Pu-erh tea is specially packaged for trade, identification, and storage. These attributes are used by tea drinkers and collectors to determine the authenticity of the pu-erh tea.
Typical contents of a wrapped Bĭngchá
Pu-erh tea cakes, or Bĭngchá, are almost always sold with a wrapper:
Made usually from thin cotton cloth or cotton paper and shows the tea company/factory, the year of production, the region/mountain of harvest, the plant type, and the recipe number. The wrapper can also contain decals, logos and artwork. Occasionally, more than one wrapper will be used to wrap a pu-erh cake.
Nèi fēi (内飞 or 內飛): A small ticket originally stuck on the tea cake but now usually embedded into the cake during pressing. It is usually used as proof, or a possible sign, to the authenticity of the tea. Some higher end pu-erh cakes have more than one nèi fēi embedded in the cake. The ticket usually indicates the tea factory and brand.
Nèi piào (内票): A larger description ticket or flyer packaged loose under the wrapper. Both aid in assuring the identity of the cake. It usually indicates factory and brand. As well, many nèi piào contain a summary of the tea factories' history and any additional laudatory statements concerning the tea, from its taste and rarity, to its ability to cure diseases and affect weight loss.
Bĭng: The tea cake itself. Tea cakes or other compressed pu-erh can be made up of two or more grades of tea, typically with higher grade leaves on the outside of the cake and lower grades or broken leaves in the center. This is done to improve the appearance of the tea cake and improve its sale. Predicting the grade of tea used on the inside takes some effort and experience in selection. However, the area in and around the dimple of the tea cake can sometimes reveal the quality of the inner leaves.
Recently, nèi fēi have become more important in identifying and preventing counterfeits. Menghai Tea Factory in particular has begun microprinting and embossing their tickets in an effort to curb the growth of counterfeit teas found in the marketplace in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Some nèi fēi also include vintage year and are production-specific to help identify the cake and prevent counterfeiting through a surfeit of different brand labels.
When bought in large quantities, pu-erh tea is generally sold in stacks, referred to as a tŏng (筒), which are wrapped in bamboo shoot husks, bamboo stem husks, or coarse paper. Some tongs of vintage pu-erh will contain a tŏng piào (筒票), or tong ticket, but it is less common to find them in productions past the year 2000. The number of bĭngchá in a tŏng varies depending on the weight of individual bĭngchá. For instance one tŏng can contain:
Seven 357g-500g bĭngchá,
Five 250g mini-bĭngchá
Ten 100g mini-bĭngchá
Twelve tŏng are referred to as being one jiàn (件), although some producers/factories vary how many tŏng equal one jiàn. A jiàn of tea, which is bound together in a loose bamboo basket, will usually have a large batch ticket (大票; pinyin: dàpiào) affixed to its side that will indicate information such as the batch number of the tea in a season, the production quantities, tea type, and the factory where it was produced.