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Recipes or "What do those numbers mean?"

Tea factories, particularly formerly government-owned factories, produce many cakes by recipe, indicated by a recipe number. Usually this number has 4 digits where the first 2 are the year, the 3rd is the grade, and the 4th is the tea factory. Not all pu-erh cakes have this recipe code on them – it’s a pretty voluntary system at this time. Plus the grade is not hard and fast – the standards can vary from factory to factory and around the Yunnan province. There is some disagreement, also about the numbers used for different tea factories, with some sources showing those in column A, others showing those in column B, and still others using those in column C (which is the list we tend to go by). One thing to note is that even if two cakes have the same number, they may not taste the same.

pu-erh-tea-factory-numbers2.jpg

Example: “7542” would be a recipe from 1975 using 4th-grade tea leaves and made by either the Menghai Tea Factory or the LongRun Tea Factory/Group (represented by the number “2”). (Some think that the 3rd number indicates a recipe for a particular production year.)

headquarters-of-haiwan-sales-center-and-research-haiwan-yunnan-tea-industrya.jpgFactory numbers (fourth digit in recipe):

  1. Kunming Tea Factory
  2. Menghai Tea Factory
  3. Xiaguan Tea Factory
  4. Lan Cang Tea Factory or Feng Qing Tea Factory
  5. Pu'er Tea Factory (now Pu'er Tea group Co., Ltd )
  6. Six Famous Tea Mountain Factory
  7. unknown / not specified
  8. Haiwan Tea Factory and Long Sheng Tea Factory

Tea of all shapes can be made by numbered recipe. Not all recipes are numbered, and not all cakes are made by recipe. Plus the term "recipe" does not always indicate consistency, as the quality of some recipes change from year-to-year, as do the contents of the cake. Perhaps only the factories producing the recipes really know what makes them consistent enough to label by these numbers.

Occasionally, a three digit code is attached to the recipe number by hyphenation. The first digit of this code represents the year the cake was produced, and the other two numbers indicate the production number within that year. For instance, the seven digit sequence 8653-602, would indicate the second production in 2006 of factory recipe 8653. Some productions of cakes are valued over others because production numbers can indicate if a tea was produced earlier or later in a season/year. This information allows one to be able to single out tea cakes produced using a better batch of máochá.

(See the article “The Complexities of Pu-erh Cake Labels” on our blog Fine Tea Focus.)