Prior to privatization, the tea manufacturing was controlled by the state. There was collective purchasing of raw materials, tea production and export by state owned enterprises. The tea labels and wrappers mainly depicted the character Cha (Chinese for tea). The printing of Cha was in different colour to denote the different batches produced. The most valuable is the Red label, then the green, followed by the yellow label.
|Red Label tea cake|
|New product also featuring the character Cha|
After tea manufacturing was privatized in 2004, there was a surge of private enterprises engaging in the making and marketing of puerh tea. There was a craze for puerh tea (where prices jumped a few hundred percent), both for consumption and collection. This craze lasted couple of years until the climax in 2007 followed by the unexpected crash shortly where prices of puerh tumbled. Prior to the crash, there was such a great variety of puerh products in the market. These tea products, be it cakes , bowls or bricks, were fascinating in terms of labels and wrappers.
The wrappers on the puerh cakes were exciting. The manufacturers designed and printed the wrappers using various themes and ancient stories to promote their tea products. Stories from the Romance of the Three Kingdoms were use to produce tea wrappers. Hence, you see ancient generals like Guanyu, Huangzong, Zhouyun, etc, featured on the puerh cakes. The strategist Zhugeliang also appeared very often in these tea wrappers. Of course the legend had it that Zhugeliang was the person who first started the puerh cultivation in Yunnan as he used the tea to cure his soldiers suffering from sickness in this part of China while he was establishing a foothold for his boss, Liubei of the Shu Han.
|Zhaoyun, a famous war general|
|The master of strategies, Zhugeliang|
|Guanyu, a famous general of Shu Han|
Other theme also focused on native villagers harvesting tea leaves, processing tea or making tea. The wrappers were exquisitely designed and printed. This makes you want to collect them the way you collect art pieces. If you collect all these tea cakes, you might even want to open an art gallery to show off your collection. This is tea mingling with history and art.
There was even one tea producer capitalizing on the famous tea mountains of Yunnan to sell his products. He had all the famous 6 mountains in Yunnan printed as tea wrappers to market his tea. Maybe his aim was to promote his tea as coming from the famous tea producing regions of Yunnan. In case you still do not know the famous tea regions in Yunnan, it is good to take a hard look at the labels. On hind sight, this may be good for tea drinkers as they were educated or reminded of these renown tea regions while enjoying their favourite cup of puerh tea. But then who would want to open up the wrappers to consume the tea if the wrappers were so pretty and artistic.
|The famous tea regions of Yunnan|
|The horse gang Ma Bang|
|Zhugeliang with his feather fan|
Unfortunately, I did not indulge in this craze for I do no have a deep pocket. Also it was not possible to hunt for this tea products as not all the tea importers share the same view. If they do not import a complete set of tea products with all those designed wrappers, then there is no way you can have a good and complete collection.