What is good quality Tea?

Our Tea Philosophy (which is not everyone’s!) is to identify quality as a Tea that

  1. Is transformative
  2. Comes from trees that are as old as possible
  3. Comes from trees that are as clean (wild) as possible
  4. Is processed and aged properly (long and dry)
  5. Is affordable

1 Transformative

First and foremost, I will look for a Tea where drinking it changes me as a person (more connected to myself, to nature, and to others).

In practice this is often because it aids a long meditation/contemplative session, ideally as a daily practice.
While you could technically use any tea for sitting quietly with (or water or tisanes!) we find different Teas help concentration, connection and seeing things differently to dramatically different extents, some have almost no effect compared to drinking water, some have proper shamanic plant medicine effects.

In the words of a new customer (emphasis mine):

“These teas are incredible! I’ve never experienced anything like it. A great addition to my spiritual practice for sure.
I had Ocean Waves last night, which left me in a blissful, relaxed state of mind. The meditations I do after ingesting these teas is almost on a level of my transcendent psychedelic experiences. The claim you make about them being a shamanic medicine is actually accurate – hard to believe that it’s possible from tea!”

This is the experience I’m looking for, drinking tea at the level of just flavour seems quite shallow compared to what’s really possible with it.

Generally a Tea is the most transformative when it has a good degree of criterias 2, 3 and 4.

2 Comes from trees that are as old as possible

3 Comes from trees that are as clean as possible

The older the tree and the more clean/wild, the least yield it will produce, therefore the more ‘concentrated’ the remaining leaves will be.

In scientific terms this means there are more minerals in a production with smaller yield.

In shamanic plant medicine terms, the best medicine comes from trees that are respected by being left alone and rarely picked (ideally every few years).

It makes sense, if what you wish is healing and connection to nature, is mistreating the plant that gives the healing going to work?

At a level of flavour only: what tastes better? Tomatoes grown in your garden or store bought ones?

Some of the ways in which “farmers” can mistreat tea trees:

  • keep a tree cut to bush levels to facilitate easier pickings
  • kill a tree once is around 30 year old because the yield diminishes
  • use cuttings instead of seed-propagation for new trees
  • use fertilisers and pesticides (including organic ones)
  • overpick trees (often even twice or some silly amounts like 6 times a year!)

It’s a recognised fact also in the more “scientific” parts of the community that the more leaves a tea produces, the less quality the Tea has.

By the way, organic is a meaningless standard in aged puerh. You can do Tea that’s very low quality as medicine and yet complies with organic standard.

Also most smaller productions don’t get organic certification because they’re too small for it to be cost-effective.

In the early 2000s not many agrochemicals were used at all in Yunnan (while a lot of them are used nowadays).

It should become clear now why 95% of the Tea we choose is aged sheng puerh – Yunnan is the only place in the world with an abundance of hundreds or even thousands year old trees, some of which are wild or semi-wild!

Again in the words of the same customer (emphasis mine):

There’s definitely a new ‘mystical’ quality present in these teas isn’t there – one that I haven’t experienced previously in my many years of greens, whites and silver needle sessions! It’s more than just caffeine and theanine… its something else… something extra. It’s tempting to say it’s slightly like being stoned (something I only have a limited experience of), but smoother, more clarity. It’s actually pretty much just like the feeling of being in a deep meditation- knowing the inherent perfection of all things, knowing that somehow all is always well.”

A note on wild puerh

Often by the word “wild” in Puerh is meant not only the state of the tree but the varietal (eg: Camellia sinensis or Camellia sinensis var assamica are “standard puerh”, other varietals are called “wild”).

The reason these varietals were “wild” to start with is because they were less easy on the body than standard Puerh.

However when appropriately aged (see below) they tend to be excellent medicine and at more affordable prices (see below)!

4 Processed and Aged appropriately

It’s a very new invention that we drink fresh sheng puerh, and it’s only because there is too much market demand for puerh!

It’s really not that healthy as it’s harsh on the body (particularly on the stomach, many have had stomach liners ruined by years or even months of drinking fresh sheng puerh every day).

People never used to drink fresh sheng puerh when there was abundance of aged puerh (before the 2000s and certainly before the 1970s).

So why is 99% of the market fresh sheng puerh (aged less than 5-10 years)? Because there’s so little aged puerh from old trees, and fresh sheng puerh from plantation is what’s available, particularly with a lot of new plantation tea started in the last 20 years.

In all fairness, a lot of tea sold as fresh sheng puerh these days is more a “poolong” (puerh-oolong), with more processing and tasting sweeter. This is drinkable as it’s not so harsh on the stomach but it can’t age into actual aged puerh, it’s drinkable now and it won’t change much.

Shou puerh was also invented for filling more market demand (attempting to provide something that’s like aged puerh, without waiting 20+ years).

But as you might have figured out already, the taste of shou puerh might be somewhat similar to aged puerh (but not really, it may be smooth but it lacks all the depth and balanced strength), but the energy just can’t match a properly aged sheng puerh.

The good news

In the early 2000s and before there are some classic sheng puerh cakes that have now aged (and will transform further for the next 10 or even 20 years if properly stored) to be the real aged Puerh people have enjoyed for the last hundreds of years.

The most important thing in the aging (and processing) process is that it’s gentle, allowing the Tea to change gradually preserves its energy (and its taste). We think the ideal age for a dry-stored cake is 30-35 years, and for a natural stored cake 15-20 years, but clearly this depends a lot on personal taste.

5 Affordable

Good puerh is expensive, stupidly expensive, often not-worth-it expensive.

There’s an ever increasing collector market for old cakes, anything worth drinking and with a recognisable label/vintage is therefore really expensive, even though the quality of the tea is maybe just ok.

If you had a $500-1000 per cake budget, you could probably find good Tea after trying for long enough, though in practice in the west and online there’s almost no place to reliably buy good aged Puerh (as defined above), 99% of what’s available is low or medium quality fresh sheng puerh, with the occasional good Tea here and there.

Most of us don’t have that budget, $150-250/cake I appreciate is already expensive but it’s a more realistic one (we have cakes at less than that, but it’s rarer).

This is what drives me to do all this, I strongly believe that the transformative experiences Aged Puerh can give should be affordable for those that are interesting in the self-cultivation/meditation aspect of Tea.

I’m happy to leave the collectible, investment, teas to show off to colleagues (a big thing in china), teas with just a nice flavour, etc to others, because thankfully there are two main areas where lovers of transformative aged Puerh can still find amazing Tea for meditation:

A: Wild tea

The “market” simply doesn’t care that much for teas that don’t have the “standard” old tree puerh flavour, very good Tea at decent prices is still available (you will note half of what we offer is wild puerh!)

B: Tiny productions from unknown factories or with generic or no wrappers

This is a bit more tricky because you either have to trust the seller or yourself to be able to taste and feel what is good Tea (I think if you have a long silent session with a Tea and your meditation experience is deep, you will know this is a good Tea for you).

But because there’s no collectible possibility, excellent meditation Tea can be found in this category as well.

Due to years of cultivating personal relationship with a network of private collectors all over the world and first sources in China, Taiwan and Malaysia we are able to source very high quality Tea at fraction of its market value.

What about flavour?

You will note I don’t specifically talk about mouth experience (flavour, thickness in the mouth, aftertaste, aroma, etc)

This is because they naturally come with the first 4 criterias!

If a tea is high quality in this definition it will naturally have a thick liquid that has balanced astringency and bitterness (never overwhelming) and a deep aftertaste that lingers for hours in the mouth after the session.

Same goes for a tea being comfortable on the body, if aged appropriately it will simply be welcomed by your body and the Tea will “drink itself”.

To be clear this is to some extent, it’s not that all good clean tea from ancient trees will taste the same, have the same thickness, aftertaste, etc but it will still be in the “very good” range.

A great tasting Tea that swallows itself is a good extra check for quality Tea, but do some liquid will taste nicely (perhaps very sweet) without having any of the transformative qualities mentioned above.

So while great taste is a necessary condition, it’s not enough. And certainly buying Tea on taste alone will be much more expensive (as they tend to be collectible and priced accordingly) on average.

We have a selection of Tea matching this criteria of quality available here: Aged Puerh for Meditation