For those who are familiar with pu-erh teas, it is most likely you have come crossed many 4 digits marks, such as 7542、7562、7572、8542, 8582 etc. These are not just random numbers. They actually carry certain important information about the tea.
Here is how the 4 digits are decoded
Pu-erh tea has a long production and consumption history in China. The teas used to be produced by tea farmers in family businesses. Following the recent growth of its popularity and consumption in China and worldwide, its production has been increasingly industrialised. With the industrialisation, a few big brands and manufacturers have merged to dominate the industry in the Yun-Nan Province. To facilitate the Pu-erh tea’s exportation, the Department of tea agriculture (of Yun-Nan Province) introduced a four digit marking system in 1974.
The elements are:
- The first two digits represent the year a particular recipe was first created and used in production. Pu-erh tea leaves are harvested from 6 main mountain areas (六大茶山) in the Yun-Nan Province: Yi-Bang (倚邦), Ge-Deng(革登), Mang-Zhi (莽枝), Man-Zhuang(蛮砖), You-Le (攸乐) and Yi-Wu(易武). There are subtle differences between the teas harvested from different origins. The local tea masters have in-depth knowledge about the different varieties and combine tea leaves of various degrees of maturity and sources to achieve products of harmonious balance. These are called pu-erh recipes, often owned and guarded by the major manufacturers.
- The third digit in the four digit code represent the level of the tenderness/grade of the majority of the leaves used: 0-youngest and 9-most mature. (Note, unlike some other teas that the younger the tea leaves are the better the quality, a high quality pu-erh tea is often composed by a balance of young and mature tea leaves. )
- The last digit represents the factory/manufacturer which produces the tea: 1 – KunMing Tea Factory (昆明茶廠); 2 – MengHai Tea Factory (勐海茶廠); 3 – XiaGuan Tea Factory (下關茶廠) 4 – Pu-erh Tea Factory (普洱茶廠)
As we can see now, these four digits actually provide information on:
- The owner/manufacturer of the recipe
- The year the recipe was first put in production
- The Pu-erh tea leave grade
These recipes are most likely to be used repeatedly in the subsequent years and the manufacturers often add an independent number to indicate the year of the production. Being an aged and collected product, these numbers and codes conventionally provide good information about the product when consumed or traded later.