Some of our friends on Facebook and elsewhere have posted ways they use to tell if their pu-erh is fake or genuine, so we’re presenting our own list here for your reference. Is this such a big deal? Well, yes and no.
|A security ticket from the Menghai
tea factory assures authenticity.
Fakery in anything that is valued highly is always an issue. Expensive teas, commanding prices in the hundreds or even thousands of dollars, are as tempting to counterfeiters as are the works of Gucci and other designers. Lately, pu-erhs have gotten into high demand in the U.S. and elsewhere, increasing the attraction to counterfeiters. Pu-erhs are often bought and then stored and even collected, so knowing fake from real is important. The tea source and what the tea is labeled to be are key factors in its authenticity. Pu-erh fakery is a big issue in both regards.
1 Check the label and wrapper
Check the wrapper to make sure it is intact before you open it. Also, be familiar with the markings that should be on that wrapper. Security features have been implemented by some tea factories to assure that the cake is really theirs (some tea factories purposely put out fake pu-erh cakes to get customers to buy from their company vendors). For example, in 2006 the Menghai tea factory began microprinting special identifying tickets that go with each cake or package so that you can spot their genuine products.
2 Pay careful attention to the appearance of the tea cake
Pu-erh teas come mostly in cakes of various shapes but some vendors also sell them loose (usually broken up cakes). Common shapes are discs (about the same size as a frisbee, slightly rounded on the “top” side and indented on the “back” side), bing (beeng) chas, tuochas, mushrooms, and bricks. There are also some that look like pumpkins or melons and others shaped into balls between the size of a baseball and a volleyball. Reputable tea factories will produce cakes that are consistent and neat in appearance. Fake cakes are often rather sloppy in appearance. Older tea cakes may be naturally loose due to high oxidation and expansion of internal air pockets; they will pry apart easily. The fake tea cakes that are supposed to be older may appear old but will be hard and compact.
3 Check the cake for these items
Green. Black. White. Cooked. Uncooked. Whatever way they’re prepared, the leaves are those from the tea bush (Camellia Sinensis), grown in the Yunnan Province of China. Producers of fake pu-erhs haul into the Yunnan area truckloads of cheap green teas from nearby provinces; these inferior quality leaves are processed into cakes and sold as pu-erhs, producing a decidedly inferior tea. The taste of a true pu-erh tea cake will be complex, ranging from lightly floral, heather, fruity, and honey-like to leather, harsh peat, tobacco, organics, wood, grass, and deep earth.
4 Learn about the tea factory
The factories that produce these teas have a reputation to uphold. We offer information about these factories here on the blog and on our store site so you can have an idea who is processing these teas.
5 Know your tea vendor
Labeling, wrapping technique, and the appearance of the tea cake are all signs of whether the tea is a true pu-erh or an imitation. However, your best bet is to deal with tea vendors you know as reputable, especially if you are buying the tea with the idea of storing it for later. That brings me to still another form of fakery: fake tea vendors. Sites spring up online overnight. Then, they get caught, close that site, and open another under a different name.
As for this fakery being a big deal, it is if you end up paying a high price for an inferior product, but it is not if you get that fake pu-erh at a cheap price. It all depends on what you’re shopping for — great pu-erh that you can store and enjoy for years to come or some so-so tea in the pu-erh style to enjoy now.
See also: Pu-erh in a More Convenient Form