Marketing strategy used by tea vendors in China for promoting their tea products. Various techniques how to attract tea drinker’s attention and turn to the the potential buyer. Major elements to be aware of when buying the tea online or offline directly from tea market.
1. Type of Tea Leaf
2. Master Processing
3. Gu Shu Tea concepts
4. Aged Tea
6. The way of selling
1. Type of Tea Leaf
Apart of the general grading by quality of the loose tea leaf “mao cha” there is another factor which influences the price and it’s based on type or variety of the tea leaf.
This type of ranking is the most confusing, misleading and mostly misused category / property of pu-erh tea.
Gu Shu ( ancient tree ) , Dan Zhu ( single tree ), Lao Qiao Mu ( old arbor ), Lao Shu ( old tree ) , Da Shu ( big tree ), Qiao Mu ( arbor tree ) , Mu Shu ( mother tree ) , Xiao Shu ( small tree ) , Xiao Qiao Mu ( small arbor ) , Tai Di Cha ( bush / tableland tea ) ..etc. More details in Our Tea section on our website.
Basically except Tai Di Cha all of categories supposed sound special and are ranked over at leas one of the category ( which is the cheapest bush tea ). 300y old Gushu is obviously ranked over 70y old small arbor etc.
More rare and famous – more expensive.
One of the factors on what is mostly pu-erh tea business built on, is not knowing, not understanding but desire to have something special / rare.
Yes, Gu Shu ( ancient trees ) tea is rightfully rated higher than others and not only for being less available on the marked, but that’s the whole point of writing the sentence above with highlighting “the key words“.
The term “Gu Shu” has been misused as far as Gu Shu oolong tea, Gu Shu coffee or white tea Da Bai Hao pressed into the 250g cake called Gu Shu White Pu-erh tea from 300y old tree. The article about actual name “White Pu-erh tea” we also posted in review section here.
Being able to distinguish what is the reasonable categorizing / grading / ranking / pricing difference, requires a bit experience in very randomly developing tea market and of course common sense. Being able to taste the difference between tea from bush / tableland or 100y old tea tree and 300y one , consequently paying multiple price differences , requires a bit of training. Knowing the market real prices of each grades / categories , knowing what tea is being substituted “faked” with which tea this year..etc ,all that requires to be quite often on tea market , talking to local vendors, listening the gossips. ( we leak sometimes on tea forums 😉 Knowing the actual prices from the source requires to be on tea farm or near by quite often.
Coming to some plantation / tea garden 1st time and think to get the real deal , is very common mistake of many not only foreign vendors arriving to Yunnan for spring and autumn harvest.
It does take a certain time and knowledge how to buy the tea from tea farmer for the right price , without being ripped off and as per our last unsuccessful tea trip also understanding quality-price ratio. ( means made right decision , buy or not )
Even us, being in hart of all that , still keep exploring how much we don’t know. All the time we hear , see and learn something new from tea farmers , other tea vendors or tea producers what hardly gets outside of their closed community circle, not mentioning on internet were you mostly read promotional “romantic” articles about puerh tea rather than truth.
This sort of ranking is also being applied to other teas like black tea or some oolong teas and in future we can expect this will spread to other types of teas. Yes , there are some rare teas around, like green or white tea made from arbor tea trees or white tea made from wild tea variety. Also experimental teas like green tea made “Zhong Guo Hong” style , which we had from our Fengqing farmer . That’s not the point, the point is naming the tea wrong / commercially more suitable / more profitable name.
For example regular bush tea processed with “ya bao” and called Ye Sheng Hong ( wild black tea ). It is not a bad tea , brilliant idea how to please people who do not cope well with Yesheng teas but enjoy the sweetness out of it and brings the overall price down same time. But the problem is that it has been sold as 100% Wild Tea on markets , and of course for full price.
The 1000 years old tea tree
Well,….where to start? Let’s say this way ( just generally speaking ) : If it comes from a Chinese vendor – it’s a marketing strategy . If it comes from foreign vendor – it’s lack of knowledge. Please note : it’s only generally speaking, it also could be vice -versa.
Apart of the common sense ( such an old tree is something very very valuable in any country, not mentioning the China! ) , it’s good to know few facts. The one of them is , that tea trees in that age category are protected by Chinese government and some of them are even illegal to harvest. Some of them are harvested under the control. There are also younger than that offered on the market , like 400-800years old . And again, it’s good to know the availability and demand on that kind of tea material in local market. These types of tea trees are usually booked ( purchased ) upfront by some rich investor or tea drinker and not used for general re-sell on some tea market , not mentioning shop or online shop.
Also good to know the way is tea tree age estimated. Yes, I highlighted that , because there is no way to know exact age of the tree unless it’s been cut off or drilled sample tube and growth rings are counted . If the tree is tall , thick or both, it doesn’t mean it’s very old. Smaller tree can be even older. Tea farmers mostly estimate the age by being told by ancestors that this or that particular tree has been around since their childhood or so.
But of course , this kind of information is being misused more and more. These days many tea farmers would claim any age in order to sell their tea with higher price tag and at this stage all tea business around the arbor and ancient tea tree material is getting very messy. It is normal that you go to some farm and tea farmer will tell you this tree is 500 years old and if you come back there few years later , the same farmer would claim that exactly the same tee tree is 800 years old. They just simply follow the market demand and now ( for few years already ) is a big boom around Gu Shu ( ancient tea tree ) ..older is better. There is no any particular manual how to distinguish different age of tea tree material by drinking either, it is all bout your personal experience which could be based only on learning by comparing. The problem is, unless you have a trusted vendor who lives in area or going often to places where old trees are growing and same time experienced enough to determine all that marketing rubbish in order to get the real stuff , you have no opportunity to learn. You might ending up buying from different vendors different Gu Shu tea and non of them might be what it says on the wrapper ( mentioned fact at the beginning ) . Going to tea farm your self is a nice adventure and experience , but hard to say that you would learn about that much either ( especially if you don’t know the environment and language ) ..of course you’ll get cheated:-)
Old tea tree in Pa Sha ( estimated age 600 – 800 years )
Generally speaking , there is not much legit tea on internet older than from 300y old tea tree. Anything older than that is very rare even in Chinese tea market ( if we talk about the real stuff ) . You can choose to believe that your favorite vendor from Europe or US comes to Yunnan , gets such a valuable tea material and offers it for resell in their online shop for affordable price….your choice 🙂 As mentioned above, you would have to know Chinese economy , availability & demand in order to know how much local tea drinkers would be willing to pay for such a jewel.
The demand is going so big that Chinese tea vendors / makers are investing in neighboring countries like Myanmar , Laos , Vietnam or Nepal and making the tea directly there for Chinese market. And again, valuable tea leafs from very old tea trees hardly reach the internet , even if somebody claims directly sourcing from that country. In most of the cases the tea makers / masters are actually Chinese, because local people don’t have big experience with making pu-erh tea. Tea travelers visiting such a places are more than likely being simply cheated. Being showed old tea trees and then offered already processed tea . It is very hard to even control the legibility during the processing, as we mention some cases in our previous articles. As said above, doing a tea business in this kind of level ( old tea trees material ) requires more than coming to the place few times per year.
2. Master Processing
The “100” years old tea master
If it’s not a thousand years old tree than it’s a “hundred” years old master : -) Even Chinese media have noticed this new up-selling concept for pu-erh tea which helps to seller out stand the competitors. Quite often you can see ” This tea was made by XX years old master who has been making the tea for XX years.” Same as with a pottery and calligraphy written on it, the vendors hope to gain on price ( gain value impression for the buyer ) on that particular tea. Yes, there are some old masters around, many of them, but usually they just keeping eyes on apprentices doing the work or just sitting outside of the tea factory , smoking cigarettes and occasionally have a stroll trough the processing area. These people would make personally some small private batch with much higher price tag and that’s exactly what plays along with mentioned marketing concept.
Some producers have that even stamped on their products “Ming Shi Zhi” , processed by famous master, as a sign of quality certification or something 🙂
We also have a section dedicated to private tea producers who we personally know. But in our case it’s done for selection reason ( groups and sub-groups selection ) rather than promotion (although we are happy to promote people who really can master their skills ). We have met in Mang Fei , for example, 65 years old man who is doing kill green with his 40 years old son. There is no any noticeable difference in taste ,not even mentioning the quality , of their final products.
3. Gu Shu Tea concepts
There are many concepts to sell the tea under such a marketing successful name as The Ancient Tea and some of them are just ridiculous. Once I was wandering local Kunming tea market ( Xiong Da ) and spotted 357g sheng pu-erh cake labeled with Gu Shu name. Curiously walked into the shop and asked price which was quite bellow of what usually old tea tree material is. After trying it and finding out that there is only cheap bush tea material inside , the vendor’s reaction was : ” I haven’t said it’s a gu shu tea, the ‘Gu Shu Cha‘ printed on the wrapper is the name of this tea cake”.
Other example would be like tea vendor selling Gu Shu shu pu-erh tea. Nobody is stupid that much to use at these days such an expensive tea material and “devalue” it by fermentation. Generally the shu pu-erh is sold cheaper than sheng pu-erh.
Small Gushu puerh tea
Also please note , that different areas have different understanding / concepts of naming the tea trees , like in Mang Fei everything over 100 years old is already called Gu Shu Cha. This word “Gu Shu” has been so commercially successful so some farmers rename their small arbor trees to Xiao Gu Shu – Small Gu Shu so can sell the leafs from small arbors for higher price.
The most common concept is mixing / blending. Using the old tea tree material mixing with other , cheaper tea ( arbor or bush ) . Ratios are very variable and it’s difficult even for experienced pu-erh tea drinker to estimated how much Gushu is in actual pressed tea cake.
Gu shu cha health benefits
So far I haven’t seen any legit research or study about the health benefits being bigger form tea leafs of old grown tea trees than from bush tea ( tableland tea ) , but there is a certain study from CN agriculture department about that bush or younger tea trees are richer on vitamins and nutrition ( in certain way it makes sense due to the fact, that tea is basically a living thing ..”younger = stronger” )
If you have seen any legit research about that matter, please do not hesitate and share with us, we would be more than happy to update this info in our blog!
4. Aged Tea
Apart of the regular faking of aged pu-erh tea mentioned before, there are other teas with the same issue.
Since the general marketing strategy is not enough these days new concepts of the promotion emerging. Aged white tea , aged oolong tea and the most ridiculous we have seen is aged black tea ( shai hong could be understandable with age around 6y ) . Of course there would be some smart article proving that aging white tea or oolong tea is dating back to 100 years or some other very long time ago. That’s not the problem, the problem is that suddenly in past few years those teas are started to show up on the market out of the nowhere.
Not many people can say for sure how the 10 years old white tea tastes like , neither 30 years old oolong tea stored in Malaysia or Taiwan. And that’s we’re coming back to the previous topic of “not knowing but have a desire to get something special”.
As pu-erh tea transforms in wet environment ( Guangzhou , Fujian, Shanghai , Malaysia etc ) so the other teas can do. As we learned from oolong tea producers , the roasting oolong processing was invented not only for making it drinkable for people who don’t like drink “green” teas , but also to extend the storage life. Means, originally oolong is not made for long storage and post-processing helps to extend that time …but not for 10 or 30 years though. With each roast the leaf is gaining on the wood , smoky & roast flavor which covers up the original taste of the tea. In this way it’s very easy to use 5y old wet stored oolong and roast it hard / long, then claim it has been re-roasted 20 times ( once a year ) , so 20y old oolong.
Well, demand for aged tea play well along with vendors who couldn’t sell the “outdated” tea and now can fulfill that demand for good money. And in fact opened the new door for those who are skilled in making the faked age teas.
You can see aged oolong , mainly from Malaysia coming , and for the age of this “item” pretty low price. ( lower than pu-erh anyway ) . Yet , the truth is that re-roasting the leaf is “degrading” the tea and so the quality.
I might be completely wrong, but that’s what comes up into my mind ( based on experience tea trade in China ) :
Many tea drinkers claim have tried aged tea ( 20y old etc ) without backing up their own claim by the fact that they had bought some tea 20 year ago and stored it till now, so can compare with this. Coming to the tea shop ( even in China ) and think that tea boss will pull out 20 years old jewel for you to try is a bit naive and inexperienced.
So before judging the age of the tea or age of the tea tree of which is the tea made of , honestly ask yourself a question : On what your judging experience is based on?
Learning about the tea , and especially pu-erh tea doesn’t start from buying the aged teas. Yes , you can do it , because learning by mistakes is the also way , just more expensive 🙂
How to learn to determine age of tea we discuss in article
There is nothing wrong with nice packaging and additional value is Ok way to go, unless there is low grade tea packed in nice box to make it look very special and therefore the higher price can be commanded. This is the common concept in Chinese tea shops and tea companies and it’s up to the customer to try the tea first , before decide to purchase whole package. Prints on wrapper or tea packaging – “high quality tea” , “premium quality tea” or various certifications along with rewards from Chinese Tea Exhibition. All that is very common in Chinese tea marketing. It is no difficult to obtain some certificate of Tea Expo , in fact , there is no problem to obtain almost any certificate in China at all. Some of the awards also don’t reflect the actual quality of the tea , not mentioning the fact you are going to like the rewarded tea.
6. The way of selling
Since this blog is mainly focused on online buyers , the main tips and tricks are hidden in shipping offer concepts. Those you can read in page called Choosing Tea Vendor