Friday, 6 February 2015

Hidden secrets in tea labels

Do you know how to tell the age of puerh tea? Especially the puerh produced in the 50s right up to the 90s or even today? These puerh tea cakes were produced in Menghai factory (state-owned) and wrapped in rice paper with the Chinese character Cha (tea in Chinese) in the middle, surrounded by eight Chinese character Chong. They are simply called the Chong Cha brand of puerh tea.

These tea cakes are also known as the Labeled Tea and the Chinese character Cha was printed in different colour, from red, green, yellow to blue. Before that (in the early 1900s), the puerh tea production was in private hands. These private companies mainly processed raw compressed puerh tea for local consumption and also for the export market (to regions in south east Asia). The tea cakes produced prior to 1950s are collectively known as the Branded Tea. Some of the notable brands include Song Pin, Tong Xin, Fook Yuan Qhan, etc. These tea cakes are now more than 80 years in age and are considered antique tea and command a very high price. Generally these tea cakes are beyond every tea connoisseurs' budget. You can only taste them in your dreams.

An example of a Branded Tea cake
But some of the Label tea cakes are still within the budget of some rich tea connoisseurs, even though it is not easy to find them in the tea market today. You need to check with tea collectors to see if they are willing to part with them. Some of these Label Tea puerh cakes can be seen in the pictures below. Take note of the colour of the Chinese character Cha.  Of all these Label tea cakes, the Red Labels are the most expensive ones. They were produced in the 1950s.

The Yellow Label puerh cakes

The Green Label  puerh cake

The Red Label puerh cake, the jewel of all Label tea

The Blue Label puerh cake

When you buy these Labeled puerh cakes, how can you tell their age? When were they produced? Some can be from the 70s and others can be from the 50s. Even some produced in the 80s are equally costly to purchase, if you happen to find any in the market. Although the colour of the character Cha (Red to blue) can tell roughly which era the tea was produced, but no body can tell precisely what year the tea was made.

If you can't tell their age or the year the tea was processed, you can seek experts' advice. These experts studied tea in such an extent that they not even tasted the tea, they also examined and scrutinized the tea labels that were stuck on the tea cakes. To be honest, they really spent a long time to study these tea labels that they eventually found the hidden secrets behind all these labels.

What they found was astonishing. The tea labels printed during different times (from the 50s to present day) exhibited different characteristics. For instance, the Chinese characters that were printed on the labels showed diversity in styles, strokes and size, some strokes in these characters were long and extended to other part of the characters. Certain character (the character Chong) was printed extra fat in the middle. These different styles and strokes of the characters clearly revealed which year the cakes were made. Not only that, the quality of the paper used to print such labels, their thickness and texture are all tell-tale signs that gave the age of these cakes. A difference in style or stroke in the character can means a difference of 20 to 30 years in age. A wrong judgment can set you back a great deal in your bank account. To invest in some good aged puerh tea, you need to acquire this fundamental knowledge of reading the minute differences in tea labels. If you want to know these hidden details, you need to enrol to a tea college and get a diploma to become an expert yourself.

These minute details reveal the hidden secrets

Different styles in the character will revealed the age

Abnormally fat character became a trade mark of the period

Do you spot any difference?

All sorts of hidden details in tea labels

Even if you master all these hidden details, there will still be fakes in the market to confuse you. As these tea cakes are very costly, there will be a lot of unscrupulous tea merchants wanting a pie in the tea market by producing tea with fake labels to fool you. If you don't want to fall into their trap, you need to examine the tea inside (remove the wrapper), or taste it if it is permissible. These tea cakes are indeed very precious in today's market.

A nice cup of puerh from the Yellow Label

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