Buying Pu-erh by the Tong

Been sampling pu-erhs to help you sort through the hundreds available and zero in on that one special one? Have you achieved that goal and are ready now for that big purchase? Maybe you need a larger quantity to serve customers at your newly opened tea room? Great! Now, it’s time to make a serious purchase in a quantity sufficient to satisfy your needs. It’s tong buying time!

2005 Nannuo Mountain Old Tree Raw Pu-erh

But what is a tong?

The word is actually tŏng (筒 ) and refers to a stack of about 5, 6, or 7 pu-erh disc-shaped cakes wrapped in bamboo shoot husks, bamboo stem husks, or coarse paper. Some vintage pu-erh tongs (ones produced before 2000) will contain a tŏng piào (筒 票 ), or tong ticket, but newer tongs produced after 2000 will usually not have this.

You can also buy pu-erh by the jiàn (件 ) which usually consists of 12 tŏng bound together in a loose bamboo basket. Some producers/factories will vary how many tŏng are in one jiàn. The basket will usually have a large batch ticket (大 票 ; pinyin: dàpiào) on the side. It shows the batch number of the tea in a season, the production quantities, tea type, the factory where it was produced, and other information.

The wrapper matters

Tong wrappers can affect the flavor of the tea by affecting the quality of the aging process. Bamboo shoot husks and bamboo leaves will add a bamboo-like quality to the tea. Thick paper can add a more paper-ish quality. Each also affects how the air circulates around the tea cakes/discs and how much moisture is held into them or released out of them.

What isn’t a tong?

The word “tong” can be used as part of a factory’s or a tea’s name, so you need to be aware of this and not think you are ordering a stack of tea discs. For example, there is 2006 Tong Xing Hao Green Puer Tea Cake. There is also a tea factory named Guangtong and one named Tong Qing Hao.

Happy shopping and don’t forget to store those tongs properly for the best aging.

About Janice and Stephen Shelton

Purveyors of Premium Teas
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