|2010 Chen Sheng Yi Hao at Tea Urchin|
|My sample of 2010 Chen Sheng Yi Hao|
But the situation isn't always so clear. And "clear" is rather relative too, since the Chen Sheng cake is only 10% clear in truth when we come right down to it. Things can deteriorate from there. Some tea vendor lying is fairly obvious. MarshalN has pointed out a million times that ancient gushu is not going to be $6.99 on EBay and most of us are smart enough to figure that out. But what we face far more often isn't the obvious scam, it's the situation of Relative Truth when we have 10% LBZ, and the cake is sold accordingly because of the LBZ content. Tea Urchin isn't guilty of anything, and in fact if the cake is 90% Bulang, the 400g cake is priced somewhat fairly for Bulang at 5 years of age. People are starting to notice Bulang too. The price for Bulang has been increasing, and we are seeing cakes labeled all-Bulang, when in past years Bulang was simply a filler as it was in the 2010 Chen Shang Yi Hao cake. You can argue with me over the word filler or the specifics on Bulang if you want. However, Relative Truth is far more difficult to pin down when nobody has done anything particularly wrong. No one is at fault for the fact that LBZ is hyped to the point where no one can afford it, and nobody has misrepresented the tea because barely enough information is available for a buyer to freely decide whether or not the price is worth it.
|Misty Peak Spring 2015|
|Second Steep plus more compressed Spring 2013, on right|
|For comparison, Autumn 2014, also with loose compression,|
|Browning on the steeped leaf|
|I mix together all my Misty Peak tea into this vintage humidor.|
When I consider other industries, Relative Truth is the order of the day. I remember the bomb to the cosmetics industry back in the early 1990s when Paula Begoun "the Cosmetics Cop" exposed how little of an active ingredient is actually present in facial creams. She wrote huge encyclopedic books taking apart the ingredients of nearly every popular cosmetic available on the market. For example, many face creams labeled as "shea butter" had less than 5%. Sometimes a cream contained even less than 2% of the miracle ingredient claimed to be in the formula. Finally she developed a rule of thumb that anything not in the first 5 ingredients can be considered to be virtually non-existent for the purposes of any effect on the skin.
|Beautiful mid-century humidor pipe crock by Deco.|
Another possibility in the tea world is we could have a bait and switch situation when the tea that is chosen for pressing is not the one that is delivered. Tea is expensive, and a bait and switch can be quite lucrative. This happens in the jewelry industry, when the diamond bought and paid for in an engagement ring isn't the stone that gets mounted into the ring setting. Or the kitchen stove that I bought which was a "floor model" and the one delivered to my house actually has a dent in it. Or when I buy a Ralph Lauren shirt. Ralph Lauren never touched nor even designed the shirt, he has an army of people creating "ready-to-wear" lines under his name but the shirt costs $100 because his name is on it. The shirt is "his," relatively speaking. Nobody complains about this relative truth and people continue to buy Ralph Lauren shirts that he wouldn't even recognize. So what do we think about tea vendors who might have bought a quantity of leaf, but then the tea that is delivered is not what they picked out? Or that a tea can be called 2015 simply because it is pressed in 2015 but actually consists of tea from other years?
The entire cosmetics industry shields itself by doing what everyone else is doing, and if tea is doing the same, why should I be surprised? I might be smart enough to call an Ad Populum when I see it, but how does this really help me or anyone? The truth is I'm probably an idiot for not going along with all this Relative Truth and downright fallacy. My life might have turned out better than it has by going along. I could convince myself that I'm quite the scholar if I had published the exact same article in 6 different academic journals, just changing the details slightly so as to appear to have written 6 different articles, qualifying for tenure based on this absurd quantity, rather than the quality or originality of the papers.
|Am I too "pick-y?"|
If I had looked past those appearances and drank the collective Kool-Aid I might have more to show for a life. All it takes is shameless self-promotion no matter what that entails. Like promoting myself as a representative of a miracle skin cream that contains less than 2% of the ingredient. Or promising the security of "life insurance" that in truth only pays out upon an accidental death? I definitely reached a certain point years ago when I stopped being critical of people doing well through faking, because the reality is they are successful at what they do, and nobody is forced to buy the Relative Truths they are selling. Objective Truth is that a cabbie with a PhD has no respect and the dignity of honesty tastes even better when it has meringue and a cherry on top, even if what's underneath came out of the deep fryer.
So why do I expect the tea world to be somehow more honest? Is this a hidden form of magic and mysticism I am STILL placing onto tea, despite my efforts to de-mystify and remove my fantasies behind tea drinking? But the truth is tea is a business like any other business and we can't get clouded by the product no matter what a vendor decides to do. A tea seller suggested to me that not using regional labels at all might be better for sales, so that one store's Spring Laoshan isn't confused with someone else's Spring Laoshan. Like maybe calling teas evocative names like Envy or Rapture. A Dead Rabbit puerh might be a better idea than Yiwu. I don't know. At this point hubris will probably sell tea just the same as a product in any other industry, and maybe much better.
Whatever happens in the end, most tea vendors will need to follow suit. Offering spring tea "early" is like KMart deciding to stay open on Thanksgiving Day. The outcry from other retailers is huge, but eventually they have to give in and do the same, or lose the holiday dollars spent on Thursday rather than Friday. Misty Peak sold out their first run of 200g cakes in just a couple of days. Now they have 100g cakes on offer too, and that's what I decided to pick up to add to my crock. The $39 price point grabs people who want "new" tea but are also holding dollars for the big buy later this spring. A lucrative fudge like this is hard to pass up for tea vendor and tea drunk alike. But where does this leave people who don't know what they are getting into?
This much is true: 1) the tea industry is full of Relative Truths like many other industries; 2) the power of my wallet isn't enough to change things; 3) I could use a nap, and 4) I can leave it to the young people to sort out this mess.
Requiescat in Pace