S otheby’s Hong Kong launches its first tea auction, featuring more than twenty lots of premium puerh and showcasing some of the most quintessential examples from the past century. The sale caters to ever-growing market demand and diverse taste of today’s collectors, offering rare treasures from century-old antique tea (‘Hao Ji Cha’), to ‘Yin Ji’ tea cakes from the 1950s and ‘Qizi bingcha’ teacakes from the 1970s to the 1990s. Headlining the auction will be a century-old teacake ‘Chen Yun Hao’ from one of the top five most prestigious tea houses in the 1900s.
When Time Slows Down – The Art of Puerh Tea
“Following the many recent ‘firsts’ at Sotheby’s, including the launch of spirits sales, the introduction of sake, and the addition of France as a new location for our regular series of wine and spirits auctions, the introduction of tea at our global auctions comes as a natural progression for our business. Today’s collectors continue to expand their horizons and we expect demand for the rarest teas to follow that for wines, whiskies and Moutai.”
More on Puerh:
One of the oldest forms of tea, Puerh gained its recognition and appeal from the Qing Dynasty. It is a post-fermented tea produced from the Yunnan province which is known to enhance its quality and flavour through aging. Aged puerh is mellow in flavor and has an elegant aroma- in the view of Chinese medicine, this is believed to promote health and ease digestion.
For transportation purposes, Puerh is generally compressed into different shapes, with cake, brick or tuocha as the most established forms. There are two main types of Puerh - raw or cooked, with different flavours and aging potential. The raw process undergoes a natural oxidization process in which the tea colour, fragrance and its unique mellow taste gradually form and fortify pending on the length of aging and storage environment, factors which is dependent on the rarity of the Puerh. The cooked process goes through an artificial fermentation cycle, which allows it to be consumed without aging.
百年珍稀 | A Century of Tea
At the end of the Qing dynasty, Hao Ji Cha (號級茶) was produced by private tea brands, each with their own product names and unique styles in the selection of raw tea leaves, inner ticket, packaging, and trademark design. The top five most prestigious tea brands include Song Pin Hao, Chen Yun Hao, Tong Qing Hao, Tong Xing Hao, and Fu Yuan Chang Hao.
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拍品拆自原條五票孫義順，保存狀態良好，竹簍是典型的民初手工織法，既寛且扁，笠仔竹篾完好無缺，倉儲得宜。茶簍內藏有五票以辨真偽 (三張面票、一張腰票及一張底票)，防偽技術令人讚嘆，也足見當時此茶製作之認真。「孫義順」是老六安中最爲著名的寶號，以揀提「雨前上上毛尖」嫩芽蒸壓入簍，又名笠仔六安。「陳年老六安」溫和養胃，開聲潤喉，古為藥引，今為「太子茶」，是公認的養生茶飲。五票孫義順帶淡雅藥香，茶湯細膩 、 柔順，香氣高遠，為六安中上乘佳品，與號級皇者宋聘號並駕齊驅，被譽為六安中的茶王，真品存世量稀少，留下來的佳品更是碩果僅存，珍藏者眾。
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Since 1950, Puerh production has been under the regulation of the government. This era of production is widely known as the ‘Yin Ji’ (印級) teacakes period. The packaging and inner ticket all adopted the trademark design of ‘Ba Zhong Yi Cha’ (八中一茶) which shows the character Cha encircled by eight Zhong characters. The renowned teacakes from this period are Red Label Teacake, Blue Label Teacake, Red Label Iron Teacake, Blue Label Iron Teacake and Red Label Teacake (without wrapping).
Historically, the production of Puerh halted for a period, only to resume in the mid-1970s. The method for compressing the Puerh matured in 1980s, paving the way for the emergence of notable raw teacakes, e.g., Yun Lai 7572, Small Yellow Label, 8582 and Snow Label 7532. To meet the demand of the mass production market at the time, increased mechanization was adopted. As a result, various shapes of Puerh can be seen in the market.
百家爭鳴 Diversified Puerh
From 1996, Puerh production process and methods flourished once again. Private tea merchants were able to order different forms of tea according to their needs. Tea factories had greater freedom to produce, export, and trade. This marked the start and resurgence of the diversified Puerh period. Stepping into the 21st century, Puerh continues to be widely recognised and prized all over the world.