Washing Publications and Puerh Tea

In 2002, Wushing Publications Company, Ltd. released the first issue of “Puerh Teapot” magazine. Over the course of the next five years, the magazine was destined to become the largest and most important Puerh magazine in the world, not just reporting on and sharing the voices of the market, but also influencing the way the Puerh world turns. Having been publishing art and tea art books and magazines for several years before “Puerh Teapot”, the editors knew that the growing Puerh industry faced the same dangers that had led to the collapse of the Yixing teapot market in Taiwan several years earlier. That market, too, had gone through an all-too-rapid expansion, resulting in a drastic collapse. Much of the fall of the antique/artistry Yixing market was directly related to the over abundance of fake teapots that were riding on the waves of popularity that surrounded the originals. As soon as the Puerh market started to grow and attract interest, these and similar problems began cropping up.

Since the magazine’s inception, it had increased in sales exponentially-virtually every issue vastly outselling the previous one. The owners and editors knew that they weren’t just finding those already interested in Puerh, but actually attracting interest and helping the market to grow. Consequently, they felt responsible, at least in part, for the rise of the various threats to the stability of the Puerh market. They hoped that all the tea lovers, vendors, factories and tea houses could enjoy a continued success with great longevity, and more importantly escape the fate of the Yixing market.

In 2003, the Puerh market faced its first great challenge when the SARS epidemic hit China, Hong Kong and Taiwan. Every industry was struggling. After a year time, the editorial team at “Puerh Teapot” organized the first ever National Masterpiece Puerh Vintage Appreciation Gathering. The event attracted connoisseurs from all over Asia, offering them the chance to gather together and drink the great teas of the Masterpiece Era under the guidance of renowned tea scholars. The event was a huge success, and the vintage Puerh market immediately rebounded afterwards. In particular, the event attracted many Mainland Chinese to begin paying attention the late 1980’s Seven-son cakes, like the now-famous Eighty-eight Raw Tea Cake (88 Qing Bing).

The success of the first gathering, and the fact that so many had attended the gathering from various countries, gave the editors an idea. They knew that getting more international attention from Chinese communities outside of Taiwan and Hong Kong could greatly boost the Puerh market. For that reason, they changed the name of the magazine from “Puerh Teapot” to “Tea Art, Puerh Teapot” and began covering more tea-related topics. The new, broader focus included articles from their older, more established teapot magazines about Yixing, Oolong and other kinds of tea. Of course, as these other interests attracted more readers to the magazine, they also attracted more tea lovers to Puerh, which was still the magazine’s main focus. In late 2004, Wushing held a second tea gathering called “The Complete Masterpiece Era Series” in which participants got to taste every single vintage from the Masterpiece Era – again under the guidance of reputable teachers. The event was very successful, especially amongst the Southeast Asian community, and created a huge demand for Puerh tea. Of course this event wasn’t completely responsible for the boom in the Puerh market that began in 2004, but it definitely contributed.

During this whole time, the editors had been working hard and brainstorming ways to battle the fraudulence and misinformation that were polluting the vintage Puerh market, in the same ways the Yixing market had previously been affected. In 2004, they published a guidebook called “Chi Tse Beeng Cha Dictionary 1940-1989”. The idea was to create a photographic reference guide for beginners that would simply and accurately help them to identify fake puerh vintages. At the same time, another author Chan Chih Tung began publishing works distinguishing the families, characteristics and nomenclature that everyone in the world would come to use when classifying and discussing vintage Puerh tea. The guidebook worked, and as a result more and more Taiwanese began investing in vintage tea again, feeling more comfortable about their purchases.

As more revenue was generated, Wushing also invested more and more in the research of Puerh history, production and development. They came to find, that beyond fake teas, there were many mistakes and misleading dates swirling all around the vintage Puerh market. Much of this wasn’t even dishonesty; it was simply that a lot of the previous research had been too limited in scope. The magazine had created an unprecedented amount of communication between authors and collectors all over Asia. Without the magazine as a forum, these experts, tea masters and collectors wouldn’t have been able to get together and discuss their findings. In other words, some of the errors in previous literature were based on the fact that the authors hadn’t seen enough examples of certain vintages.

Very soon after the guidebook, this added research produced Chen Chih Tung’s landmark book “the Profound World of CHI TSE 1950-2004”, which would go on to become the bestselling Puerh book and the market standard throughout the Chinese world. It would be difficult to find a vintage Puerh shop without a copy of this book, and almost impossible to have a conversation about the various vintages of Puerh without using its nomenclature in the Chinese Puerh communities. Since that time, the editors and authors have worked hard to continue researching, correcting mistakes and publishing article after article about how to recognize fake vintages past and present.

Realizing that the great success in the Puerh market was resulting in forgeries not just of aged teas, but also newborn ones, Wushing began working together with all the Puerh factories in Yunnan to create Newborn Yearbooks that would accurately record the various vintages of the Newborn Era. The first book presented most all the important vintages from 1998-2003, the second 2004, and recently Wushing has just published the 2005 edition, continuing an ongoing mission to protect the consumers and producers both.

In 2006, went truly international with the creation of an English department meant to reach the English speaking world -both in Asia and abroad in the West. From the publication of the “First Step to Chinese Puerh Tea” and the first issue of this “The Art of Tea”, the growth and popularity of the book and magazine has risen greatly. Recently, Wushing held the 5th International Gathering for the Appreciation of Vintage Puerh in Los Angeles, California, inviting several American tea lovers to come and enjoy many precious teas for free. Chen Chih Tung himself made the trip over to America and lectured on Puerh tea, and explained each tea that was drank as well.

Finally, in 2007 Wushing constructed a seven-story tea center in Taipei with one of the largest tea libraries open to public, large conference rooms for tea gatherings, classes and speeches and even room and board on the upper floors so that teachers and lecturers will have a place to stay once they begin holding conferences. The goal is to begin to have more meetings, scholastic research and tea gatherings conveniently.

In the future, Wushing Publications plans to translate and produce more and more English material for tea lovers everywhere, including Chen Chih Tung’s book, The Newborn Yearbooks, as well as several new and exciting titles that will be written in English by Asian and Western authors. Wushing’s goals in the English market are the same as those in the Chinese market: to represent and protect the interests of the tea producers and consumers both, generate more interest in tea culture and art, and allow all the voices of the tea world to have a meeting place where they can communicate. By allowing anyone – whether consumer, author or vendor – to express his or her ideas, the magazine can bring together as well as amplify the voices of the tea world.

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