During my recent trip to Taiwan, I had the opportunity to visit Mr. Yang (Yangqing Hao, 楊慶號) and his family at their home base in Tainan, Taiwan. Yangqing Hao is a Taiwanese boutique producer of pu’erh tea, and is one of the earliest boutique producers to make its way to the west. Mr Yang’s teas have been generally well-received and have been covered here in a couple reports (1, 2). Having made pu’erh in Yunnan since 2004, it was a pleasure to ask Mr. Yang about a number of topics, ranging from some of his earliest productions to to the ever-changing landscape in Yunnan. Big thank you to Emmett and Sandy for coordinating, Sandy for translating and the Yang family for organizing, facilitating and hosting me!
Yangqing Hao Introduction
In the west, Yangqing Hao was first sold by Houde in the mid 2000s The cakes sold were limited to the 2004 Zhencang Chawang (500g version), the 2005 Yiwu Chawang, and the 2006 Qixiang (sold as the Gushu Chawang). Later on, Origin Tea sold the 400g version of the Zhencang Chawang, the 2007 Qizhong, and 2007 Jincha. Through Emmett coordinating group buys, a wider array of cakes have become more easily available and have spurred a healthy amount of interest in the western pu’erh scene.
Despite his reputation as a pu’erh producer, Yang’s tea business was started in the 1990s as a general tea business. In the early 2000s towards the beginning of the pu’erh boom, Yang collected a number of beengs and eventually became motivated to go to Yunnan to press his own tea. These initial productions were done in 2004 and many are still available, triggering the transition to a pu’erh specialist. The Yangqing Hao brand owns two warehouses, one in Tainan that serves the Taiwanese consumers and another in Guangdong that fulfills orders to the mainland..
- I also got to take a peak at Yang’s storage. It’s essentially a warehouse with lots of boxes and tongs propped up a few feet from the ground. It’s un-air conditioned making it essentially natural Tainan conditions. Tainan is also certainly not Seattle, as I visited on a 90-95F day with ~80RH.
Blending & Yang’s Philosophy on Own Productions
This being modern pu’erh, the topic of specific regional teas was inevitably brought up within the context of some of Yang’s own productions. People familiar with Yang’s teas know that his teas are marketed with made up names rather than the purported region or specific area. This stands in contrast with much of the modern market that is filled with teas that are marketed as being from a single area or village, even going as far as a single tree. This is definitely not restricted to the western market and constitutes the majority of pu’erh produced from small, boutique labels like Yangqing Hao..
Mr. Yang explained that many of these famous areas big tree areas produce very small quantities of actual tea that can be pressed. He highlighted this problem using Bohetang as an example. In this heavily faked area, there’s ~8-10 really big trees, ~100 100-200yr old trees, and ~600 small trees. Despite what some disreputable or naive vendors might have you believe, if you were to press all the material for a harvest from one of the big trees, you’d only have enough material to make a couple cakes which is of course far too little for a commercial tea production.
- Yang also noted that trying to press the maximum amount of leaves per tree also gives incentive to overpicking, a practice that in the short-term is lucrative but isn’t healthy for the tea trees.
Mr. Yang’s own philosophy on pu’erh and its creation is also partially founded on tradition. During our conversation he referenced and re-referenced the hao-ji era (pre-1950s pu’erh). He showed me a stone press, supposedly used by some of the old family operations during that pre-WWII period. This era is generally thought to have material centered around Yiwu and the six famous tea mountains. Productions from then are also noted for being blended from different materials within those regions. These older famous productions by the old Songpin and Tongqing factories were made with forest tea, as it was prior to the establishment of terrace tea. Yang and other proponents of blending argue that while single origin teas may have great purity and clarity, they can age to become more narrow or singular. In contrast, well blended forest tea can create a more interesting, layered tea in the long run..
When I asked about specific regional details about some of the teas, Mr. Yang (understandably) declined on where his more recent teas come from. He did mention that this has shifted post-2007 from the greater Yiwu/six famous tea mountains areas towards other areas. His emphasis is on seeking what he sees as quality big green tree material, regardless of region or area, and then mixing those leaves with leaves from other areas..
- Yang also clarified that the 2010 Shenyun Tiancheng (Bohetang) is a blend supposedly featuring a bit of the material from the big Bohetang trees and not pure material.
Production of 2004 Dingji Yesheng
Yang also detailed the creation of one of his earliest teas, the 2004 Dingji Yesheng. When he first arrived in the Mengla county area in 2004, he first went to the classical areas of Yiwu (Luoshuidong, Daqishu, Mahei). These areas were established at the time and had begun re-producing tea in the 1990s.. While in these townships, a farmer came from Guafengzhai and sold tea to Mr. Yang. Yang followed the tea to the east, into the more remote and then less known Dingjiazhai and Guafengzhai. While tea was not grown in either of the immediate villages, there were many nearby tea tree in national forested areas. These villages were used by Yang as a collection point for tea gardens from several surrounding tea areas, like Baishahe, Chaping, Wangong, etc.
The tea was mixed from the five tea areas around Dingjiazhai and another five around Guafengzhai before Yang bought it, and he openly admits to not knowing how much of each area or particular trees are in the finished Dingji Yesheng, simply that it’s quality old tree material. Despite being just 12 years ago, the pu’erh scene has changed quickly and this stands out as a particularly stark contrast to today’s premium, location-centric marketing and boutique tea production.
- Yang also confirmed that the 2004 Teji and 2004 Zhencang Chawang were made in a similar manner, with the collection of maocha based in Guafengzhai. These two teas both contain less components than the Dingji Yesheng.
Changes in Yunnan: Pollution, Processing
Having first pressed tea in 2004, Mr. Yang has witnessed the rapidly shifting landscape in both the pu’erh world and in Yunnan. I asked Mr. Yang about some of the other changes he’s seen. Unsurprisingly, he immediately referenced the dramatically increased price and increasingly difficult task of finding high-quality old tree tea in Yunnan. One less obvious environmental change is the removal of non tea trees from tea growing areas. Yunnan is one of the oldest tea growing areas and outside of tea plantations, forest tea is often grow alongside other vegetation. The other plants are sometimes removed to allow for easier, quicker picking. Yang argues this practice negatively affects the natural terroir and quality of the tea leaves picked in that area and will ultimately result in worst tea.
- This is also particularly ironic since pre-pu’erh boom many Yunnan farmers removed pu’erh trees in favor of the more lucrative rubber plants.
- Another change Yang discussed was the shift in who you can buy maocha from, changing from farms to factories.