headache of factory productions!

Red Ticket 8653
Red Ticket 8653 from the early 2000s.

The Numbered Recipes of Today Aren’t the Numbered Recipes of the Past

Many of the most famous teas from the 1980s and 1990s are numbered recipes. The famous 1988 Qingbeeng, is a dry-stored 7542 between 1989-1992. This represents a big range of different batches. Within these years and batches there can be a large quality difference, all within the scope of a very famous tea. Many of these recipes, like 7532, 7542, 8582, and 8653s are still being produced in mass today.. Before we go out and buy jians of 2017 7542 and 2017 8653 we need to realize that the recipes of today are not the same as these famed teas made 30 years ago. There are far more producers and far more tea productions today. These same factories (Dayi, XG) also make far more individual productions than they did 30 years ago. It’s a totally different market than the 1980s, and the numbered recipes have also shifted in order to accommodate higher quantity. Don’t buy these teas now and expect them to appreciate in the same manner that the teas from decades before has. Presuming it is well-stored, it very well may increase in value but you will also likely be sorely disappointed if this is your retirement plan.

CNNP 7542 ≠  Menghai Tea Factory 7542!!!

How often have we seen an Yiwu Zhengshan cake from the early to mid 2000s? There are a number of overused and overmarketed terms, especially during the late 1990s and early to mid 2000s. Popular numbered recipes, especially the Dayi ones like 7542 and 8582 were also frequently tagged onto teas.

What quality control was being used to keep the recipe within the guidelines of what a 7542 is? Not much.. Maybe the decision to call it 7542 was a well thought out position that informed the selection of leaves by an accomplished tea producer who used to work at that factory. Or maybe it was just a label chalked on by a producer who wanted to take advantage of a pre-existing marketing term in order to earn a buck. The fact of the matter is we don’t know what informed the decision to describe a tea a certain way and shouldn’t presume it is similar to the real deal, a Menghai Tea Factory 7542.

  • I’ve seen people shopping for the cheapest four digit recipe from the same year on Taobao or Aliexpress. This is a surefire way to get cheap crap.

An Important & Necessary Distinction. Menghai the Area vs. Menghai Tea Factory

Menghai is both an area (county) and a tea factories, which makes a tea simply labeled as Menghai ambiguous. Vendors can play fast and loose with this, leading to some serious misconceptions and misunderstandings from the drinkers. One example occurred on the pu’erh facebook group, with a tea labeled as 2004 Menghai 7532. The tea was definitely not an official Dayi production, making the label very misleading to consumers. People selling tea really should be clarifying if a tea is the Menghai area or made by the Menghai tea factory.

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