Provenance

One of the things that distinguish a Hong Kong tea vendor from a mainland (at least Beijing) tea vendor is that Hong Kong tea vendors tend to be very imprecise about the provenance of their tea. Most vendors in Hong Kong cannot tell you if the tea you’re tasting right now is from 1989 or 1991. Most vendors also cannot tell you which mountain its from, or whether it’s a fall or spring tea, or what not. Some do, like Sunsing, but that’s rare. At the Best Tea House, for example, such information are usually qualified… i.e. “I think this is from xxx” or “we started selling it in 200x”. The Mengku Yuanyexiang, for example, is, I believe, a 2001 cake, but Tiffany always thought it’s from 2003, because they started selling it in 2003. They don’t always sell everything right away, and that is fairly standard practice. Usually they are not in a hurry to sell… and why should they, with prices going up so fast?

This is in stark contrast to Beijing tea sellers, who will tell you everything you ever wanted to know about the cake in question, from the production date, raw material origins, storage location, etc, down to every last detail. Sometimes it’s probably true, but more often than not, I think it’s probably at least sometimes fabricated. I’ve heard so many times from people in Beijing that their tea has always been dry stored since production in, say, 2001, etc etc, except that I find them sometimes to be slightly wet stored, damp, etc. They will always tell a story, but the story is not always true.

The other thing is… how many people can tell the difference of a tea when it’s ten years old? As far as I am aware, nobody knows what a 10 year old Banzhang tastes like. Pure Banzhang (substitute any mountian here) cakes didn’t appear until about 10 years ago. Before that, all we’ve got are recipe cakes, or cakes with leaves of unknown or only somewhat known origins. Who can say for sure where the leaves for the original 8582 was from? The season it was picked? Anything? Yet, we’re drinking them up like there’s no tomorrow (with prices to match). I recently heard someone tell me that this 1997 brick was made with Banzhang area materials. Huh? How do you know that? It’s not written anywhere. By taste? How many people can taste that much of a difference among these locations?

Yet, it is on this sort of information that prices are driven up. XXX cake is expensive because it’s a pure Yiwu from, say, 2001, and the 2002 and 2003 have correspondingly lower prices. If the materials (and the quality) are about the same… why buy the 2001 when its price is, say, 100% more? Your money won’t make 100% return in two years unless you’re a very good investor, so wouldn’t it be better to pay the 100% lower price to get the tea that is 2 years younger? There’s an opportunity cost involved. I guess if I were 65, I might pay the higher price to get the further aging, but otherwise… I’m willing to wait. This is mainly why I only buy cheap or loose aged puerh for current consumption, and buy mostly 5 years or younger compressed teas… because they are correspondingly much cheaper. At the end of the day, 15 years from now when I am drinking some of my current purchases (when they’re finally ready for consumption), I probably can’t tell the difference between the stuff I bought in 2006 or 2007.


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