Transparency in the Tea Industry?

383 Replies
tperez said

I too like to avoid negativity here, but unfortunately I feel the need to chime in

I feel like the response here/ on Reddit would have been overly harsh IF this was the first time Verdant had an offense like this. However if you read through the Reddit thread you’ll find links to some older transgressions brought up by Teachat and Marshalln like the “Star of Bulang” and Tiandiren shu mishaps a while back.

This makes it really hard to stomach this 1800 year old tree stuff from a company that supposedly prides itself on transparency. Too me It doesn’t seem like YS and W2T were out to bash Verdant so much as expressing exasperation with their practices.

While not directly related, another thing that rubs me the wrong way personally about Verdant, and that I would think also bothered the other venders, is something I have a hard time articulating.

It’s the way they seem parade around the farmers. I get a really bad vibe from it like they want you to buy from these “exotic” families and “tea masters” who while interesting are just everyday people trying to live everyday lives as tea farmers. I think Scott discussed what I’m feeling much better in his video on why he doesn’t show pictures of the farmers on YS

I think its the way in which Verdant exposes the farmers in a rather unnatural way. Jeff Fuchs of Jalam teas also tells the stories of the farmers, but does it in such a way that seems to respect the farmers a lot more. It feels a lot more genuine and honest. Jeff really gets to know them, and as far as I’ve heard, never pressures them to take pictures.
All of that said, I really do agree with everything Robert says especially in regards to how Verdant promotes their products.

AllanK said

I saw that video too and I agree with Scott also. I also think that extreme claims require extreme evidence. If the tea was really from 1800 year old trees I would think that Verdant should be able to document that. The fact that they have not documented it here or to my knowledge on Reddit proves their claim of 1800 year old trees to be rubbish. I personally would photograph an 1800 year old tea tree if I was in China and came across one, wouldn’t you.

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curlygc said

I am kind of surprised they haven’t responded. They may feel attacked by the threads here or on reddit, but they should understand that there are probably a lot of people who have reserved judgment while waiting to hear what they have to say.

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sherubtse said

This is an interesting thread, as was the one on Reddit.

I am all for calling out companies who make mistakes, or falsely advertise their products. This helps the consumer of tea, of course, but can also be of benefit to the company.

Some time ago, I pointed out an error on Mandala’s website regarding shipping. Part of the problem was corrected, but when I pointed out that the incorrect information remained on some web pages, the owner brushed my comments aside. (The error still exists, unfortunately.) The owner had an opportunity to shine, but instead chose to brush me aside. That sends a bad message to potential customers.

Verdant has an opportunity to shine here, depending upon their response. But so far we have heard nothing from them (even though Lily Duckler frequently comments on this forum). That too sends a bad message to potential customers.

Best wishes,

I will be disappointed if Verdant doesn’t reply at all.

Garret said

sherubtse – i did not brush aside your comments. I am a 1.5 person business who has spent much time and money trying to keep a web biz going. I had told you that I do not have the education on web design to change the shipping info that you brought the issue up about. At the time you brought it up, I thought that I had found the right people who were going to help me do an entire new site. I didn’t. They took thousands of my money and I’ve yet to launch my new site. I am sorry if you feel I didn’t listen to what you said. I can only do what I can in order to keep my humble endeavor going here. I am doing the best I can. Grateful, Garret

Garret, if you need help recovering from your web situation let me know. I specialize in ecommerce development and design and hate seeing people taken. I’m a 1-woman company myself. Not meant to be a solicitation for cash but an honest offer of help. Follow me?

@Garret I do a lot of e-commerce, generally larger businesses, but do feel free to get in touch if you need advice

sherubtse said

I am sorry that you have had problems with your website, Garrett. I sincerely hope that you can get your website difficulties resolved, as the issue with the incorrect information on your website has been outstanding for almost a year.

Best wishes,

Garret said

Wow @blodeuyn and @tealluminati… I am blessed by your good wishes and wonderful intentions. Thank you. You both made my day. I have just secured the help of a local developer who says he will get to my project in early January. My fingers are crossed. But if for some reason this does not happen and he doesn’t finish the new site, I’m going to be in touch with you both. So grateful, Garret

You are very welcome! Even if you just have a question feel free to ask.

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OliveEyes said

I have this gut feeling that this was an honest mistake and that the only thing they may be guilty of is being monumentally gullible. I just can’t imagine that they would knowingly disseminate such a major lie and not even consider the ramifications of being caught, especially after their previous infractions.

It’s possible they haven’t said anything because they are devastated, humiliated and unable to formulate a proper response right now.

Maybe I try too much to see the good in people. I just know I feel awful for them.

I thought it would be pretty funny if they came out and said it was a type o and they added an extra 0 on all the years. If it was that, the ages of the trees would actually be reasonable and believable.

Psyck said

Maybe it was 1000, but one of the 0’s went on a diet and ended up with a pinched waist.

LuckyMe said

Judging from this Instagram pic Verdant posted, they’ve shaved 800 years off the tree’s age:

But yeah, I too think gullibility not deception was involved here. It sounds like there’s a lot of folklore surrounding the history of these trees and they may have bought into it without verifying the facts.

OliveEyes said

LuckyMe, that’s precisely what I was talking about. I think they put too much trust in their sources and haven’t properly educated themselves on the matter either (clearly.)

Sherubtse is right. They have a chance to shine here and still they have said nothing. If it was indeed an honest, however huge, mistake then they need to come forward and humbly admit their eff up. If they don’t then people will have no choice but to believe this was no mistake at all.

I’m new to tea, but Verdant has been my favorite so far. They have wonderful customer service and Lily seems like a caring person. But I’ve given them a lot of my money and I agree they owe us an explanation.

mrmopar said

There is always good in people you just have to look for it.

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JC said

I’m honestly more surprised that people are offended at other people pointing out what is basically unethical business practices (that is if they knew about the tea not being that age). Rather than being offended they may have been buying for a company that has questionable business. Even if from other businesses! People who know the trade more than people that are just regular consumers and can give an actual background on their trade.

I would be offended if I paid that much money for something that isn’t worth it, and I’m referring to market value not taste. In puerh and many other things Price is not a direct relation to taste or how much you’ll like it. I don’t need to bash them, I’ve had quite a few teas from them that if you look I’ve rated highly and others than I haven’t been to fond of; but I’m not going to excuse them for selling Puerh marketed as something that just can’t be. This is not the first time they’ve gone through questionable Puerh and that should be a factor here.

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MzPriss said

I received a response this morning from Lily Duckler to the email I sent her notifying Verdant of this thread. I expect that she will respond here at some point.

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Thank you to those of you who reached out personally to let me know about these conversations and to talk with me. I arrived late at this conversation, and am catching up now.

I can assure you, our tea is just what we say it is. I stand behind the tea completely, and stand firmly against accusations to the contrary.

I simply do not have the words to express how saddened I am by these accusations.

I take everything I do with Verdant Tea extremely seriously.

I was a researcher and teacher first. My first passion was academics, and it was through the research I share with my husband David that I first fell in love with tea. My main goal has always been to educate and share, and this informs everything I do.

Personally, I feel much more strongly about the accusations that have been made against my teachers and partners than I do about the personal insults I’ve seen made about myself and my family.

If you are willing to read, I will share some context and background on this teas.

This project has not come out of the blue. In fact, the single tree project is something that we’ve been looking forward to sharing for a few years now.

Master Zhou, one of the heads of the Zhenyuan Dongsa cooperative, has two trees that are estimated to be about 1800 years old.
Where do these ages come from? Essentially, it comes from detailed studies of trunk width and height for trees whose ages are already established. Based on these measurements, someone who is experienced can use this information to make educated estimates about the age of other trees.

The oldest tea tree confirmed by peer reviews (including foreign / European review) is in fact in Qianjiazhai on Mt. Ailao.
It is estimated now to be 2700 years old, and it is about 26 meters tall. It was “discovered” in 2001, and currently holds the official world record.
The age of the tree was first estimated by locals to be around 2700, and that age was confirmed with a variety of techniques.

For those wondering how this age was determined:

In 1996 (November 12 – 17) a large convention was held (roughly translated: the Ailaoshan National Forest Preserve Yunnan Zhenyuan Qianjiazhai Wild Tea Tree inspect / prove (ecological survey) Conference), inviting everyone out to survey the trees in qianjiazhai. The purpose of the convention was not to establish whether or not these were the oldest tea trees in the world, but rather to establish the age of two trees that were possibly the oldest in the region found at that time.

In attendance and contributing to the conference’s investigations were members of the China Agricultural College Tea Research Institute, the China Academy of Sciences, the Xishuangbanna tropical plants Botanical Garden, the Yunnan Agricultural University, the Yunnan Agricultural Academy Tea Research Institute, members of Pu’er’s trade bureau, te Yunnan Pu’er seed bank, Pu’er Agricultural School, experts from Pu’er’s historical preservation office and 10 other specialist scientists.

As I understand it, determining the tree’s age began with comparison research of a confirmed 800 year old tea tree in Nannuoshan. Researchers then collected data points in Qianjiazhai on things like latitude, humidity, elevation, etc to understand the two different environments. They used all of this information plus what had already been learned from the 800 yr old Nannuoshan tree – comparion thickness of the trunk, height, etc., essentially all gatherable data. The consensus across the community in attendance was that Tree #1 was 2700 years old and Tree #2 (growing nearby) was 2500 years old.

The opinion of proof attesting to this was signed on behalf of the entire conference and committee by the Head of the Conference – Yunnan Agricultural University professor of horticulture Zhang Fan Ci, the Vice Head of the Conference – China Agricultural Academy Tea Research Institute research fellow Yu Fu Lian, and the Second Vice Head of the Committe – Yunnan Tea Society chair person China Academy of Science Xishuangbanna botanical research fellow Zhan Shun Gao.

Later in 2001, another symposium was held (this time including a wider variety of feign scientists), and the trees were crowned again as the oldest.

For those interested, here is a photo of the 2700 year old tree and its plaque. You’ll likely note the fence, protecting the area.

For those that want to read more, you can start with this basic article. There is plenty of history and discussion on these trees.

You could also check out articles like these two: one discussing Qianjiazhai’s ancient trees in passing reference for context, and the other one focusing on the region.

Also in the Qianjiazhai, there is another larger tree which is generally (locally) believed to be older, around 3100 to 3200 years old.

Here is a photo Master Zhou took of that particular tree earlier this year in the Spring.
It also provides an example of the sorts of scaffolding and ladders used in picking from these trees this old and big.

The fact that Qianjiazhai is home to the oldest yet discovered old growth tea forest in the world is not up for dispute or debate. This is a fact.
It is one of the reasons China names itself as the home of the origin of the camelia sinensis species, and this is a point of national pride.

2700 and 2500 year old trees do not grow in isolation in a virgin forest where the predominant species is wild tea trees. The idea that there are these two proven ancient tea trees in the Mt. Ailao National Forest reserve but that every other tea tree in that same forest is somehow only 100 – 300 years old does not hold water.

Now, on to these two trees in particular. Below, for those interested, you’ll find links to more detailed photos of two trees. Also included are some close up shots of the trees’ gigantic moss-covered branches.

You can compare those to one of the younger wild trees near the workshop. That is Master Zhou again, standing next to the tree for size reference.

Or compare to the Li Family’s Old Tree (Lao Cong) Shui Xian groves in Wuyi. You must bear in mind that Shui Xian and these Qianjiazhai trees are different varietals (one is essentially only semi-arborous, and the other is truly a tree) growing in different regions with different climates, etc, but it can still give an interesting comparison. These in the photographs are around 80 years old, and are about the size of an apple tree (6-9 feet tall).

So, why were these two trees picked and saved as single tree, unmixed leaf material?

Simply put, these are the two oldest trees on Master Zhou’s own land, and as such they are located fairly close to his own workshop.
In fact, in several of the photos above, you can clearly see the roof of the building just farther down the slope.

Master Zhang gets about a 6-7 kilo yield from each one of these two trees. For this recent pressing under discussion, he pressed about 90 100g cakes, which pretty much used the full 2015 harvest from both trees. (90*100g = 9000g = 9 kilos; the rest of the harvest had already been sold and consumed).

He and the other members of the cooperative obviously keep track of the tea trees on their land, including their age, and that is why their different grades of leaf all include age statements.

So why is the leaf material kept separate? Quite simply, Master Zhou is interested in it. It’s an interesting project, and an interesting opportunity.

For context: when Master Zhou is not working with tea, his is teaching. His “day job” is a middle school teacher.
In fact, he gives away a lot of his tea (especially the harvests he is excited about, like these single trees and his wild yabao) to his students throughout the year.
It’s something we’ve talked about at length, and it’s part of a larger goal to encourage kids to fall in love with their home… to stay in the region and stay interested, rather than losing all of the young people to larger cities when they graduate high school and college.

All that said: Master Zhou and the other members of the cooperative also pick from wild trees that are on neighboring common land in the Mt. Ailao forest reserve, which range in age from 800 to under 2000 years, depending on where they are. Because these are farther away from his workshop, and because many people are picking these trees all together, the leaf material ends up mixed and not single tree. We didn’t bring that leaf material in this year. Simply put, I agree with Master Zhou. We had to choose what to add to the Cooperative’s collection this year, and we all thought the single tree project most interesting.

Why didn’t we price these really high? Why did we make these affordable?

The answer here is also as simple as it gets: because Master Zhou also didn’t price these high.

The price of the tea is a reflection of the labor involved in (1) picking, finishing and pressing, (2) the cost of wrappers and the labor involved in hand writing age statements and stamping each edition number, (3) the cost of shipping from Yunnan (4) as with anything. the opportunity cost of working on this project versus something else.

The price is not based on potential market value. Doing so would price the tea out of reach of nearly everyone, and neither Master Zhou nor I are equipped or interested in that crazy market. Both of us want people to have the opportunity to taste what a tree’s age can do to the taste of the tea.

Pricing to potential market value would simply be speculation. I don’t do that. Yes, tree age like this is clearly worth plenty to those who are interested, but also: Qianjiazhai is nowhere near as well known or coveted as (for example) Banzhang or Yiwu, etc. In addition, the cooperative and Master Zhou don’t have anyone touring the expo and competition circuit for them, which means they haven’t made a name for themselves. They are not a big workshop. They are not even a small workshop. They are just a group of different individuals working together, pooling resources to share costs on equipment and working together to advocate on behalf of the region against irresponsible agricultural practices.

For some more context: there are only about 100 cakes that can be pressed every season with a special custom 100g-sized molds from these two trees. On the other hand, the domestic market demands and expects 357g cakes. At most, the yield for one of these single trees would then be only 16 full cakes (just barely over two full tongs of 7 cakes).
Master Zhou is not a retailer,. He does not have the time to try and market such little product or develop special packaging or hit the expo’s making a name for Zhenyuan Dongsa or Qianjiazhai. There’s plenty of work to do just teaching his students, let alone working on preservation to protect the region’s trees, especially in rehabilitating regions that suffered from deforestation due to agricultural development goals in the middle of the century.

The simple point is this: these trees are not being picked to make money. These are mainly a research project and a learning project. The price covers cost and makes the project viable enough to keep doing each year. The whole point is to study and share how tree age in wild trees effects flavor. Focusing on single trees of a great age gives us this opportunity in a spectacular way.

That’s the main reason we all decided to share these in 100g cakes. We wanted these to be as accessible as possible, and reach as many interested people as possible. That is why they are priced low. None of us along the chain are marking these up to account for market speculation; the price just reflects cost in the most simple way.

All of that said: there is definitely a very clear difference in taste between all of teas from differently aged trees.
I believe anyone can taste that difference, and I believe sharing that opportunity is worthwhile and worth fighting for.

I stand by these teas 100%. I consider it my privilege and my honor for the opportunity to share them. I take this extremely seriously.
I will absolutely continue to share these teas with as many people as I can in the future, and nothing will keep me from doing so as long as they are available.

I count myself lucky to get to work with the people I do. I am not foolish enough to believe that our partners work for me. I work for them. If I couldn’t provide them with something useful, something they couldn’t all do on their own, then I would have no business being in business. When any of our partners want to sell tea on their own without our help, I will be the very first to pop a champagne cork with them and throw a party; I will be the very first to give them every bit of knowledge re: international logistics I have learned. Ultimately, I believe this is where our industry needs to go. I want us to get there. Anyone who has read our Transparency article series knows where I stand on these issues.

I have no patience for those who are claiming that these teas are false. They are not.
I have even less respect for those that use this discussion to personally insult and attack my teachers and loved ones.

I have also learned that sometimes no amount of evidence or conversation can change the minds of those who have already made a decision to trust or not trust.

If you do not trust me, then you do not trust me. If you do not trust me, do not support me. Support those whose business models you want to continue, to succeed and to shape the future of the industry.

I will leave my comments here at this.

I encourage anyone who wants to speak with me to contact me directly whenever you like at [email protected]

Thank you for the opportunity.
Lily Duckler

Phi said

Master Zhou sounds like a really amazing guy! I like how he is promoting tea culture among his students!

Thank you for the very well-articulated reply Lily. I’ve always appreciated what Verdant is doing. I do admit I know almost nothing about Puer or botany, but you’ve given a great argument. Keep on doing your thing, I enjoy your tea.

Lindsay said

Thanks for this very detailed reply Lily. You didn’t owe us an explanation but I really appreciate that you provided one anyway. :) Sorry you had to read about a bunch of people assuming the worst about you and your family/friends. Best wishes. <3

I’m going to link this page on the 2016 Sheng Olympics for the information and pictures, not for justification on claims about the tea; just to be clear about my intentions.

JC said

Hi Lily. Thanks for your response, I appreciate the time you took to respond and gather information. I am one of the skeptics here and I still am. I apologize because I feel like this can be taken the wrong way, as if I’m attacking you or your company but it is not.

I’m skeptic because this type of tea is not only a rarity but a privilege of not only money but power in China. Trees of these age/nature are often supervised by the village but definitely owned/controlled by the the government in the interest of both preservation and control of harvest. I currently work in government working with Import and Export regulatory Agencies and I can attest for the grip that countries have on their own assets that they perceive as “cash cows” of their economy. I can’t begin to imagine how the person who you said oversees the trees was just able to go through regulations and restrictions to just basically gift you the tea (it would have to be called a gift based on the price).

Not only that, the past history of Verdant shows that you were clueless about offerings, selling cakes for +-120 that could be found online for +-10-20 dollars. I’m not accusing of malice, I’m just saying that being naive is only excuse when you affect yourself, but as a vendor there is a greater responsibility. Your response has a lot of links to pictures of the trees and people posing next to tress. Not about the processing of an incredibly valuable harvest that you guys worked closely with.

Once again, I apologize. Not for saying I’m still skeptical but because I TRULY do not intend on hurting your, your friends and family. I’m just stating my thoughts here and I’ll add that the only person I admire in this thread so far is OliveEyes because it was skeptical and even with the response he/she took responsibility for the words said before. I just hope that a lot more of the skeptical people from reddit (in a more civilized manner to show that is about true concern and not just taking a shot at someone) come forward if they are ok now OR if they are still skeptical about it. Same with some neutrals that pretend this doesn’t happened.

boychik said

I agree with JC. I’m not convinced.

OliveEyes said

Wow. I totally missed this response, JC. Thank you.

I am also unconvinced.

Maybe my world view is skewed by profits and ideal business models, but my head cannot wrap around selling a valuable product at break even or a loss.

MzPriss said

Lily – thank you for taking the time to respond. It clearly took a lot of time and effort.

JC articulated my thoughts much more eloquently than I could, though I am without his experience. I remain skeptical.

JC said

I can definitely see companies selling a break even or at a loss, usually they have other ways to make their money. Gaming consoles loose money, but their overpriced games make them money. HOWEVER, selling something valuable that ALSO represents power within a culture… that’s just not done. The bragging rights are too important in China.

I too say my thanks for the response, it is much appreciated.

Thank you JC for creating so excellent a reply, I also sit with the skeptics, it just does not logically sit right with me.

Lindsay said

My understanding is that puer in China is basically a commodity market. Puer from certain mountains, certain factories, of certain ages is considered valuable because collectors and investors are willing to pay absurd amounts of money for it, not because it objectively costs that much more to pick and process those particular tea leaves. Setting price based on actual production cost rather than theoretical market value does not mean selling it at a loss. Nobody is losing money. The pickers, the processors, all the individuals involved in the process are getting paid for their time and effort. Admittedly I don’t know the specifics of how land ownership works in China, but Lily said this tea was made from the oldest tree on Mr Zhou’s own land, which I presume means it’s his own tree and he’s allowed to do whatever he wants with it. So he can make tea and drink it all himself, or press 100g cakes and sell them to Verdant, or he can press two tongs of 375g cakes and try to find some high-rolling puer collector somewhere willing to pay “market value” to a no-name guy from a no-name tea region in the context of a market that’s flooded with fakes and deceit and shitty business practices all around. I personally don’t blame the guy for not having the stomach for it. “Bragging rights” are only important if the person in question is actually seeking power/prestige/influence/whatever. Maybe the guy just wants to be a middle-school teacher who makes tea as a hobby.

JC said

Hi Lindsay. I understand what you mean. I’ll just say stick around.

I for one don’t buy it. Obviously you just prepared a huge info dump to drop on people. It doesn’t change my opinion even a little bit. This is just another example of Verdant mis-leading their customers. And now the detective work begins. I figure why not put the smoking gun evidence at the beginning of the article. Then I will explain why I knew the claim was false all along.

Lily Duckler says (and I quote) “Here is a photo Master Zhou took of that particular tree earlier this year in the Spring.
It also provides an example of the sorts of scaffolding and ladders used in picking from these trees this old and big.

and linked here just in case you decide to delete it –


Sina Blog…. very slow to load, but tree is in 凤庆香竹箐大茶树 (Feng Qing County, Xiang Zhu Qing village, Big Tea Tree)

Dianping article showing Master Zhou’s traveling tree again sighted in Feng Qing Xiang Zhu Qing vilage (SLOW TO LOAD)

Yunnan Economic Time Newspaper article showing the Feng Qing Tree (SLOW TO LOAD)
and here is the full PDF version. (I hope to translate this all in the not too distant future as it’s a cool article)


The Yunnan Economic Time Newspaper article is great ( ), in that it talks about the only tea picking that took place in the last 20 years was in 2007. When the 2007 tea picking took place, there was a group of 8 different minority people’s from Lincang that took part. It was a big event and the there was enough leaf picked to make a single 499 gram cake which was auctioned for 400,000 CNY ($62,500 USD). It has not been picked since and in the article it also says that if someone is caught picking the tree it’s a national offense with a fine of 50,000 CNY (7800 USD). So… their cake went for about 208x or 20,800% more than Verdant’s cake. All proceeds from their auction went to help local schools.


The reason I asked “Does Anyone Actually Believe This?” is obviously because I don’t and neither does anyone else who is deeply involved the Yunnan Pu-erh scene. After posting a link to the 1800 year old tea tree cake, the Reddit thread exploded with skepticism, stories of past Verdant transgressions and alot of really good reasons why your claims are false. Should you care to address those people on the Reddit thread please do so here.

You claim Master Zhou is not interested in marketing and selling these teas. If the trees are truly that old you’d have China domestic sellers beating down his door every spring to purchase the material for 10’s of thousands of renminbi per kilogram as they could easily re-sell them to discerning mainland Pu-erh aficionados for whom money is no problem. There is a decent road that goes to Qian Jia Zhai which means there are scores, if not hundreds of mao cha purchasers who pass through the area in the spring. So Master Zhou doesn’t sell tea to any of these people? He only sells his tea to foreigners for price nearly a 1/5 of Lao Ban Zhang mao cha? Yeah I know that Qian Jia Zhai isn’t as famous as Lao Ban Zhang, but come on, an 1800 year old tea tree mao cha? Qian Jia Zhai is well known and not off the beaten path. Yunnan has developed alot in the past 15 years, there is no magical unknown place with some undiscovered old tea trees where people are selling cheap. Even if you did get 1800 year old tea tree mao cha from Master Zhou that cheaply, then he got ripped off and you should feel ashamed. In every other part of Yunnan these trees are protected and if picked it would be a government (county sponsored event) and would be sold for an astronomically high amount (typically at an auction to raise money for local public works programs). The reason they are protected is to keep people away from them. They are a living heritage and deep spiritual aspect of the world tea culture, not something meant for commercial gain and consumption.

The other thing is that these old tea trees (like the ones you showed in the picture) don’t produce the needed 20 kilograms of fresh leaves to produce 5 kilograms of mao cha. The old trees are not pruned and produce very small amounts. It’s not like during a picking all the leaves are picked or even 15% of them. Picking more than that amount will stress the tea and lead to even lower yields, sickness and death. In conclusion, the quantities you state are not obtainable with one tree. So… as any educated Pu-erh drinker, seller or aficionado knows the numbers just don’t work out. Remember the Feng Qing tree that was last picked in 2007? It yielded less than 2kg fresh leaf, just enough to make one 499 gram cake!

Everything I have seen and heard in the last 12 years of being involved locally in the Yunnan Pu-erh industry says this is A) not something that is legal! B) Not something that would reach western vendors at price point which you offer C) It’s the classic way to cheat people. Tell them this tea is from a 1000’s of year old tea tree. When I hear that, I avoid that person like the plague. It seems that you have embraced the least ethical Pu-erh dealers in Yunnan. I guess with your lack of experience in Yunnan and China in general it’s possible you were hoodwinked by these fantastic claims. Perhaps you should remember that China is basically the fake capital of the world. I’m not saying don’t trust anybody, but until you know yourself with absolute certainty I’d treat any fantastic claims about tea and tea trees with alot of skepticism. I know this isn’t the fairy tale happy wonderland that people want to beleive about Yunnan and tea in general, but with 12+ years living in Yunnan and being involved in tea I’d say there are very very few straight shooters in the tea industry in China. It’s utterly rife with people who have alot ot gain by not sharing all the truth, hiding things, or just straight up lying about things to make sure that you keep buying tea from them.

We had a short conversation with Hai Lang of Hai Lang Hao brand pu-erh. He is local Yunnan person, and has been involved in producing Pu-erh for more than 15 years. He is a famous tea producer and very direct.

My wife asked Hai Lang his opinion about the possibility of a western vendor selling a 100 gram cake legitimately made from 1800 year old tea tree leaves with a retail price of $60. (with their mark-up. and we all know Verdant’s mark up is one of the highest in the industry. Reference: Link to “Bulang Star” price gouging blog article here: )

Xiao Yao (My wife) questions and Hai Lang’s response here:

Xiao Yao – The Question is about whether it’s really tea from an 1800 year old tea tree? We are discussing on a outside of China forum.

Hai Lang’s response – Impossible that it’s 1800 years old! Those (trees) are in a government protected reserve, they won’t let you pick them. The only times now that they can be picked is for scientific study. Not allowed for consumption or tea sales. Much like the original Da Hong Pao bushes (the 3 that remain). In the marketplace no such tea exists.

The first group of pictures are a hodge-podge of pictures with different resolutions indicating not taken at the same and they are grainy. Obviously if you went to the area you would have taken pictures with something other than a 2002 Nokia cell phone. This is extremely fishy given that Master Zhou’s superoldtree3k.jpg picture is OUTRIGHT FALSE (the tree that is in Feng Qing 300km away)!

1800tree_4.jpg – this is probably a 500-700 year old tree

1800tree_3.jpg – looks old for sure… picture looks like it’s from the 90’s… so grainy and old. Seems a venerable old tree. If it’s not protected it should be.

1800tree_closeup_1.jpg – 400 year old tree tops… have seen plenty of these. BUT the real question is which tree is a close up of? The resolution of this photo is totally different than the others.

So in summary… a hodge podge of grainy pictures most likely taken from Different resolutions…. all except one is grainy. Only one of the trees is actually close to 1000 years old, the test very old and in the hundreds of years for sure.

Another picture featured on your blog in reference to said 1800 year old tea tree shows a tree definitely no older than 500 years old.×640.jpg

Given the obvious faked first picture… I dismiss these pictures as grabs. We will continue to search for where these came from in the coming days… maybe we’ll find some of these trees are actually in Nan Nuo, Feng Qing, Jing Gu and who knows maybe one of them is actually in Qian Jia Zhai!!

Sloppy sloppy.

In conclusion… Verdant may have been hoodwinked by Master Zhou, but does that make it ok? I think being a tea seller means having responsibility to your customers. They are spending their hard earned money and the burden falls on the seller to ensure that what is advertised is what people get. IF YOU AREN’T COMPETENT TO DEAL IN PU-ERH THEN LEAVE IT TO PEOPLE WHO ARE. If you continue to sell tea in the future be humble and deal in teas that are good without resorting to outlandish claims to make sales. I was a tea seller for 5 years and sold only tea from known tea factories and purchased from licensed dealers. I knew that I needed to learn more and I didn’t want my customers paying for my mistakes (if I had gotten involved in complex expensive teas). Only after 5+ years of living in Yunnan full time an dealing in Pu-erh did I feel confident enough to select my own mao cha and press a cake and sell under my name. Since then I have learned more and more but I still love my older productions and glad I waited until I knew what I was doing before undertaking single estate cake pressings in 2009.

My intention was never to create a big scandal… it was simply to ask the question to others if they believed your 1800 year old claims. After the reddit thread exploded I became the impromptu leader of the discussion, but was supported by many competent tea sellers and scholars who were also skeptical and upset by your company’s claims. I won’t name everyone here and re-hash the who said what in the reddit thread since it’s all there to be seen. I have scoffed for more than a decade at so many tea sellers’ claims, but I never really took a position on these matters until recently. I had thought it was not my place, but for more than a decade a waited for others who were not tea sellers to have the level of knowledge to dispute these outrageous claims (and others) but I waited in vain for people that had the knowledge and the willingness to police the marketing claims of sellers. I guess I have alot of experience being lied to in China, and alot of experience getting to the bottom of all the bullshit. The reason I care so much is that Pu-erh is truly a wonderful thing to experience. The sooner we can learn drink the tea without needing all the marketing blah blah blah to tell us how special we should feel about it, the sooner we can enjoy the tea in the manner it was intended.

JC said

So it turns master Zhou didn’t get tired of selling to people’s bragging rights and money after all…

Thanks for the information, hopefully now people will stop defending things with out gathering information and questioning first.

OliveEyes said

Yes. Thank you. It’s definitely an eye opener and your frustration makes a lot more sense.

Grill said

Popcorn. Great response Scott. I refrained from saying much cause I was lacking facts but it’s obvious you weren’t and I’m glad to hear the truth.

AllanK said

Scott, thank you with responding with facts. Let Verdant come dispute your facts if they can. Perhaps they were duped all along and actually believe the cakes were from 1800 year old trees.

boychik said

Thank you Scott for your detailed response. I would like to see what Verdant has to say about it.

I have another question why David is not participating in this discussion?

MarshalN a highly respected and unbiased blogger’s response to Verdant

AllanK said

MarshalN’s blog post was informative and makes a great amount of sense. Thanks for the link. My only question about it is he refers to Verdant as an American vendor. Aren’t they now a Chinese vendor having moved there?

Thank you Scott. That was the kind of information I needed.

I’m kind of surprised that there has been no additional reply from Verdant…

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OliveEyes said

Well. I don’t know about anyone else but I sure feel like an asshole.

That was a good reply. Thanks for taking the time to explain everything and I’m sorry about how much I know this has hurt you.

boychik said

OliveEyes, did you create an account to participate in this thread? Last night you had 0 of followers, 0 following, nothing in cupboard. I’m sorry again if I offend you by asking . Just curious

OliveEyes said

You’re ok. I’m not offended. I created this account in 2014 but stopped drinking tea due to health issues and recently started back up again a few months ago. I did revive this account to participate in this thread because I have a serious affection for Verdant Tea despite everything I’ve seen on the web. I just feel like they’ve caught enough hell for a life time.

boychik said

So you revived the account just to defend. You are such a loyal customer.

OliveEyes said

Yes. And in the process I’ve insulted their intelligence and called their sources liars. Go me. lol. Sigh.

OliveEyes said

Tea vendors are real people with feelings, families and this is their livelihood. They are human and they also make mistakes. I just think it’s everyone’s best interest to withhold judgement in an open forum and seek answers from the source first. Yeah I’m overly sensitive and expect some ridicule but this is how I feel and I seriously hope they recover from this soon.

boychik said

I hope to see more of you since you rejoin. Would love to see your tasting notes and participating in discussions.

mrmopar said

+1 join us in the discussions and tastings.

Honestly though, extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, it’s why this blew up.

Pretty sure every vendor would need to fess up for something to good to be true. I’m still scratching my head TBH.

JC said

I’m with you Awkward Soul. I posted my 10hr work shift mind about it. LOL

OliveEyes said

I actually agree with that, Awkward Soul. That’s a very valid point. I’ve been thinking about it and I feel like there should be more understanding on BOTH sides. I understand that this angers her and threatens their security but I just wish she could see why people felt the way they did about it. A very prominent puer vendor brought this to the forefront. Someone we all assume knows what he’s talking about, which he does. I just still feel like there were better ways to approach this without humiliating them.

Also, thanks boychik and mrmopar. I’ll probably be around. :)

JC said

I forgot! Welcomed back OliveEyes. THis is rare I swear lol. MrMopar is a beast in Puerh knowledge and a great guy. I can say the same for a lot of people here. I love steepster, otherwise I’d be elsewhere.

mrmopar said

OliveEyes please do. We all have lots to offer and learn from one another. This site taught me a lot since I joined and I am grateful to all that helped me on here.

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sherubtse said

As Lily implied towards the end of her reply, it is now a question of trust: who do you trust — Verdant or their critics?

However, there is another issue here. And that is the nature of the comments against Verdant in the original Reddit thread. Some of them were personal, insulting, and quite frankly childish. I am all for calling out companies when they offer false or misleading info. But I would would like to see it done in a more objective, matter-of-fact, non-insulting manner. This is especially the case when vendors criticise other vendors. When they do so, they must
be utterly professional about it; otherwise it reflects poorly on them.

I am not surprised that this type of affair has arisen regarding puer. Nothing seems to bring out the egos, emotions, and negativity in the tea world like puer.

Best wishes,

You obviously don’t reddit, reddit entices pretty crazy stuff.

JC said

+1 this.


sherubtse said

I think that the venue / forum is irrelevant. No one forces people to make out-of-line comments; they make them because they wish to do so (for whatever reason). And they can refrain from making them as well if they wish to do so.

Best wishes,

OliveEyes said


JC said

Sherubtse, I agree with you. I participated in the reddit thread and had my share of childishness in it. I personally own up to it, I partially still feel like it was banter in the midst of feeling livid about the claims. I would wish I had the ‘kill them gently’ approach at that time, but I’m not sure why childishly claiming is worse than being a vendor selling in a negligent business practice. I said negligent because they obviously didn’t inform themselves enough to ensure the facts given, but just enough to pass them on to their customers.

EDIT/UPDATE I just wanted to add this

@Sherubtse – the reddit thread was never meant to be a pointed fact driven discussion. Many of the comments I made were definitely a snarky form of humor, whose point was simply to generate more humor driven responses to Verdant’s absurd claims.

I am an individual. The reason I run the business the way I do is because I live my whole life being myself. I am a person. Yunnan Sourcing, is me, my wife, her mom and three young Chinese women in Kunming who work in fulfillment and managed by my wife and her mom. That’s it. We are basically a family, and when people buy from us they become part of that family.

If I seem unprofessional in my attitude it’s because Verdant’s actions have a negative impact on everyone, including me. How do you think I would like being asked “Why don’t you sell 1800 year old tea tree cakes?” I get upset… I don’t like certain people and businesses and I am not afraid to express that. Should everyone that’s involved in business be a cool capitalist, never showing a human side for fear that somebody won’t like you and not spend money with you?

I am professional in every aspect of my business and how my customers, my employees and my suppliers are treated. My customers are always treated fairly and they always get what they pay for. I keep my prices as low as possible because I want people from every walk of life to be able purchase and enjoy tea. How I react to a dishonest tea seller who has insulted the whole industry is entirely my own persona. Am I not allowed to also be a human being with feelings? Have you ever heard the saying “If you aren’t upset, then you aren’t paying attention?” The same edginess that you say is unprofessional is also what makes me able to do what I do and provide a legitimate and safe place for people to explore some of the most amazing teas in the world. I have no wish to refrain from having a personality and being opinionated. If that’s unprofessional than so be it.

An old Chinese story:

There was a sparrow who refused to join his flock which was flying south for the winter. He refused to listen to the elders thinking he could make it on his own.
Winter came, it was too cold and the little sparrow froze and fell to the ground and waited for death under an onslaught of snow. A water buffalo happened by and crapped all over the bird. The pile of dung warmed the bird and brought it back to life. The young sparrow lay in the dung all warm and happy, and soon began to chirp for joy. A passing cat heard the bird joyfully chirping, took the bird out of the pile of cow dung, and ate it.


1. Listen to people who have more experience than you.
2. Not everyone that shits on you is your enemy.
3. Not everyone that gets you out of the shit is your friend.

JC said

I think you just nailed what I tried and failed to explain about being upset about it. And I think I found the best bedtime story EVER! LOL!

AllanK said

Scott, what you say holds weight for me simply because I have learned through a great many orders that I can trust you. I know you will never claim to sell 1800 year old tree tea and in fact I don’t think I’ve ever come across tea on your website from much older than 200 year old trees.

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JC said

I’m waiting for Verdant’s response to this. I think that this deserves a refunds for those who bought the tea, it’s the least they can do not to pass the price of their mistakes to customers.

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