Pu'erh tea

Pu'erh tea
Experience China: Chinese food culture
Talks / Lecture

picture of tea
Recording date: 
21 February 2016

Anthropologist Jinghong Zhang presents a vivid account of the transformation of a cottage handicraft into a major industry—with predictable risks and unexpected consequences.

Jinghong Zhang is a postdoctoral fellow at the Australian Centre on China in the World at the Australian National University. Her doctoral research explored how Pu'erh tea was manipulated to become a popular beverage in twenty-first century China.

Transcript

Transcript of Puerh Tea: Ancient Caravans and Urban Chic

Speakers: Alex Philp (A), Jinghong Zhang (J)

Location: National Library of Australia

Date: 21/02/2016

A:         Good afternoon, everyone. My name’s Alex Philp, I’m the Director of Overseas Collections Management here at the National Library of Australia. As we begin I’d like to acknowledge the traditional owners of this land. I thank their elders past and present for caring for this land we are now privileged to call home.

This weekend is the second of our Experience China weekends, where we explore Chinese culture, cuisine, art, landscape and architecture as part of our public programming for Celestial Empire: Life in China, 1644 to 1911. Now before we start can I just first get a show of hands from those of you who are visiting the Library for the first time today. Fantastic. I wish you in particular a warm welcome to the Library and I’ll see you on your many visits in the future.

Celestial Empire has been an outstanding success. It’s presented a story of Chinese history that’s clearly resonated with the public. The extraordinary number of visitors to the Library for the exhibition and for events such as this tells me a few things. It tells me that Australians are interested in our region and in the world, we want to know more and we will come in our tens of thousands to exhibitions such as this. The success of this exhibition and of those that have come before tells me also that the Library has a central role to play in Australian storytelling. I’m immensely proud to work here. The Library’s been collecting Asian language material in large numbers since the 1950s. It also makes me proud that we’re showing the Australian public what is their collection of rare and unique Chinese material and I'm sure that you’ll have a look at the exhibition downstairs after today’s seminar.

Celestial Empire and its public programs would not be possible without the support of a tremendous group of partners. It’s been an extraordinary collaboration between government, commercial partners and individual donors. First and foremost I thank the National Library of China for sharing its treasures with us and with you. I thank our partners, Shell in Australia, the Seven Network, Wander One, Optus Singtel ... forgive me, I can’t remember all these ... Huawei, Cathay Pacific, TFE Hotels and our event partners this afternoon, the ANU’s Centre for China in the World and the Asia Society Australia for their generosity. I thank our government partners, the Australian Government, for support through the National Collecting Institutions Touring Outreach Program and the Australia China Council, and also the Australian Government through Visit Canberra. And particularly I thank all of you for joining us this afternoon to hear from Jinghong Zhang.

Jinghong is a postdoctoral fellow at the Australian Centre on China in the World at the Australian National University. As an anthropologist her research focuses on Chinese culinary culture, in particular tea, and the interaction of lifestyle choices between China, Taiwan and the west. Her doctoral research explored how Puerh tea, originating in Yunnan in southwest China, was transformed into becoming a popular beverage in 21st century China. This study resulted in the publication, Puerh Tea, Ancient Caravans and Urban Chic published in 2013 by University of Washington Press. Today Jinghong will pick up the strands of this research for us looking at the beginnings of the industry as a cottage craft, producing what was considered to be an ordinary everyday tea and how it became increasingly popular and valuable, achieving cult status not just in China but around the world. Please welcome Jinghong Zhang.

[Applause]

J:          Thank you, Alex, for introducing me and thank you for coming, everybody. It’s my pleasure to give the talk here today. As Alex just introduced I’m a researcher from the Australian National University and I’m originally from Yunnan in southwest China and that was part of the reason that I chose Puerh tea originating in Yunnan as my research topic during my doctoral research at the ANU. So in today’s talk I’ll base upon the publication that Alex mentioned, to share some knowledge surrounding Puerh tea with you. I know a lot of you are having growing interest in tea and so I will be more than pleased to answer your question after my talk.

So first of all I would like to give you a bit of information about my research. As Alex just mentioned my research was looking at how Puerh tea was packaged from ordinary commodity into treasured goods that has very high profile in 21st century China and in this process I did anthropological field work in multiple sites so Yunnan, especially southern Yunnan village called Yi Wu that I’m going to show you later, is the major field site ... field work site for me. But at the same time I also realised that in order to explore the biography of Puerh tea I had to explore outside of Yunnan so I also paid visits to other places, the so-called consumption ... major consumption areas for Puerh tea in Guangdong, Hong Kong and also short visit to Taiwan and in today’s talk I will explain to you why I need to do such multiple field site ... multiple sited field work.

So my research mainly looked at the recent or the current issues but actually historical parts are also important for me to explore and in today’s talk I will ... especially I will highlight how Puerh tea’s historical past has been shaped by the Qing China’s control in its borderland area in Yunnan and also I want to highlight how the historical past has been used by nowadays Puerh tea actors in packaging the profile of Puerh tea. And if time allowed I would like to share some general knowledge about the processing and categorising and identifying Puerh tea with you.

So first of all what is Puerh tea? This is actually a very complex question to answer because there are multiple versions about the definition of Puerh tea so in my book I tried my best to offer not singular but multiple versions of Puerh tea’s definition. But in terms of the shape Puerh tea can be in loose form as you see in the picture. These are the two types of loose Puerh tea originating from different subtea regions in Yunnan so it’s a little bit like wine, different climate, different soil can provide different taste of Puerh tea so different regions have their different [unclear], so these two loose form of Puerh tea has different colour as you see and also they have different flavours.

But more popularly Puerh tea are made into compressed form either like a brick or like what’s so-called ... like this one is ... people use bird’s nest or bowl to describe the shape of the tea. And also maybe you have seen a lot of Puerh tea are made into a round cake and usually our seven cakes are put in one stack and each cake usually weighs around 357g and so seven cakes are put in one stack and they are the so-called Seven Cakes Puerh Tea. And in terms of the location of Puerh tea among all sorts of Chinese teas so let’s look at this map. Actually in China green tea is the most dominant tea being consumed by Chinese either along the Yangtze River or along the Yellow River, green tea is the popular tea. A lot of you may also know that jasmine tea could be kind of representative of Chinese tea. It’s popular in north China but jasmine tea is actually ... could be a kind of scented green tea so experts usually categorise jasmine tea under green tea.

In China’s southeast like Fujian or Guangdong provinces oolong tea is popular. Taiwan is also very famous for oolong tea and a lot of immigrants actually in Taiwan originated in Fujian province so Taiwan shares the similar oolong tea culture with China’s southeast regions. For Yunnan actually green tea has been popular but since the late 1990s and early 2000s Puerh tea became more and more important but the concept or the definition of Puerh tea was actually very vague for Yunnanese for long time. Nobody really cared what Puerh tea was, they didn’t care this until the late 1990s or early 2000s so this is the story that I’m going to tell you today. But in fact another region in China, Guangdong, Cantonese people have been drinking Puerh tea perhaps even longer than Yunnanese and this consumption demand from Guangdong, from Cantonese have really shaped the recent popularity of Puerh tea even then and also all around China.

And also let’s look at the categories of Chinese tea in terms of the tea processing methods especially fermentation or oxidation. So green tea belongs to ... is a kind of non-fermented tea like the famous dragon well tea in Hangzhou or other sorts of Chinese green tea, they are non-fermented. Oolong tea is categorised under partially fermented tea and black tea which is very well known in Australia belongs to fully fermented tea. The way of categorising Puerh tea is very complex and so Puerh tea actually covers both non-fermented tea and fully fermented tea. Part of Puerh tea is called raw Puerh tea. It is close to green tea but different from other sorts of green tea that cannot be further fermented. Raw Puerh tea has the potential to be further fermented and so through a kind of transformation or transformed stage raw Puerh tea can develop into a fermented Puerh tea, the other type on the bottom of ... in this picture.

And ... but under fermented Puerh tea there are further ... there are two kinds, one is the so-called naturally fermented Puerh tea which means if the fermentation goes on in a relatively natural environment so throughout ages often over like 20 years or 50 years the tea will touch the air and so oxidation or fermentation would go on. Fermentation here mainly refers to microbia [microbial] enzymatic reaction but I’m not a scientist, scientist may point out this is not right and there should be more clear boundary between oxidation or fermentation but this is not the focus of my study so I’m more citing other people’s writing about the differences between fermentation and oxidation to talk about natural fermentation. And the other type of fermented Puerh tea is called artificially fermented Puerh tea so by subjecting Puerh tea materials under controlled temperature and humidity the fermentation could happen in shorter time so if we say natural fermentation would need over 10 years to happen then the artificial fermentation could go on maybe just within two or three mon this but this technique didn’t happen in China actually in Yunnan until 1974.

For the taste that we ... for the taste descriptions usually people use flowery, fruity, grassy to describe raw Puerh tea because it is close to green tea so it could be very astringent. But the most appreciated value of raw Puerh tea is its lingering taste and in Chinese we say it has very good hoi kan [?] which means you can feel the sweetness after bitterness so it’s not direct sweetness but somehow you will feel the sweetness after experiencing bitterness. And in terms of Chinese medicine raw Puerh tea is cold for your body, cold for your stomach so people who have stomach humors are not encouraged to drink very raw Puerh tea.

For fermented Puerh tea the usual terms to describe it is earthy, mouldy ... this is for smell, right? And when you swallow it up you really can feel it is very ... it is smooth or it is direct sweet. And in terms of Chinese medicine fermented Puerh tea is warmer compared with raw Puerh tea and it is even said after drinking fermented Puerh tea you can still sleep well because usually we worry about that tea will make us awaken in the evening, right? But it is said fermented Puerh tea will make you .. you will feel okay even after drinking a lot.

And so the colour of these two brews are also different. The one on the left looks green, right? So it is the raw Puerh tea and the right one is fermented Puerh tea. For artificial fermented Puerh tea and naturally fermented Puerh tea you will have to find ways to tell their differences. They either smell differently or they taste differently but they have a major difference from raw Puerh tea whose colour, the colour of the brew, is very different. But nowadays the definition of Puerh tea is very vague so in terms of ageing, in terms of fermentation, there hasn’t come out a clear saying to define how many years old of Puerh tea can be called aged. And also it has to ... it has ... it matters which place you store the Puerh tea, whether you store it in a dry place or you store it in humid place. But generally or roughly saying if a tea is over 10 years old people would declare it is an aged Puerh tea.

These two pieces of teacakes, I took their photos in Singapore when I was there in 2007. Both of them are more than 50 years old and each cake was sold at 18,000 Singapore dollars so a Singapore dollar is ... now has almost the same amount of Australian dollars. You can imagine how expensive they are and maybe they are more expensive this year. And so the concept of ... about ageing Puerh tea has been popular in China and also in Yunnan since the mid or late 1990s but I don’t mean that if you go to the market you cannot afford to buy any Puerh tea. If you want to buy raw Puerh tea you can still afford to buy it because ... but a popular or a general principle on Puerh tea is that the older the tea the more expensive or the more valuable it is so this is very different from other sorts of tea which are mostly appreciated for their freshness but Puerh tea is valued for its ageing, for its storage. As I said this concept didn’t exist in Yunnan until quite recently so in order to answer how this has come into being we have to explore this region, Yunnan, and ... to understand its historical past.

This is a map of south east Asia and you see that Yunnan is in southwest China and it is part of southeast Asia. In terms of geographical significance it has been argued by scholars as important link between south east Asia and inland China. Yunnan is well known for its diverse ethnic groups and currently it has 26 ethnic groups according to the official recognition including Han Chinese but Han Chinese actually didn’t arrive in Yunnan until the 14th century during the Ming dynasty so that was the dynasty just prior to the Qing dynasty. And it means that Yunnan used to be inhabited mainly by all sorts of minority, ethnic minority groups like Yi, Bai, Hani, Blang or Hani Blang. These are the ethnic groups that had made big contributions to tea cultivation. And this is a further detailed map about Yunnan. And this is the Mekong River. So along this Mekong River there are plentiful tea resources mainly located is three subdistricts of Yunnan called Linxiang, Simao and Xishuangbanna and Xishuangbanna in English literature also appeared as Sipsongpanna.

And so these areas have plentiful tea resources and the major tea plant is the so-called big tea leaf in contrast to the small tea leaf that is more popular in east China. And so this type of tea leaf actually shares similarities with the tea category in India so they are in the same geographical region. And this type of tea is regarded as suitable for making Puerh tea. But the name of Puerh tea didn’t originate in any tea plant or tea processing method, rather it was named after a place called Puerh, a town called Puerh in southern Yunnan that had been a very important taxation and goods distribution centre since the early 17th century. At that time these three regions were under the control of Di ... indigenous regime called the Dai state. And so Dai state was not under direct control of Qing empire at that time. They paid tribute to Qing emperor but they also had very close relationship with the bordering countries like Shan state which locates nowadays Myanmar. And so the map that you see now is the current map but back into the early 17th century the map could be very different.

Although Puerh tea was named after the place, a town called Puerh but the more famous Puerh tea originated in a place called Six Great Tea Mountains. So it’s this ... shadowed areas Xishuangbanna. It’s in the east bank of Mekong River so this is the capital city of Xishuangbanna and this area has been very well known for producing Puerh tea.

Before Han immigrants came to Yunnan the ancestors of indigenous people have been cultivating tea trees for at least one thousand years and as I said Han people didn’t migrate to Yunnan until the 14th century and for Han traders they didn’t enter the tea-growing regions until the early 18th centuries. But also around the same time that the Qing empire wanted to expand its control into the borderland area so starting from the early 18th century they graduated conquered the local regime, the Dai state and they had a political reform called gai tu gui liu in Chinese ... in English it is translated as replacing the indigenous officials with imperial officials. So it was this political reform, these more regions that has tea resources were under the control of the Qing empire. And in 1729 ... this is an important year because in that year a prefecture called Puerh prefecture was established in this time and so the tea-growing in regions in the east bank of Mekong River was removed from the Dai regime and they were added to the Puerh prefecture and so that means the tea resources area could be under direct control of Ting rather than by the Dai state. And some scholars have argued this is actually a tea war because the purpose of Ting Mantou for launching this fire was actually to grab more resources including tea in Xishuangbanna.

And soon after the establishment of the Puerh prefecture the Six Great Tea Mountains became the base for tribute, for sending tribute tea to Beijing for the Qing emperors. And I forgot to point out that this place is called Yi Wu, it is one of the tea mountains among the Six Great Tea Mountains and so this is the place that I stayed for more than half a year for my field work. And so this is a picture of the golden melon tribute tea sent from Yunnan to Beijing emperor more than 150 years ago so it means this tea is 150 years old but the Qing emperor, because they got all sorts of tribute from different places in China, right? So they could not finish drinking this tea so this became a kind of relic, royal relic. And a famous saying tells us that the royal families like to ... both dragon well tea and Puerh tea and it’s said they like drinking dragon well tea in summer but they like Puerh tea in winter because Puerh tea is warmer and winter is cold, they want something warmer, right? But actually a convincing saying is that because the royal families, they were descendants of the northern Nomad in China and meat was their staple food so in order to balance the greasiness in the meat they have to find something to help with their digestion. Puerh tea made with big leaves from Yunnan seemed to work very well for balancing greasiness. That's one of the major reasons that they liked Puerh tea.

And so after Qing collapsed and replaced by the Republic of China this tea was stored in the museum, Palace Museum in Beijing and later after the establishment of the People’s Republic of China this tea was moved to Hangzhou in a tea museum in Hangzhou but in 2008 this tea was sent back to Puerh in Yunnan which I’m going to talk about more later.

In Yi Wu there are also other families who send tribute to Qing emperor like this family, they also send their tribute to Qing emperor and so the emperor awarded them this sign board. There are four characters, re, gong, tian, chao which means tribute to emperor and so the emperor gave them this sign board to praise them, to ... it’s a kind of evidence that the emperor appreciated their tea. But this sign board, this picture was taken by me in 2007 and ... but I was told the sign board was not the original because the owner actually worried that the original one might be stolen or might be grabbed and sold ... nobody actually know where the original one was but anyway they just put this imitated one, this copy there. And also maybe in some tea shops or a market you could see ... you may come across the same sign board with the four characters, tribute to emperor.

And so in Yi Wu and also the nearby tea mountains there were many tea families and each family has processing unit. What’s interesting is that Xishuangbanna is a place dominated by Dai ethnic group but Yi Wu has more inhabitants from Han Chinese and these Han immigrants, their ancestors came from another part of Yunnan so in this place you can find a lot of Han style courtyard houses and the tea processing was usually done inside their houses. And after the tea processing was finished in the past before modern transportation happened ... came into being, these teas along with other goods were carried out by horse or mule caravans from Yunnan towards outside. And so these routes connecting Yunnan and outside with tea as one of the major goods was named by scholars in 1990s as tea and horse trading route, in Chinese cha ma gu dao, cha is tea, ma is horse, gudao is ancient routes. It is a quite ... a kind of politic term so it has been ... this term has been popular since that time.

So starting from the southern part of Yunnan where tea grows there are diverse routes for tea being carried out so in addition to Beijing, to inland China, another major route was towards Tibet so this is a very long way towards Tibet and it could take many months, even half a year or one year for the tea from southern Yunnan to arrive in Tibet. And another important route for Puerh tea to be exported was through the southern way to southeast Asian countries but actually countries like Laos, Vietnam, Myanmar, they didn’t really demand Puerh tea from Yunnan but they more functioned as a transit for Puerh tea to be further carried out towards places with Chinese inhabitants. And one of the major route was towards Cantonese living areas like Hong Kong. Hong Kong people as I said have been drinking Puerh tea maybe even longer than Yunnanese people and they demanded a specific type of Puerh tea. And this is a teahouse that I visited, it’s called Lian Xiang Lou, it’s a .. older style Hong Kong yum cha place. If you go there you will find it, it is very noisy from the morning ‘til the evening. And so when people eat snacks like dumplings they drink a lot of tea and as I was told among 10 guests eight of them would choose Puerh tea, maybe the left fews [few] will choose like dragon well tea or oolong tea but Puerh tea was the ... is the dominant one being consumed in these yum cha restaurants. And history of drinking Puerh tea in Hong Kong could be traced to the late Qing dynasty which means the late 19th century although a very clear date is not known yet.

But when Puerh tea from Yunnan arrived in Hong Kong Cantonese people actually found the raw Puerh teas very ... is very astringent and maybe the local climate in Hong Kong made people feel that they could not drink very astringent raw Puerh tea. And therefore they prefer to ... not to drink it either ... until after the tea has been stored for some years. And so the way of fermenting Puerh tea began to happen although there is another way of explaining the fermentation of Puerh tea which says the natural fermentation of Puerh tea actually happened on the back of horse and mule caravans so it says that along the long route of carrying Puerh tea out with sunshine, the rain for fermentation could happen on Puerh tea but this is ... sounds more like legend. To me a more convincing saying is that fermentation is a .. preferences by Cantonese, that they prefer to age the tea, to store the tea. They would not like to drink the very raw or astringent Puerh tea.

So a lot of Puerh tea were accumulated, were stored in Hong Kong but a very important event happened around 1997 when Hong Kong returned to the mainland China and so a lot of people in Hong Kong including owners of Puerh tea or jamta restaurants, they worried about the political transformation so they sold out their Puerh teas to other people and the biggest buyer at this time was Taiwanese. As I said Taiwanese more drink Woolam tea rather than Puerh tea but in 19 ... in late 1990s a lot of ... actually starting from 1980s a lot of Taiwanese connoisseurs, they visited Hong Kong, they discovered that Puerh tea’s taste would have a dramatic transformation after it has been aged and also they realised this tea has great potential value to be further promoted. And so they decided to discover the origin about Puerh tea.

A very interesting part about Puerh tea’s history is that it is not Cantonese in Hong Kong or people in other Cantonese regions who have interest in finding out the origin about Puerh tea, instead it was Taiwanese who had this ... aspire for discovering more about Puerh tea and also at the time the door of China was opened, the reform and opening policy was launched in China so it was available for Taiwanese to visit mainland China. And so in 1994 as I ... from my interview with some Taiwanese and also locals in Yi Wu I was told in 1994 the first group of Taiwanese people visited Yi Wu but they were very disappointed because what appeared in front of them was the ruined and the depressed Yi Wu. Because ... although the tea industry in Yi Wu had been booming in late Qing and early republic period but during second world war and during the fight between nationalist and Communist Party and also during cultural revolution the so-called traditional way of processing Puerh tea had been lost. But Taiwanese connoisseurs, they brought with them ... they aged the Puerh tea that they bought from Hong Kong, they showed this to the local people in Yi Wu and asked them to really start the way of handcrafting the so-called traditional way of making Puerh tea. And finally a kind of cooperative work between Taiwanese connoisseurs and local Yi Wu people started around the late 1990s and here ... and then since then the industry of making, of producing Puerh tea had been restarted in Yi Wu and also other tea regions in Yunnan.

So what is the traditional way of making Puerh tea? I’d like to show you briefly the process of making Puerh tea. First it’s the rough processing so this is the place, Yi Wu, that I stayed for quite a long time and not far from their family houses there are the tea mountains. Yearly tea sprouts in spring and also continues in summer and autumn but summer has a lot of rain so tea produced in summer is regarded as inferior qual ... was inferior quality so the major harvesting season for Puerh tea is in spring and autumn. And there are two kinds of tea plants and this is the so-called terrace tea because they are planted in terrace form, densely populated and so pesticide or fertiliser may be applied on tea. But it’s very easy to pick. But another kind of tea which I showed you just now, it was ... it is the so-called forest tea. They were planted by the ancestors of the indigenous people many, many years ago. It’s very tall, it’s harder to pick, sometimes people have to use this kind of wooden stick to climb onto the tea. And this tea tree is said to be 800 ... more than 800 years old and so there are more ... now it’s more used for looking, appreciating rather than for harvesting. 

There are different shapes of tea leaves in this region and as I said it is large leaf tea so some tea leaves could be as big as your hand. This is a standard way of picking tea, one bud, two leaves. This is an alternative way of picking tea, as long as the stem is slender you can pick it up. And usually people use basket to contain the green tea leaves and they carried it back home and the next step is to take out the bad leaves. And then it comes to the procedure of stir roasting tea in a cauldron. This is actually the same cauldron that they use for cooking their rice and vegetables but after cleaning they also use the same cauldron to stir roasting tea. Because the temperature is high so they use bamboo stick to do the stir roasting. Sometimes they wear gloves. And then it comes ... the procedure of rolling tea. The function of rolling is to give a shape to the tea leaf. And then put the tea outside and the colour of the tea will be changed and also it is dried. Some people prefer to dry it indoor. But if sometimes it is cloudy or it is rainy they have to launch a ... make a fire to further dry the tea, to roast the tea.

And here they are ... these are two traders coming from outside. They’re trying to identify whether this tea’s good or bad. You have to compare their colour, their shapes, whether they are from forest tea or they are from terrace tea. But a more popular way is to taste the tea rather than just looking at them, only through tasting you can find the ... whether the taste is good or not, whether it is the authentic Six Great Mountain Tea or it is actually from Sichuan or actually from another province. And this trader got 1kg of Puerh tea and in 2007 even 1kg of Puerh tea cost more than around like 100 Australian dollars. So since it is so expensive so a tiny bit of weight would matter. And so this is the end of the rough processing. They store the tea at home and waiting for it being further processed. And then fine processing.

The first step for fine processing is to take out bad leaves so it’s a very ... it could be a very boring work and you have to be very careful to find out what is good and what is bad. For example the one on the left, yellow leaf is regarded as an inferior. And so the fine processing formally starts. Usually three or four people form a group to do the fine processing. They put the loose tea in iron cylinder and then steam the tea. When the tea becomes soft they put it into a cloth bag and then use hand to give it a shape, it is round ... to give it a round shape. And then somebody would stand on the stone press to compress the tea. And this man is an expert of producing stone press. So this is the so-called traditional way of handcrafting Puerh tea in Yunnan in Yi Wu. But nowadays people also use machine to do the compressing. And after compressing the tea is left indoor for a while or put outside for drying and then gathering for wrapping and further dried. And then seven cakes are put in one stack. And give it a seal to show the brand, the tea brand of this family. And then six stacks are usually put in one basket for trade.

Okay. So since the visiting of Taiwanese to Yunnan, Puerh tea has been promoted with a lot of values, great values. There are the so-called four prominent values of Puerh tea. The first is its financial value. Because a lot of people use Puerh as the ... as a way for investment so they buy the tea not for ... not because they are interested in drinking it but they want to store it and they hope that one day the tea would become very expensive. And also it has health value. A lot of advertisement have been telling people that Puerh tea is good for all sorts of things, it’s good for beauty so this tea is advertised for its increasing beauty for women. And it has tasting value and a famous saying is that once you love the Puerh tea you would never drink other sorts of tea because of its lingering taste. And also cultural value so the ethnic groups of Yunnan are used as one important element in this packaging, this way of having indigenous people wearing their costumes to make tea didn’t appear ... didn’t exist in Yunnan but this was a kind of advertisement since two ... early 2000s.

And an important event happened in 2005 when a new caravan organised by Yunnan Government and the traders started their journey from Yunnan towards Beijing so they were imitating the old caravan to carry Puerh tea as a tribute to Beijing and Puerh tea arriving in Beijing were auctioned at astonishing price. And also in 2008 the golden melon Puerh tea stored in the museum was sent back to Yunnan and it’s that now the tribute tea is back home. And also in the same year the subdistrict which used to be called Simao changed its name to Puerh so originally only a town in this subdistrict was called Puerh but now the whole subdistrict is called Puerh so this is also a way of promoting the profile of Puerh tea. A lot of people visited this golden melon tribute tea because it is so old and it’s ... but according to some experts who had a little bit of taste of the tea, they told people that this tea is still tasteful, it has an aged appeal. And soon after this event some imitation pieces appeared in the market so for example this one piece weighs 2.5kg, was sold at over 2000 Australian dollars with limited supply.

So in this talk I have highlighted that historical past has been shaping the recent popularity of Puerh tea and also the current actors have been using history as an important element for them to package high profile for Puerh tea. But in reality there are a lot of counterfeits appearing in the market so in order to identify authentic from counterfeit people have to taste different types of tea and to try to understand the different type of tea. It’s more or less like you learn how to taste wine. But although as I said history has been used as an element in packaging Puerh tea there is not a singular historical narrative Puerh tea, rather there are multiple historical narratives. But still according to my investigating experience I think knowing about history still makes me feel that the taste of Puerh tea more interesting and more meaningful.

And finally I want to hand this to you to have a look and maybe you can tell me… [unclear]… here are two cakes of Puerh tea… [unclear]… which one is raw, and which one is fermented?

[End of recording]

Download transcript 104.69 KB

Recent audio All recent audio