PS: These posts portray the opinions of the author. Strong they may be, always be aware “to each their own.” If you want to do things ‘wrong,’ do it wrong. Happy steeping!
Poor Man's Tea?
With its popularity and mystique, people really gravitate to puer, both sheng and shu (shou). However, you should understand that shu puer was only recently introduced, AND sheng puer has really changed over the past 30 years.
I’ve talked to people who suggested and outright told me that other heicha, besides Yunnan’s puer, are the “poor-man’s-heicha.” But what IS a poor-man’s-heicha? That is up for much debate. Here I state my own opinion and reasoning.
Surely You Can't Be Searious?
I am… and don’t call me Sherly.
Looking to Shu Puer
DISCLAIMER: sadly, I have yet to visit Yunnan in person.
We will look to shu puer because of its similarities to most other heicha. Some consider sheng puer to not even be heicha. Here is one such tea friend, Mr. Lazy L that further explains this.
So, what about this shu puer? It was intended to act and taste like aged sheng. I have been told by several people that when trying to develop the process of shu, they looked to Guangxi Provence and its production of Liubao, a wet piled heicha.
Shu puer is still very much in development. Like most heicha, it is lumped in huge piles. But unlike most, it is often covered in sheets and kept wet with water while sitting on a concrete floor. Currently, companies are experimenting with micro-batches and even piles elevated above the floor. This, I believe, is a considerable step towards excellence in taste and feel.
I have had few shu puer that were not to my liking in both taste and aftertaste even though they were quite comfortable teas. One must realize that the vast majority of puer of all qualities does NOT make it out of China and into the US market.
Now for Hunan Heciha
The heicha I am most familiar with are from Hunan, such as fuzhuan, heizhua, tianjian, and qianliang.
While visiting both large factories and small producers of Hunan heicha, a realization came to me. They seem to have their act together. Yes, there is experimentation, as there should be. An example would be a lotus scented fuzhuan, very much a favorite of mine. And to meet its growing popularity, bricks from Hunan have gone through transformations in the past century: more whole leaves, fewer stems, and intent on both boiling AND steeping.
Don’t forget the diversity
I have only covered Yunnan and Hunan heicha. Let us not forget that many other provinces make heicha as well. In fact while heicha is quite a diverse category, there might not be as many different teas as in other categories. Still, you might be surprised how many provinces make it, and how many types of teas each region specializes in.
To name a few places: Guangxi, Hubei, Hunan, Sichuan, Shaanxi, and of course, Yunnan.
To name the individual teas of each provincial heicha would take too long for a single blog post, and I would have to do more research.
Poor-man’s-tea, Popularity? Quality? Value?
It is hard to say what exactly poor-man’s-heicha implies. But I would say it describes more about the value of the tea than anything else. The “poor” cannot afford luxurious and expensive teas. If that is the case, non-Yunnan heicha is all-around lower in cost. Why? So many reasons, popularity, mystique, investing, etc. Of course, the poor don’t need to spend a lot for quality, which can be found in all heicha. Price does make its appearance is quality. If not in demand or popularity, even the highest quality tea may not be as expensive as other teas that are more famous. Recently heicha has been on the rise in China, and the prices have been increasing.
If the price tag is the vital factor, I would say puer is the “rich-man’s-tea.” But as for quality? No. Shu puer is still in its infancy while other piled heicha have been made for a long time and perfected to a degree.
But not for long. One can never predict the future. Sure, there have been a few “profits” that came far too close for comfort. (George Gilder comes to mind.) If I were as insightful as him, I would say shu puer is on the rise, but so are other non-Yunnan heicha. Let us all sit back and watch the market.