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Using Benchmark Tea as a Standard: A Journey to Refine Your Pu-erh Tea Palate

If you've been drinking a lot of Pu-erh tea but have yet to find a structured approach, the most important thing is to establish a personal tasting system that you can use effectively. The key is to set a standard for your palate to serve as a reference. 

Try this method if you still need to find a compelling entry point.

1. Choose a Benchmark Tea

First, select a high-quality tea as your benchmark tea.

The benchmark doesn't refer to those so-called top-tier teas but to representative teas that embody the flavor profile of Pu-erh tea. Teas from major tea factories, which have been in production for many years and have a consistent quality and refined process, are very suitable as benchmark teas because their flavors are stable and reliable.

Xiaguan Tuocha

2. Deeply Taste the Benchmark Tea

In establishing your tasting system, thoroughly understand your benchmark tea first, regardless of how many teas you try.

This process requires repeated tastings until you develop a conditioned response. Like the familiar taste of your mom's cooking from childhood, this familiar taste will leave a deep impression in your mind, providing a reference for tasting other teas.

The tea soup of the ripe Xia Guan Tuocha-orientaleaf
The tea soup of the ripe Xia Guan Tuocha

3. Gradually Expand Your Tasting Experience

Once you thoroughly understand and remember your benchmark tea, you can gradually start trying other Pu-erh teas.

Compare each tea carefully with the benchmark tea and savor its differences. Pay attention to changes in the tea infusion's color, aroma, flavor, and mouthfeel, and record your impressions and insights from each tasting.

4. Compare Repeatedly and Adjust Your Standards

During the ongoing process of tasting and comparing, you will gradually build your tasting system. This system is not static; it can be adjusted and refined based on accumulated experience and new tea tastings.

Ultimately, you will develop your unique tasting standards, which will allow you to find references and comparisons for any Pu-erh tea you encounter.

5. Establish Tasting Notes

A tasting notebook is recommended to record and analyze each tasting experience better.

You can document the basic information of each tea, tasting time, personal impressions, and more. Regularly reviewing these notes can deepen your understanding of different teas and improve your tasting skills.

Following these methods, you can gradually establish your Pu-erh tea-tasting system.

Drinking tea dramatically enhances your enjoyment and experience. This method helps you find your path to Pu-erh tea tasting.

6. Recommended Benchmark Pu-erh Tea Brands

In Pu-erh tea, several brands stand out as benchmark choices, renowned for their quality and tradition.

6.1 Taetea(or Dayi 大益)


Established in 2004, Taetea took over the legacy of the Menghai Tea Factory, which registered the"Taetea" or "Dayi" trademark in 1998. It is considered a prestigious choice for its exceptional quality and market dominance.

6.2 Chinatea(中茶)


Chinatea or Zhongcha has a long history and profound heritage, holding an essential position in Pu-erh tea. Its products are diverse and of excellent quality, have a wide-ranging influence in the market, and are deeply loved by consumers. Some classic Zhongcha products have also become popular in the Pu-erh tea-collecting community.

6.3 Xiaguan (下关)

Xiaguan Tuocha

Renowned for its exceptional value, Xiaguan is among the most well-known Pu-erh tea brands.

These brands are not just famous; they are recommended as benchmark choices for their exceptional quality and representation of Pu-erh tea's diversity and richness.

7. Recommended Benchmark Teas

The benchmark tea we recommend should be stable quality, affordable, and widely recognized within the industry. This makes it a model and reference for other tea products, leading the industry's development direction and setting standards.

7.1 7542 Raw Puerh Tea Cake of Dayi

7542 Raw Puerh Tea Cake of Dayi

Dayi 7542 is a raw tea cake produced by the Dayi Tea Industry Group in Menghai, Yunnan. It is considered a benchmark product of raw Puerh tea. The number "7542" signifies the formula created in 1975 ("75"), the grade of tea leaves as the fourth grade ("4"), and the production factory as Menghai Tea Factory ("2"). This tea features plump inner tea shoots, and young, tender bud leaves on the surface. It has a dark and moist color with visible bud hairs and a pure and lasting aroma with hints of flowers and fruit. The taste is strong with a good aftertaste, and the tea soup is yellow and bright. The structure is entire due to the blend of medium and firm tea shoots as the framework with tender bud leaves on the surface. It is known in the market as the "standard product for judging the quality of raw Puerh tea" due to its rich changes during storage.

7.2 7572 Ripe Puerh Tea Cake of Dayi

 7572 Ripe Puerh Tea Cake of Dayi

Please remember the following information about the 7572 cake tea: It was created in the mid-1970s at the Menghai Tea Factory using sun-dried green tea of large-leaf species in the Menghai tea area. It is made using the "Dayi Tea Making Technique" and is the most extensive ripe cake tea produced by the Menghai Tea Factory. It is regarded in the market as the "standard product for judging the quality of ripe Puerh tea."

The name "7572" originated in 1976 when the Yunnan Provincial Tea Import and Export Company standardized the Puerh tea mark numbers for export purposes. For cake tea, a 4-digit code is used. The first two digits represent the earliest production year of the tea, the third digit represents the comprehensive grade of the tea leaves, and the fourth digit represents the tea factory number. In the case of 7572, "75" stands for the formula's founding year, "7" represents the comprehensive tea leaf grade, and "2" signifies the Menghai Tea Factory.

The 7572 cake has a complete and round shape, proper tightness, and fine and tight tea strips with exposed golden hairs. The tea soup is thick and bright red, with a strong aroma. The taste is mellow and full, with a dense, sticky soup and a sweet entrance. The tea leaves at the bottom are dark red and even.

7.3 The Classic A Tuocha of Xiaguan Tuocha

The A Tuocha of Xiaguan was initially created in 1902 by the predecessor of the Xiaguan Tea Factory in Yunnan, the Yongchangxiang firm. It is a traditional tea product with a continuous production history of hundreds of years in Xiaguan, Yunnan. The A Tuocha of Xiaguan is considered the benchmark of Tuocha products. It received high-quality product ratings in Yunnan Province in 1979, 1983, and 1987. It was honored with the "National Silver Quality Award" by the State Economic Commission and the National Quality Award Approval Committee in 1981, 1985, and 1990.

Additionally 1989, the Ministry of Agriculture recognized it as a famous tea in China. It has been awarded distinctions such as "China's Famous Tea Brand" and "The First Batch of Famous Products in Yunnan Province." The A Tuocha of Xiaguan comes in different batches and versions, including boxed and casual ones and different label packaging. There are numerous product year versions, each with varying prices. The A Tuocha of Xiaguan is considered the symbol product of Tuocha in China.

7.4 7581 Ripe Puerh Tea of Zhongcha

7581 Ripe Puerh Tea of Zhongcha

The 7581 ripe Puerh of Zhongcha is a highly influential Puerh tea product. It originates from the Kunming Tea Factory (CNNP), preceded by the Fuxing Experimental Tea Factory. In 1973, the Kunming Tea Factory successfully conducted artificial pile fermentation of Puerh tea, marking a significant development in the history of Puerh tea.

The numbers in 7581 have specific meanings: 75 represents the year when the formula product was created, 8 represents the primary raw material grade, and 1 represents the Kunming Tea Factory. This tea is the main product of Yunnan Zhongcha Tea Co., Ltd. and is known for being a representative of ripe Puerh tea.

Upon its launch, the 7581 ripe Puerh brick gained widespread recognition and popularity due to its excellent quality and affordable price. It quickly dominated the ripe brick market from the 1980s to the 1990s. Over 40 years since its introduction, it has become a well-known national ripe brick among older generations of tea enthusiasts.

The tea brick is complete, has a transparent texture with moderate compaction, and has strong tea strips. The tea soup color is a thick, bright red, and the taste is mellow with a sweet aftertaste, making it a favorite among tea enthusiasts. The tea leaves at the bottom are even, dark red, soft, oily, and shiny. The taste is mellow, smooth, and sweet, and it has a long-lasting aftertaste.

Establishing a personal Pu-erh tea-tasting system can be a rewarding journey that enhances your appreciation and understanding of this unique tea. By choosing a benchmark tea, deeply exploring its characteristics, and expanding your tasting experience, you will gradually build a refined palate and develop your tasting standards. Detailed tasting notes will further enrich this process, allowing you to track your progress and insights.

Remember, the benchmark teas and brands recommended here, such as Dayi 7542 and 7572, Xiaguan Tuocha, and Zhongcha 7581, serve as excellent starting points due to their stable quality and industry recognition. As you delve deeper into the world of Pu-erh, these teas will provide a solid foundation for comparison and learning.

Happy tasting and your Pu-erh tea journey will be filled with delightful discoveries and profound enjoyment.


Author: Cary Woo

Cary Woo has been working in the tea industry for over 10 years and has run a tea house for over 6 years, serving thousands of tea enthusiasts each year. He has a deep passion for various types of Chinese tea and is also the operator of Orientaleaf. He advocates for Orientaleaf's business philosophy: "We only sell tea that we have personally enjoyed and believe to be of high quality." He hopes to make the beauty of Chinese tea accessible to tea enthusiasts worldwide through simple means.

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