Last post I put forth the argument that “wild puerh” is not really puerh. So if we shouldn’t call it “wild puerh”, what then should we call it? How should we classify this interesting, delicious, mind bending, and majestic tea of Yunnan?
I don’t really agree with how vendors are categorizing “wild puerh”. The two Western vendors who sell “wild puerh” have it listed with their puerh teas.
Scott of Yunnan Sourcing has its own category which I think it deserves and also has a page on the disambiguation of purple teas which I think is very helpful to clarify this often confused topic. He also has separate pages for the same wild leaf (“Yesheng”) processed as a white tea and a black tea. But to keep it just a little bit of confusion going it also has a “yesheng” filter in its puerh section. It is a bit confusing but Scott tries hard through his system of categorizations and explanations to make it clearer for the buyer.
Yunnan Sourcing states, “It was originally processed into mao cha and sold as a kind of Raw Pu-erh tea”. Although this statement is totally true, it doesn’t go on to say that the raw material is not puerh, and that it is just the processing that is the same as sheng puerh. I think it was originally sold as a “kind of Raw Puerh Tea” and vendors are still trying to market it as a “kind of Raw puerh tea”.
Why? I think there are two reasons.
First of all, they are trying to piggy back the success of puerh. Puerh drinkers will be the most likely of tea drinkers to embrace Yesheng for sure. Of all teas, “yesheng” or “wild tea” tastes closest to puerh tea when processed like puerh tea (and of course it looks like puerh all pressed into a nice bing). It’s easier to sell someone a new product if it looks, tastes, feels, familiar in some way. The wild trees even look identical to puerh trees so the familiarity is seamless really.
The second reason is that with prices of fresh quality puerh maocha rising year to year, “yesheng” or “wild tea” is a more affordable option. As puerh drinkers continue to demand the same type of quality but are slowly priced out of the puerh market “yesheng” or “Wild Tea” seems like a great option. As Jamesof TeaDB notes, it is a way to buy low and sell high. Although, nowadays, quality "wild tea" is also demanding very high prices and continues to increase like puerh, so this argument doesn't hold like it used to.
David of Essence of Tea is the other major vendor of “yesheng” or “wild tea”. He has his “wild tea”listings interspersed with his puerh listings which I think is a bit confusing (if not deceiving, but not deliberately so) especially for people who wouldn’t know better. The teas always state “Wild” in their name- this is how you would tell them apart from real puerh. I really think David should create another category for “wild teas” (just like he has for wuyi yancha, liu bao, and oolong) especially as he continues to delve deeper into the selling of this most wonderful tea. I know from a marketing perspective this probably makes no sense for him, but I think he needs to make it more apparent for puerh drinkers somehow.
I have to say that both Scott of Yunnan Sourcing and David of Essence of Tea are the most honest and transparent of all the Western puerh dealers, so maybe there is no controversy at all, and I'm just reading into this way to much- What do you think? After all, there’s already an established convention of calling this tea "wild puerh" in China. Maybe both David and Scott are actually doing us puerh drinkers a big favor because these are very interesting teas even if they are not puerh teas. Interesting enough that I hope you will join me in the next weeks and months for this detour as I explore “yesheng” or “wild tea”. If a Korean puerh tea dealer had not marketed “wild tea” to me in 2008, I probably wouldn’t be writing about it now.
(in the middle of this article, I just started calling “wild puerh” either “wild tea” or “yesheng”, its imperfect but I guess it will due for now… it’s what the vendors are calling it and what it directly translates from Chinese… certainly it’s much better than calling it “wild puerh”)
Don't want to add more confusion but am willing to bet that these tea leaves are now grown in some managed tea farm.
It should be pointed out that many confusions about tea have originated from their sources in Asia. Tea vendors pick up bad habits & information from each other, perhaps especially from their suppliers. I would agree that YS is itself more trustworthy than most tea vendors, not just those in the West.
If they aren't doing that now, they will be soon. That's why what David from Essence of Tea is doing with these trees is the right thing. He is establishing relationships with families in Yunnan so that they actually stay "wild". He also oversees the production from beginning to end so, I have no doubt in my mind, that I am actually getting the most wild of "wild teas". If anyone out there is really serious about trying "wild tea" look no further.
I think you are right about a lot of the confusion coming from the source not from these trustworthy vendors.
I didn't want this post to come off like these dealers are trying to deceive because they are definitely not trying to do this. Personally, I consider them both the most trustworthy of all vendors and that is why I order my "Ye sheng" from them. However, I think the puerh drinking public needs a better understanding of "wild tea" and to know that it isn't really, exactly, puerh tea at all.
It is not impossible that these are all man-made products; results of R&D by Tea Research Institutes. Since these are tea marketers, the stories may be all fanciful. For example,
when Indian Pradip Baruah said that they found wild purple tea bushes in Assam, he probably meant that they are going to grow the Kenyan cultivar there. "It's time we took a leaf out of Kenya's tea book," Baruah told the Kolkata-based Telegraph.
I think the hyperlink to the TeaDB articles in the post covers this topic as well. This, I think, adds to the confusion about "purple yesheng" or "wild yesheng" tea.
It should be noted that there is a huge difference in appearance, odour, taste, mouth/throatfeel, and qi in the tea you mentioned and true "purple yesheng" but you would have to have some experience with "wild tea" before knowing all this of course.
In the coming posts hopefully readers will get an idea of some of these qualities to help them differentiate it better themselves.
Is it possible that the differences are due to different processing?
Scott of Yunnan Sourcing and James of TeaDB in the links above do a pretty good job of explaining the different processing to differentiate other types of purple tea from purple yesheng. You can't just take normal puerh and process it in a way that can fake the profile of true purple yesheng.
When purple yesheng first started to hit the puerh market in the mid-2000s it was always processed exactly like sheng puerh. Now more and more people are processing it like hongcha with an oxidation phase (making black tea out of it).
That is probably a reason that the name wild puerh has stuck- because it is processed exactly like puerh. So you could make an argument for the use of the name "wild Puerh" on these grounds.
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