The first of April is a time of pulling pranks and saying, “April Fool!” to the prankee, but you needn’t be fooled by fake teas. That can give you a bad tea experience, waste your money, and make you leery of buying from the vendor or shop you bought that fake tea from. Best to know how to spot those fakes and avoid being a “Tea Fool.” Sometimes the fakery is the tea itself, and sometimes it’s the way the tea is being marketed.
Check the Packaging
April Fool’s Day pranks have quite a range to them and centuries of history. One story is from 1632 when the Duke and Duchess of Lorraine were imprisoned in Nantes, France. They escaped by dressing in peasant clothing and walked out the front gate. The guards, when alerted to the escape, scoffed, thinking it was a prank for April Fool’s Day. How your tea is dressed… uh, packaged can be a big clue on whether it is authentic or not, so be on your guard! This is especially true of pu-erh cakes, as we showed in this article on our blog. Plus, some vendors like to dress up poor quality teas in fancy packaging that looks nice; some of these packages hold less than a quarter of an ounce! Pouches are your best bet for inexpensive packaging that also does the job of protecting the tea until you’ve had a chance to enjoy it. And unless you are buying a sample, any package containing less than 25 grams (just under an ounce) is not a good value (you’re buying more packaging than tea).
Know About Aging
One theory about April Fool’s Day has to do with dates. January 1st was set as the start of a new year as long ago as 45 B.C.E., but calendars underwent many changes. Some calendars used to have April 1st as the first day of the year. Finally, the start of the year was settled back on January 1st, and those who either forgot the change or didn’t want to adhere to it began to be called April Fools and people would play tricks on them. Similarly, teas are often dated. You have the flush and the year for some, the year pressed for others (the máochá may have been processed and let age a bit before pressing), aging claims (becoming more popular for oolongs, it seems), but a total unknown for most teas (there may be an expiration date on the box). Unscrupulous vendors have been known to sell something as First Flush (considered more appealing) that are really Second Flush or claim that a bing was pressed in a certain year by a certain tea master who in reality didn’t press anything that year for whatever reason. Two recommendations: know your vendor and stay alert to news about the teas you tend to buy regularly (most of you reading this probably already are).
If It Sounds Too Good to Be True…
In 1957, the world awoke on April 1st to astounding news: the BBC news program Panorama reported that Switzerland’s spaghetti harvest had been especially fruitful due to a mild winter and lack of natural spaghetti pests. Callers into the BBC who wanted to grow their own were told to stick a sprig of spaghetti in tomato sauce. How many of those callers actually followed that advice is unknown. Ha! For tea, if you get an offer too good to refuse, it could also be too good to be true. A good vendor doesn’t need to “buy” your business with lots of freebies. Their prices will already be among the best out there for the tea you are buying and in line with the quality.
Fakery of Rare Tea
An April Fool’s prank in 1972 was a claim of the discovery of the Loch Ness monster, supported by a photo of the supposed creature. The photo was revealed as a hoax and was really a photo of a seal whose whiskers had been shaved off. Discovering a cache of heretofore unknown rare teas (a claim sometimes made of aged oolongs out there) or ones said to be made from rare tea trees that were “lost” for ages and were rediscovered are two examples. The latter is a possibility, but the amount I’ve seen come on the market would have to come from many mountains and tea trees.
Learn what you can about any teas you buy. Ask questions. Know your vendor. And you will not be the one they’re calling an April Fool. Enjoy.