Tea leaves harvested from ancient trees are multiple times more valuable than those picked from modern plantations. The price for the tea leaves are then further elevated based on which famous region they are sourced, Lao Banzhang and Yiwu make up some of the most in demand locations. Such teas command high prices and are attractive to scammers as they can bring in a lot of profits. It is this reason you will find a multitude of fake and fraudulent teas with associations of being big tree material and/or from Lao Banzhang or Yiwu.
When you visit China’s tea market it is important to realize that for a famous regional puerh tea like Lao Banzhang* the estimated annual spring production is 10 tons but roughly 5000 tons of tea is sold in China’s tea market under this description. Whether most of the tea sold is fake and/or heavily blended with cheaper raw materials from elsewhere this is a business practice that is rife throughout China. Big profits are made this way by both dishonest merchants and tea producers who apply this strategy to all teas that command a meaningful enough price.
Misinformation and tall tales used to regale an audience is common practice in the art of selling tea. Be wary of a Chinese tea shop that indoctrinates you on the miraculous benefits of the divine leaf, its miraculous discovery and the indescribable hardship and sacrifice made to make this tea available to you today. As with all propaganda there will be truths, half-truths and outright lies intermittently integrated into the story but once you start imagining pigs fly then that is a clear sign to leave this fantasy world behind.
In the event that you show expertise on evaluating a tea, an experienced shopkeeper will not want to risk offending you with boasts and promises. He may even decide to show and offer you high quality teas for sampling and for sale. However if he sees you as being potentially a one-time customer and has intentions to take advantage of this situation he may use the bait and switch scam. Always be mindful to carefully check your purchased items at the shop to ensure they are what you agreed and to avoid surprises later.
The above descriptions are obviously some of the worst case scenarios on the happenings in a Chinese Tea Market. Unfortunately the reality isn’t too far off as it relates to the quality of the tea products and offerings. From a personal stand point I would estimate that for every 100 puerh tea items I randomly encounter, I would eliminate over 90 of those items based on issues with quality and authenticity alone. The daunting thing for a newcomer who visits is that I am in no way exaggerating on those numbers. I would also like to mention that there are good and passionate tea merchants out there conducting honest business. On those fleeting moments that you may encounter one I strongly urge you to seize those golden opportunities to enjoy the experience of drinking and reflecting on tea. You will find that the language of tea appreciation is universal.
cont. Part 2 The Misrepresentation of Age in Puerh Tea
(Old Tricks Become More Refined)
Concealing Bad Business Practice
As someone who likes to maintain his health so that I can be assured of being able to make it up a few tea mountains in the future I am always watchful about bad business practice when it comes to food. I have noticed that in other businesses the problems of deceptive blending and mislabeling are similar to tea but the applications are on different types of commodities. It is quite disturbing that some of the biggest stories in recent years on fraudulent blending are affecting our everyday foods like olive oil, honey, orange juice and milk to name a few. Furthermore when it comes to labeling the example of an Oceana study revealed that 33 percent of over 1200 samples taken from seafood labeled in America was found to be mislabeled. The last that I will mention and perhaps the most significant, it is what goes unsaid that could be the most worrying and this comes in the form of the “Invisible Label” of GMO foods. Big corporations have spent millions to stop GMO foods being labeled.
Living in a world of abundance does not guarantee you have good food available in abundance. For those who are also health conscious and wish to protect yourself against bad business practices that could put your health at risk I strongly encourage you to conduct your own additional research. Below are some recommendations to start you off.
The Scam Of Olive Oil, And Its Antidote, by Cathy Huyghe FORBES
Food fraud: 10 counterfeit products we commonly consume
GOOGLE - olive oil fraud, honey fraud, Oceana Study Reveals Seafood Fraud Nationwide, big money spent to stop gmo labeling, for list of stories
Lao Banzhang* - Liquid Gold, Exploring Banzhang Tea by Wang Hau, Lou Ying Tin, Wu De