Spotting Old Arbor Bullshit
Today I’m shedding light on which tea vendors you should or shouldn't trust in 2017. This is a grey area and is a topic that isn’t discussed publicly, mainly because it touches on controversies that repeatedly come up in the tea community. Essentially, when a tea company sells their house-pressed puer, are they selling what they say they are? I can go ahead and cut to the chase and say that there’s no real clear answer, but you can equip yourself with the right set of tools to be more cautious next time you buy that $20.00 old arbor Bing Dao tea cake…
First I must share with you what brought this discussion up.There’s been discussion over a tea company that’s selling a sheng puer at $150.00 USD, and made with tea trees that are 1,000-1,600 years old. With their price point they're selling it for ¢0.28 a gram. This company (lets call them ‘Oolong Inc.’) is also selling a five year old sheng puer sourced from 1,000 year old tea trees for $80.00 USD. Fortunately for Oolong Inc., another company tried to pave the way for them by selling old-ass tea tree sheng puer.
Last year a tea company infamously (lets call them ‘ChaI Corp.’) tried to sell a 100g tea cake for $60.00 each. What made this tea infamous is that Chai Corp. claimed this tea was from tea trees that were over 1,800 years old. This created discussions everywhere in the tea community, and has sparked a discussion that hasn't really gone away.
The Bull Shit
Lets be realistic here. For starters, the typical age for ‘old arbor’ tea trees is anywhere from 100-200 years old. Sometimes, and rarely, they can be older. However, the three oldest tea trees alive today are 1,700 (which died last year), 1,000, and 800 years old. These trees are quite rare and are often hard to come by considering all that they’ve been through. Since the oldest tea tree alive today is currently a century old, you can automatically dispel any claims of tea that comes from anything nearing the 800 year old mark.
Last year, Yunnan Sourcing did some investigating and found that Chai Corp.’s ‘1,800’ year old tree turned out to be a famous 400-600 year old tea tree, and is protected by the Chinese government. To add to this, it’s even a federal crime to pick tea from this tea tree. At this point, you don’t need any more information to be convinced that Chai Corp’s claims were bullshit.
Oolong Inc.’s claims are completely bogus and here’s why. If some of the oldest tea trees in China are between 800 and 1,000 years old, you can automatically discredit any of their teas said to come from trees that age, or any older than that. You can also discredit them because of how much they sell this tea for.
So lets assume that there’s a farmer in Yunnan that has secretly grown a large orchard of tea trees that has survived close to the age of Christianity itself, and for over 30+ generations. And also lets assume that they have this collection of old tea trees. One, they wouldn’t be able to sell tea from these old ass trees for ¢0.28 a gram, much less $10.00 a gram. This tea would be so rare and inaccessible that they wouldn’t be able to sell any more than a few beengs of it, much less a tongs worth. It would be so rare that you could only sell it at auction and private deals, and would never see the light of day on the public and online market.
Why Do They Lie?
There’s a lot of misinformation out there. Although I blame the seller for endorsing ridiculous claims, it doesn’t stop there. For starters, its been documented by many tea companies that the tea markets in Yunnan are cut-throat, especially for non natives. Since tourism in the tea mountains is skyrocketing, a lot of locals associate foreigners with being wealthy. A lot of tea farmers are dirt-poor, and they sometimes oversell their product just to make a sale. With this, a lot of people get taken advantage of and often lied to when they go to the markets. So with that, here are some of the other possibilities to think of…
The company bought from a farmer who lied about his claims
The company tasted one tea, and was sold another (bait and switch)
The farmer was telling the truth but due to poor translation, 160 year old tea trees turned into 1,600 year old tea trees
The company bought tea from a 3rd party, and was lie to by the 3rd party
The farmer actually believes in his claims and isn't lying. A lot of times, farmers are told by professionals false estimates on the age of their trees based on little to no fact
Although none of the reasons listed above are the tea companies fault, they automatically endorse those falsehoods by selling the product. Even if the tea company was lied to, I still hold them accountable because they should have some basic knowledge over the product they’re selling. After all of this, if they don’t really know what they’re selling, then it makes me question their accountability with their other products as well.
Who Should I Trust?
With the recent controversies with Oolong Inc. and Chai Corp., it’s not unreasonable think a 10+ year old tea company would be trustworthy. However, what should you look for when buying tea and who should you believe? Although there isn't a black and white answer, here are some things you should look out for.
For starters, look at the tea company in question and research their background. Almost anyone can find vendors and sell tea their self, but how does any specific tea company stand out as credible? Lets look at an example…
Company A - Created over a decade ago by an e-bay seller of factory cakes, who sold them as a passion project. After 2-3 years of this, ‘Company A’ bought their own domaine, flew to China, and pressed their own puer cakes. ‘Company A’ has been traveling to China every year since and oversee the production of their tea (Yunnan Sourcing)
Company B - Owns a tea house and becomes a youtube personality and endorses pseudo medicine practices. ‘Company B’ specializes in oolong, green, black, and white teas. ‘Company B’ started selling their own in-house puer cakes a year ago.
Based on ‘Company A’ and ‘Company B’, who should you trust when buying puer? When considering the trustworthiness of a company you should consider their background in tea, what kind of tea they specialize, and importantly, how they acquired the tea itself. Did this company pop-up overnight without prior knowledge of tea? Is this company located in the United States, or are they located in China?
What about White2Tea?
White2Tea is a company ran by a guy who goes by the name of 2 Dog, and it’s important to mention him in this because he plays a role in the trustworthiness we have with tea companies. He’s made a name for himself by selling puer with western appeal, and most notable, for the way he markets his tea. Surprisingly, he releases tea without telling you what it is or where it comes from. His store works on a pricing system that operates like this: The more money you spend on a tea cake, the better the quality and the older the tree— Which also creates a bit of controversy because people don’t always trust the integrity of the seller. And without a fair amount of research, how can you trust someone who sells a $200.00 tea cake with little-to-no information to go off of?
There’s only one way to judge a company like White2Tea, and the only way you can truthfully decide if any company is being honest or not. It’s whats in your cup.
In conclusion, theres a lot of deception in the tea community for quite some time now, and now that tea is becoming more popular, it’s more important now than ever to know where your tea comes from. There’s no real clear answer (although sometimes there is), and this topic always generates discussion. Fortunately, you hold the power to decide where you’re going to buy from. If you are not completely sure, remember to always ask questions, and sample as many teas as possible. Theres only one truth teller in this equation, and that’s whats in your cup.
“Blissfully Tea Drunk"