Those of you who love dian hong ( fine, long, sturdy brownish Yunnan teas that are heavily tinged with gold bud ) know that it is made from the leaf of the indigenous strain of Camellia sinensis trees known as dayeh or arbor trees. And that it is in fact the same leaf that is gathered from the forests of the Ten Famous Tea Mountains to create the mixture of leaf used to make sheng puerh beeng cha ( for which the leaves are simply processed into maocha before being pressed into cakes. )
You also know that for nearly all of 2007 these teas seemed to disappear from the market almost overnight. As did lower grades of black Yunnan tea.
We were beside ourselves over this as we generally stock three to four delicious examples of dian hong. Our customers love these distinctive and flavorsome teas – we have cultivated interest in the unique characteristics of fine Yunnan tea for a long time and have quite a loyal customer following for them. And, selfish-ly speaking, we love them too.
Our colleagues in China told us many things – puerh becoming popular all over China now -all the leaf going to make puerh; making many puerh cakes for sale to USA and Europe markets; no leaf left for dian hong but tea farmers happy now; blah, blah, blah.
Well, I am sure that some of all of this was true, but rather mysteriously the dian hongs are back this year. What does that signify – no more production of puerh cakes ? That is unlikely. Again, we heard: market fall out of puerh sales- not the interest everyone thought; too many cakes, not enough buyers; blah, blah, blah.
Well, today I discovered what was probably the biggest reason for the disappearance and reappearance of the dian hong. The creation of 50,000 limited edition 2008 Olympic Games Commemorative Puerh Cakes by the Longshen Tea Factory and commissioned by the Beijing Olympic Organizing Committee.
Of course, of course, of course…..I should have figured that out last year ! Chinese tea merchants, tea companies and other businesses are known for commissioning commemorative edition puerh beeng cha for significant anniversaries, important dates, events and big celebrations.
And the biggest celebration for China in a very long time is, of course, the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Such a Chinese gesture – we should have seen this one coming !
Do I think that this is the only reason that the dian hong disappeared ? Perhaps not, because I think that there is a bit of truth in all of the other reasons. But for all of the leaf to disappear so quickly and completely in 2007, there had to be a very big underlying reason.
So, now the question is…..how good will these cakes be ? Are they indeed made with wonderful mao cha or with lesser quality leaf. It is doubtful that they will be of exceptional or even good quality ( and also are they sheng or the inferior shou ?
One of my sources in China has told me about a set of ten 2008 Olympic cakes – 5 sheng and 5 shou . My guess is that a lot of other ‘unofficial’ Olympic cakes have also been made as well by tea companies enthusiastically joining in on the spirit of the occasion. But these cakes are being sold as souvenirs, so the quality is most likely not suitable for tea connoisseurs.
As proud as the tea producer may be of these cakes, they must know that the majority of these cakes will be purchased by visitors and as such the cakes will not be stored, aged and drunk at a later date ( if they are drunk at all. )
Oh my, the possibilities are beginning to swirl in my mind. And yet, I still have a nagging question: where did all the best dian hong really go ?