Saturday, 4 January 2014

Counterfeit teas are aplenty: Don’t be duped by the packaging

I was in deep slumber this morning when my mom woke me up, all too exciting to show me three pieces of pu-erh tea that she bought from the morning market. She showed me one piece of Hong Thai Chang (鸿泰昌) pu erh with exactly the same packaging as the Hong Thai Changs that I have been keeping and sharing with her for years.

Real and counterfeit Hong Thai Chang, which is which?
After taking a quick look at the piece that she bought, smelled it and I told her it is a counterfeit tea. Unhappily, she murmured something like I am still sleepy so I can’t differentiate the tea and that she’d had a good bargain for she bought those for only RM 18 per piece while I paid many times more. She added that the people at the morning market were buying those teas at great quantity, at the same time lamenting that she’d lost out by only getting the last 3. I went back to sleep after telling her that I’ll check them when I am awake.
In the evening, I took out my piece of Hong Thai Chang and the one that she bought. The moment I opened the rice paper that wrap the tea to check the labeling that is usually pressed together with the tea, it is all too obvious that the 18 bucks Hong Thai Chang is a counterfeit. The original one has a blue labeling while the other one is red. Each pu erh will comes with a inner labeling and it is vital to know the labeling to avoid being cheated. There are books available that can guide novice in this aspect.   

Next, the texture of the tea cake; while the real one is well compressed, the counterfeit one is loosely compressed, leaves that doesn’t look like tea leave at all and branches starting to fall the moment I hold it up.  

The counterfeit pu erh. Note the texture of the cake, the compressing work and the obvious branches.
The original one. 

I explained the differences to my mom and she asked if we can still drink the counterfeit ones. I told her I will not risk my health to try it even for a brew because I do not know what God forbidden leaves are those, what colouring and flavouring has been added to make it presentable as Hong Thai Chang pu erh. After listening to me, my mom learns a good lesson today about how to differentiate between a good grade pu erh and the lower grade and counterfeit pu erhs.
I’ve heard too much and seen too much about counterfeit teas over the years. By merely listening to the way unscrupulous merchants pressed counterfeit teas, it can make ones hair stand. Just can’t imagine if I’m going to drink it.
Therefore, I will always advice people that before you buy a packet or a piece of tea, always look at the texture of the tea, the way it is compressed and if it is loose tea, look at its colour, check out for leaves that look funny and branches. Next, ask if you can taste that particular tea before you buy it. Taste various according to the many types of tea available.
Even in the pu erh family itself, there are so many types and each taste differently. Ask as many questions as you may wish from the salesperson or the owner of the tea shop. If the answer is not satisfactory, look for other shop. Finally, it is always advisable to buy from reputable tea shop but even that, one still have to exercise caution for a shop with many outlets in Malaysia is the talk among the connoisseurs recently for selling counterfeit tea and purple clay teapots as well as other integrity issues.
Tea drinking is suppose for good health but by drinking the wrong “tea”, the damage to health is far more expensive than the penny saved by buying from unknown sources. Cheap pu erh are hard to come by, so, don’t get cheated; you may be given tree leaves compressed as tea leaves.

Other stories about tea drinking:

Investing in pu erh

Is tea drinking and feng shui related ?

The right pairing of cups and pots for different type of tea

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