A post written by one of my personal favorite bloggers (Ulumochi/烏魯木齊), getting down to the real marrow of the pu’er situation in China. The topics discussed can be reflected in many ways in the Western World. For many, this is nothing new, but I find the story and topic quite interesting, so I hope you will enjoy. I took some liberties in translation for sake of flow, but for the original text, feel free to read here.
The once tranquil forest plaza suddenly stirred with noise; with a careful glimpse, one could see a group of animals together in the plaza causing some sort of commotion. Rabbit spoke first: “Yesterday the forest decided it would choose the ‘King of the Forest,’ today we should determine the winner! From where I stand, I see no reason to continue the conversation, we must pick the most keen and nimble to be our king!”
Fox continued after Rabbit: “Nimble movement hardly counts as a useful trait. When Rabbit sees conflict, would he not still just cower and tremble away in his little hole? I believe the most essential traits for our king must be cleverness and wit. I, of course, am the best suited for this.”
Old Turtle cut in after Fox, crawling ever so slowly to the center of the group: “That’s enough, my boy! The whole forest knows this fox doesn’t have the stomach for it! Were he to encounter a crisis, he’d be the first to slip away! From where I stand, it seems only right that the king be experienced and knowledgeable. I’ve been alive for a hundred years now! Of all the animal’s families, I’ve seen 18 generations of each of you, and know all their stories clearly! There would be no better choice than having me act as the King of the Forest!”
Before Old Turtle could even finish, Crow began speaking, landing on old turtle’s wrinkled head: “Oh bullocks! This grandpa refuses to keel over! All he does is hide within his own shell all day, listening to other people’s gossip! That’s knowledge? And for experience, sure, he’s experienced! In the event of danger, should we all try to follow behind your ass and crawl away at the speed of molasses?”
As the group continued to bicker over who was best qualified, Tiger slipped in from his hidden patch. With one paw he pinned the other critters down. After a moment or two, all that was left of them was the bits between Tiger’s teeth.
After finishing our story, let’s turn to Pu’er tea. In recent years, the Pu’er market has slowly expanded to a new scale. Pu’er drinkers have increased in numbers, as have vendors. Sellers present a face of friendliness, and confidently flaunt their products and skill. The truth is that internally there is chaos. Carelessness, randomness, and a lack of agreement.
Each mountain – Wait, what is meant by each Pu’er mountain? Where are these mountains? Do we separate by mountain, or by region?
There’s more. We have the Northern Pai (派)* Kunming Pai, there’s Guangdong Pai, Hong Kong Pai. Within these groups there’s even more fragmentation! Beyond regional preference and method we have Arbor Pai, Plantation Pai, Single Origin Pai, Blend Skill Pai. Don’t forget about storage! We have Pure Dry Storage Pai, Natural Dry Storage Pai, Traditional Hong Kong Storage Pai, Controlled Storage Pai… …to add further we have our factory groups! Dayi Pai, Xiguan Pai, the Second-Line Factory Pai, our Excuisite Small Productions Pai. The groups are numerous, almost endless, and each Pai has their own leaders and followers, and most of the time, these Pai can coexist in piece.
Once facing these cakes with incredible profit potential, the temptation to join the fray increases every day. As vendor numbers grow, competition is driven to incredible levels. With so many vendors to turn to, it becomes harder and harder to make a living. The best method appears to be to cut one’s prices, and protect one’s own turf and customer base (the method of defending one’s own mountain top stronghold). However, as has been mentioned previously, as competition drives upward, it becomes hard to stay and defend one’s own mountain top, and ambitious participants wish to swallow other territories, like tiny creatures of the ocean consumed en masse by the mouth of a whale, unifying the market under control of their own land! The ambitions of this market begin to sound like their own Jianghu(江湖)* story! But where is the ease of unification in such a turbulent market? Thus, some keen adventurers have come to realize that conquer is done easier not by force, but by the promotion of ideology.
A Northern tea enthusiast will tell you: “This tea would be better suited stored with us in the North! We have vast and abundant land, with dry, fresh, cool air! Storing tea in the North can be left a hundred years with no worries, no mold, no off-taste, no problems! It really does get so much better with age up here! Not like the south! A wonderful cake must be wrapped and rewrapped, stored here and there, and in the end when the rains come, it still molds and fades in the end! A fuzzy white disaster!”
When his speech is done, a Guangzhou tea enthusiast will chime in: “The North is too dry! Even if you stored tea another hundred years, it would never age! How could you have the advantages the south has? For a tea to age well, and have any semblance of decent taste, it must have proper humidity and heat. Without those, you might as well put it in a damn freezer and see what that does for you! On another topic, what good does that dumb arbor material do anyway! It has no flavor, and fades away into nothingness! Give me a good plantation cake, and leave it in the south for 10 years, and it would outshine any arbor cake you leave up in the north even for a hundred years!”
“What are you two even on about?” The Taiwanese tea friend chuckles, “You all know if it wasn’t for us Taiwanese redeveloping the pu’er market, what would you even be drinking right now? Speak all you want, we Taiwanese have great insight, elegance, and exquisite taste, it was only once we had carefully dissected the careful inner-workings of pu’er that it even came to you as any sort of decent tea. And of course, aged tea is the best. If you aren’t drinking the teas we embrace and spread, you’re all still drinking fresh new flowery water!”
Finally the conversation rolls over to the Kunming tea enthusiast: “Are you all finished barking about nothing? We Yunnan residents are from the Origin of Pu’er! This is the land of pu’er production! We don’t understand pu’er, but oh you do? What can you even drink from Guangzhou? Compost? And Taiwan? Ugh disgusting! Let me tell you, it doesn’t matter what tea – Old tree/Small Tree/Large Factory/Small Factory, it only tasted good if it’s been stored from start to finish in Kunming!” Just like the previous story – Rabbit, Fox, Old Turtle, and Crow were busy fighting over who should be King of the Forest. Following the tale, it should be about time for tiger to pop out. Eh…where’s tiger? Unfortunately for us, Tiger mysteriously disappeared and hasn’t returned for the past few rounds. He’s already had his fill, and is waiting for the next round to return and make his move.
end notes: Pai (派) is a group, faction, or school of thought
Jianghu (江湖) lit. Rivers and lakes, is often referred to when discussing stories of a wandering swordsman, conflict between martial arts groups in different schools/regions etc. Because of the popularity of Jianghu literature in China, it is often referred to in most trades/crafts where there is heavy debate between ideology/schools of thought.