Click for simplified Chinese version
Background image - Wan Ling Tea House Chinese text

PuErh Tea History

PuErh Tea History

PuErh tea has evolved over time, meeting the needs of disparate ethnic groups who have treasured PuErh tea's ability to refresh, nourish, warm and invigorate.

Prior to, and throughout the Qing Dynasty, the bulk of production was by individual farmers and small private family businesses. Because of the poor communications links and roads, often being merely single tracks, most of the teas produced were transported by mule. Such transportation meant that it would often take weeks or months to reach the tea's final destination and pass through a number of traders hands. Over time tea packaging evolved to become pressed, often into bricks, to reduce volume and to increase the amount that the mules could carry. Compression had addition advantage that this meant that the tea was further protected from the harsh weather that may be encountered on the route and enabled the tea to be stored longer.

1950's PuErh Tea History

With the Chinese revolution in 1949, the 1950's saw the nationalisation of business throughout China. The YunNan PuEr industries were bought under the control of the people (the local government). In 1950 China Tea Corporation YunNan Provincial Brand, ZhongGuo ChaYe GongSi YunNan ShengGongSi, was established with the aim to control and develop the PuEr tea industry in YunNan. It was in 1951 that the famous 'Zhong' trademark was registered.

The 'Zhong' logo features the Chinese character for tea, Cha, at the centre, with eight Zhong characters forming a circle around the central character. Zhong, not only means, centre or middle, but is an abbreviation of the word ZhongGuo or China. This symbolism illustrates the distribution and spreading of Chinese tea, in this case YunNan PuEr tea to the eight points of the compass.

This fundamental change in tea production, bought many changes to YunNan PuErh tea. Tea cakes began to be individually wrapped in paper and featured the branding of the China Tea Corporation. One of the first products of the China Tea Corporation was the famous Red Mark PuErh Tea Cake. In today's market this is a very much sort after cake that in the right condition can fetch a heady price. A later cake produced by the tea factories under the China Tea Corporation umbrella, was the Blue Mark PuErh Tea Cake, LanYin YuanCha.

During this period, there was no concept of storing and ageing PuErh and as such little traceability was kept as to when a certain tea was produced. Tea collectors over recent decades have slowly pieced together a PuErh timeline that tracks minor and major changes in processing, packaging and styles. For example there was a change in the use of the typefaces.

1970's PuErh Tea History

The 1970's saw further change in the China PuErh tea market with the establishment in 1972 of China Native Produce and Animal By-Products Import and Export Corporation YunNan Provincial Brand, ZhongGuo TuChan ChuChan JinChuKou GongSi YunNan Sheng FenGongSi, often referred to as CNNP. This change, introduced the term, QiZi Bing or Chi Tse Beeng Cha, otherwise known as Seven Sons PuErh Tea Cake.

The creation of the CNNP saw the introduction of simplified Chinese characters on some of the tea cakes produced by some of the tea factories under the China Tea Corporation umbrella. Sometime after, Chinese PinYin was introduced and that the seven cake stacks, or Tongs, wrapped in bamboo began to be bound with wire, compared to the bamboo cords previous used.

In 1976 the CNNP began to introduce a system of trading codes or recipes. For the first time this allowed people, though this move was primarily for industrial purposes, to track the age of their PuErh tea cakes. This method of tracking PuEr tea recipes or tea blends were initially adopted by the KunMing Tea Factory, MengHai Tea Factory and XiGuan Tea Factory.

With these major changes in PuErh tea production management, overall quality remained fairly consistent. Centralised control and management, meant that although demand had grown, growth was steady and could be easily supplied from existing production capacity. The late 1990's was to change this, the production of PuErh and the PuErh tea market.

1990's and beyond PuErh Tea History

With the opening up of the Chinese economy as a whole so to did the tea market. This, combined with the growing incomes of many, saw the re-entry of private tea merchants. Initially most production was still controlled by the CNNP though they accepted orders for private blends and private labelling.

This period of time saw, for the first time, the introduction of wild and ancient tea tree PuErh cakes. These pure wild and ancient tree PuErh teas had not been considered necessary or practical during the days of the planned economy. The first decade of the 21 century, saw the further opening up of the PuErh tea market and the popularisation of aged teas that were collectable and would improve with age. This however bought with it investors who could see a market with opportunities for huge profits, and with them started a gold rush fever which resulted in a massive (PuErh) bubble.

Unfortunately this sudden demand drove up prices which drew many many forgeries. With teas being brought in from other provinces including FuJian, GuangXi, GuangDong. In the best case, teas were blended with local teas, in the worse cases there were cakes made with non tea leaves and treated with dyes and chemicals to give the cake the appearance of aged PuErh, which were then wrapped and packed in excellent copies of sort after teas papers. Although the market settled after the burst in 2009/10. There are still many forged cakes in the market place, especially in the large tea markets of GuangDong.

On the positive side of change. The start of the 21 century has meant the availability and choice in the PuEr tea market has blossomed. There is now much more availability of single source teas, improved blended PuErh teas and wild arbor teas.

Bookmark and Share
Find us on Facebook