Jun 5, 2011

CNNP colorful stamp sisters and brothers

These two CNNP green stamp brothers are not the same tea, and very likely not from the same factory. 

A friend of mine once said, you never know how many products share this same green stamp jacket! Indeed! Meantime, many other CNNP products share the same jackets of yellow or red or other colored stamps.

CNNP (or Zhong Cha, 中茶) is notorious for contracting out a lot of its products. To be more accurate, it's not even contracting out. Here is my simplified interpretation, with many of the not-so-juicy details omitted, and with possible misuse of some political terms :-p

(The name of CNNP has changed long time ago, but it's just easier referring to it as CNNP.)

In the "state-owned" era (when all businesses were owned by the Chinese government), all tea companies were literally affiliated to CNNP. Then, in late 1980s when "capitalism" started, control of tea businesses was more and more transmitted to local companies. Up till today, many tea companies are still state-owned in name but are no longer under centralized administration of CNNP - as reflected by profit distribution. No longer collecting profits from local companies as before, CNNP said, Ok, now let's follow Free Market Rules. All local companies should pay for using CNNP trademark! This last for a short while. Then bigger local companies, such as Meng Hai Factory and Xia Guan Factory, said, Wait a minute! Why should we pay for using CNNP trademark while we could have our own trademarks? Hence came the trademarks such as Da Yi and Xia Guan (including the "crane" and a few other trademarks). Soon, more and more companies did the same. CNNP's policy of collecting fee for using its trademark was issued in 1988. Da Yi's trademark was registered in 1989. Xia Guan's "treasure flame" trademark (used for mushroom tuo and relevant products) was registered in 1990 and "crane" trademark was registered in 1991. In 1990s, Da Yi and Xia Guan had products with their own trademarks and with CNNP trademarks. But eventually they managed to get rid of CNNP trademark gradually.

Current CNNP brand products are still from various factories, including Kunming Factory, which is highly respectable. Some popular CNNP products (such as 7581) are only made in Kunming Factory and are more reputable than some other CNNP products. Meantime, a lot of CNNP products are made by numerous unknown factories. These factories are willing to pay for using CNNP trademark because their own trademarks wouldn't have the same level of market influence. Some of these factories are good, but there are so many of them, and some are quite bad. In recent years, with rapid growth of CNNP, more and more tea merchants and consumers are questioning on CNNP's loose control of its trademark authorization.

The trademark control problem of CNNP is much more severe today than 10 years ago, partially because 10 years ago, factories, even mediocre small factories, didn't have much incentive to make bad tea. Some people say, vast majority of pre-2005 Yunnan puerh is good tea. To make it a stronger statement, some people would narrow the range to pre-2002 or even pre-2000 tea. But anyway, what this means is, before puerh had the market hype and before puerh brought in mad cash, puerh production was normal, and usually a normal puerh is a good tea. If we exclude fake products from the discussion, authentic pre-2000 products are rarely bad. On the other hand, this doesn't mean all pre-2000 products of CNNP are super great. Some of them are from reputable large factories, and some of them are from less known factories. Some are amazingly good, and some are of quite average quality. The large quantity and uneven quality are partially why many pre-2000 CNNP products without clear manufacturing information are less expensive than some early-2000s routine products with Da Yi or Xia Guan trademarks. For the same reason, some good pre-2000 CNNP products can be of great value because the price is based pretty much on the tea itself but not on trademarks or other fringing information.

In reality, a challenge of choosing these pre-2000 CNNP products is, there is no information of production year, tea factory or tea leaf source. Only when the tea comes in whole boxes (a box, or Jian, typically contains 42 cakes for the 357g standard cake), production information may be (but is not always) presented on a piece of paper in the box. But in another sense, this challenge of missing information is not much bigger than the universal challenge of buying puerh - we just need to keep it in mind that the wrapper doesn't tell much about the tea, and sampling before buying bulk is always a good idea.

At the end, I just want to show a pre-2000 product from a small factory using CNNP inner label. I think the wrapper, along with the factory name in English, is silly in a cute way :-D


Sir William of the Leaf said...

I have been trying to find information on CNNP for SOO long so thank you for posting this! This helped me quite a bit in understanding what CNNP is!

Nicolas said...

Good article on CNNP. Your blog is update in my blogroll :)


Gingko said...

(Had difficulty with putting on comments...)

Thanks guys! CNNP is an odd and unique entity and there are some other secrets of it that I tried to dig out but failed :-p But with time being, I think it will become more and more like a normal business.

Anonymous said...

A few questions I still have about "CNNP" are:

What are the differences between the different colored labels (if there is any)? ie Red, Gold, Green, Blue (or the one in the above pic... red with a blue insert?). I'm pretty sure green is raw & red is cooked...? I'm kind of at a loss for blue, gold and the other variations though...

Also, what year did CNNP start dating the backs of their labels?

Gingko said...

I have the overall impression that "cold colors" (green, blue, etc.) were often used for sheng and "warm colors" (red, yellow, orange, etc.) were often used for shu. But I'm not aware of any explicit rules about the use of colors. The print of production date on individual cakes was barely done before 2006 (but there should be production date either on the bamboo shell, or on the outside of the big box which usually doesn't go to the buyer). Overall the CNNP management was quite a mess before 2008 and there weren't many universal rules across all the CNNP contracted factories.

Ralph said...

Colour refers to different eras or years. There are green sheng and Shu and the 50s or 60s red were sheng as Shu production started later. Color had nothing to say really.