A Tea Addict's Journal

Where do the wrappers go?

April 28, 2007 · 4 Comments

A constant on CCTV these days during prime time are these programs that essentially try to educate the viewers on the virtue and the intricacies of copyright.  As everybody knows, copyright in China is almost an oxymoron.  However, there is some real attempt, at least through government controlled television, to educate people to the problems with piracy and the importance of respecting copyright.  All the participants in these programs seem well versed in such matters, and when they get it wrong, the program hosts will quickly correct them and everybody will nod and smile.

Contrast this with the following image:  a tea store that is packing teas for shipment to somewhere else, and they do it by stripping the neifei, neipiao, and wrapper of each cake and rewrapping it with something else, or nothing at all.  However, all those wrappers (all the ones I’ve seen are Zhongcha) are saved carefully and meticulously.  They unfold the wrappers, put them in neat stacks, and obviously stock them away somewhere.  I don’t know where exactly, but somewhere.  This is stuff that you would normally throw away, but not here.  Instead, they are probably going to somehow reuse it.

I’ve seen this done at least twice now at two different places.  I can’t help but wonder where these wrappers go.  I’m sure they go somewhere, and I’m sure that of the many many new or semi-new cakes out there wrapped in Zhongcha wrappers…. at least some of them are faked this way.  Some will be used to fake older teas.  What can you do about it?

Then you have the practice of repackaging a tea with some other wrapper and calling it by a different name.  Lots of people do that.  Lots of factories do that — essentially the same tea but using a different neifei/wrapper, and all of a sudden, you have a different tea!  While some people might be able to tell you the minor differences between one and the other, many regular drinkers probably cannot (if there is any difference to begin with).  Since puerh changes over time, even in the span of a few months, it is not too hard to think that they taste different if it’s an idea already lodged in your head.  That’s one way that some factories could use to bolster their own lineup and also encourage more buying by tapping into the “I must collect all” mentality.  I’ve tried some factories’ cakes that are really very similar… and makes me wonder if they are really basically the same thing with a different name.

A variation of this is where one company buys a bunch of cakes from somebody, and strips the packaging from that company and puts on their own or none at all, and sell it as something else.  I’ve had a teashop owner complaining to me about this practice as he has been a victim of it.  He and a few others made a lot of one cake.  His had his own neifei in them.  Somehow most of his were sold, through a third party, to somebody else (let’s call him Person A) in that group who had sold out his own version of the same cakes, and that somebody else stripped the neifei out of the cake to prevent people from knowing they have a different provenance.  The tea is now a known item in puerh circles, and the name that it is known for is the one that Person A uses, not the original tea store owner’s.  He still has some of it left, and I saw it with neifei and all — it does look the same as the cake with the more famous name. I wasn’t entirely sure of the story, and since he now charges the same price as person A’s store… why would you buy the no-name one (even though the no-name one is actually the original)?  His loss all around.

Last but not least, there are just the out and out fake stuff.  There are lots of them, with big factory teas being the most commonly faked.  Some are poorly faked.  Some are well faked.  Some, at least according to those who’ve tried, are even better than the real stuff.  I don’t know if it’s true, but it’s possible.

This is all really depressing.  At least it’s reassuring that they’re trying to do something about all this through education.

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4 responses so far ↓

  • kibi_kibi // April 28, 2007 at 2:35 pm | Reply

    Interesting, I guess trademark issues for products are always a problem; though I don’t think we can connect it to copyright these days, it is different now we’re in the digital age.

    Are nei fei being pressed much more securely into cakes from big factories now, or do they have plans to do that? Does anybody do that?


  • MarshalN // April 29, 2007 at 1:23 am | Reply

    In China they are very much connected, as the stealing of somebody else’s logo happens all the time, and it’s not just a trademark issue — it’s faking somebody else’s goods on a grand scale. Using somebody else’s product for your own brand is indeed a slightly different issue, and it’s more of a gray area and also much harder to spot. In the land of fake salt (yes, using industrial salt and selling it as table salt!) anything can happen….

    Neifei — it depends on the company. Many are still over superficially pressed onto the cake, while others are almost totally submerged into the cake. So some are easier to peel off than others.

  • HobbesOxon // April 29, 2007 at 3:43 am | Reply

    My mother-in-law told a shocking story of how her locally-available rice was artificially whitened using a toxic agent (as later came to be known). The rice looked whiter, therefore “better” (as I understand it, the domestic market likes dazzlingly white rice). An unscrupulous merchant is willing to directly indulge in poisoning to make a little short-term cash.

    I believe that copyright is a major issue at the moment not because it is “wrong”, but because the Chinese Government is being leaned on by the US via the WTO, with whom they registered a formal complaint. Essentially, unless the Chinese Government are seen to be doing something (however half-heartedly), it has the risk of costing them some business with the US. I suspect the threat of lost income is more motivating than the desire to uphold copyright in a land where, as you say, logo- and product-faking are accepted norms. Walking the streets of Beijing, it’s amusing to see how many variants on the Pizza Hut and KFC logos human ingenuity can create…

    AOC regulations, such as enjoyed by EU wine and cheese, is surely the best way to stop this in tea – combined with a willingness to enforce, rather than the unstated norm of accepting dirty cash to turn a blind eye.



  • MarshalN // April 29, 2007 at 10:27 am | Reply

    Oh, definitely, this is something in response to the US complaint. However, I do think there is, if ever so slightly, an increase in awareness of such things, partly because the Olympics forces a lot of firms to come to terms with the use of the term “Olympic Games”. You can’t say anything about the Olympics if you’re a business and not a sponsor of the games, so many firms have been fined because they are used to saying things like “Congratulations on Beijing’s upcoming Olympics!”.

    But like I said… at the end it is economics (and enforcement, which has economic consequences) that will change behaviour, and not any of this talk….

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