A constant on CCTV these days during prime time are these programs that essentially try to educate the viewers on the virtue and the intricacies of copyright. As everybody knows, copyright in China is almost an oxymoron. However, there is some real attempt, at least through government controlled television, to educate people to the problems with piracy and the importance of respecting copyright. All the participants in these programs seem well versed in such matters, and when they get it wrong, the program hosts will quickly correct them and everybody will nod and smile.
Contrast this with the following image: a tea store that is packing teas for shipment to somewhere else, and they do it by stripping the neifei, neipiao, and wrapper of each cake and rewrapping it with something else, or nothing at all. However, all those wrappers (all the ones I’ve seen are Zhongcha) are saved carefully and meticulously. They unfold the wrappers, put them in neat stacks, and obviously stock them away somewhere. I don’t know where exactly, but somewhere. This is stuff that you would normally throw away, but not here. Instead, they are probably going to somehow reuse it.
I’ve seen this done at least twice now at two different places. I can’t help but wonder where these wrappers go. I’m sure they go somewhere, and I’m sure that of the many many new or semi-new cakes out there wrapped in Zhongcha wrappers…. at least some of them are faked this way. Some will be used to fake older teas. What can you do about it?
Then you have the practice of repackaging a tea with some other wrapper and calling it by a different name. Lots of people do that. Lots of factories do that — essentially the same tea but using a different neifei/wrapper, and all of a sudden, you have a different tea! While some people might be able to tell you the minor differences between one and the other, many regular drinkers probably cannot (if there is any difference to begin with). Since puerh changes over time, even in the span of a few months, it is not too hard to think that they taste different if it’s an idea already lodged in your head. That’s one way that some factories could use to bolster their own lineup and also encourage more buying by tapping into the “I must collect all” mentality. I’ve tried some factories’ cakes that are really very similar… and makes me wonder if they are really basically the same thing with a different name.
A variation of this is where one company buys a bunch of cakes from somebody, and strips the packaging from that company and puts on their own or none at all, and sell it as something else. I’ve had a teashop owner complaining to me about this practice as he has been a victim of it. He and a few others made a lot of one cake. His had his own neifei in them. Somehow most of his were sold, through a third party, to somebody else (let’s call him Person A) in that group who had sold out his own version of the same cakes, and that somebody else stripped the neifei out of the cake to prevent people from knowing they have a different provenance. The tea is now a known item in puerh circles, and the name that it is known for is the one that Person A uses, not the original tea store owner’s. He still has some of it left, and I saw it with neifei and all — it does look the same as the cake with the more famous name. I wasn’t entirely sure of the story, and since he now charges the same price as person A’s store… why would you buy the no-name one (even though the no-name one is actually the original)? His loss all around.
Last but not least, there are just the out and out fake stuff. There are lots of them, with big factory teas being the most commonly faked. Some are poorly faked. Some are well faked. Some, at least according to those who’ve tried, are even better than the real stuff. I don’t know if it’s true, but it’s possible.
This is all really depressing. At least it’s reassuring that they’re trying to do something about all this through education.