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Thursday, March 16, 2017

The Raw and the Cooked: 2017 Puerh Predictions



Last year I enjoyed writing an article about puerh season predictions. Some of them came true. So this year I assembled a few more, just for the fun of speculating off the top of my head. After all, my tea hobby is mostly speculation, brewing and stewing anyway. 

2017 is a Rooster.

The other word doesn’t work in English without tittering unless you want to use the word beenghole or Bacon Log in the same sentence. We are barely a month out of Chinese New Year and the jokes are old already. I am loving 2018 Dog right about now.

The Trees are one year older.

This means adding 100 years in retail marketing. With evidence too, so we expect more photos of trees full of leaves no one is allowed to pick, and plenty of grandmas willing to swear on their betel leaf that those trees were around before the flood. Likewise, I am fairly certain my Dear Son will happily testify under oath that my tea collection is ten years older than it really is. He can probably find a Tea Sommelier to certify stamp a piece of paper for him for $50 or less, a small fee to pay to add thousands of dollars to the worth of my collection. Business is booming all around the tea industry, and I haven’t a thing to wear.

The Tea Harvest will Happen.

Yes, the forecast is optimistic we will have new tea this year.

The Great Shrinking gets dodgier.

Last year we started seeing more and more 100g and even smaller beengcha, with better material than in the past. I continue to see these small cakes as dodgy buys at best. While this small cake might be an opportunity to taste a higher quality of tea in a very few cases (and I mean few), it’s not a good size for future hoarding. To clarify, I’m not here to represent the sensible buyer and most readers of this blog know that by now.

We want as much good tea as possible. I see the 100g and smaller cake size as a trial size for people who are new to puerh and don’t know what they are getting into. Otherwise, why would I want a cake of maybe 12 sessions? If the tea is good, then I regret the small size and want more. A good eighth will flake off a cake in normal conditions anyway, especially when the wrapper gives out which we all know it will. If I want a sample, I will order a sample and it arrives in a bag.

Also, small cakes are clutter in the storage. Forget your nice stacks of 357s, the small ones fall all over in a messy way. I feel like buying a reliable 357g every year such as a good old boring Menghai is a better move in the long run than futzing with tiny cakes until you grow weary, and drink them up quickly just to be done with the tediousness of caring for that small size. Keep in mind tea vendors are thinking about selling tea, and this is why they make these small sizes. We buyers are storing, and for storage and long term relationships with our tea cakes, the bigger size wins for my investment.

Somebody will invent the Pumidor.

Old fridges and unplugged wine coolers are reaching a social peak, and yet anxiety abounds amongst tea heads huddled over hygrometers showing >1 SD variability in humidity levels. This situation is ripe for the next huckster to crowd fund the perfect puerh storage cabinet to bilk worried collectors out of the price of a premium tong. Barring that, we have an opening in the western puerh market for Florida homesteaders to rent a warehouse and start charging for long distance storage. This could unleash yet more market opportunities for things like chartered flights to visit their Pu and blocks of hotel rooms serving continental breakfast boba. I can’t wait.

Someone else will discover Bug Shit tea.

Yet another blog post waiting to happen and you know it’s inevitable. Funny how we never seem to see consistent reviews year after year by the same blogger of this season’s new BS tea, with nuances in flavor and such.

The term Boutique will lose all meaning.

So, what exactly is “boutique” nowadays? Does Chen Yuan Hao qualify as boutique? After all, it is a brand sourced by a single entity. For some, “boutique” means northern tea, or what gets called “oolong” tea which presumes that tea cakes made by small entities won’t age, even though none of the so-called “boutiques” have existed even ten years at this point. To others, “boutique” refers to (mostly) white people traveling to Yunnan to make tea cakes. Oddly too many of those making such a proclamation about aging have not even tried the teas fresh or aged.

I don’t know about you, but I see small buyers/producers of puerh tea coming and going from the retail scene, maybe more coming in than going out. But not enough time has elapsed anywhere to determine which teas will age into anything good. We are talking 10-20 years here, and that presumes such tea will even survive the storage years, either getting wrecked or drunk up by the owner well before any Judgment Day arrives. As for wrecking in storage, at this point I know several people storing tea longer than five years in the west, people who own both “boutique” and factory teas and I will bet money their tea survives quite nicely. I am not counting myself in that handful of people either. I plan to drink up or wreck mine. Anything left will be placed next to my urn in an unmarked location.

Despite all that, Social Media will break into all-out war over Factory vs. Boutique.

More than a few grumblings and rumblings are poking themselves into my blog comment section lately, and louder still around the forums. Right now, Factory is winning. I don’t know if factory tea is really and truly better or if this reflects a desire for aged tea, and we just don’t have any aged house tea from small boutique producers. I was surprised last year at a tea tasting when alongside some truly fine new teas, the group vote overwhelmingly chose an aged factory tea as the best one served that day. I do not know if this was simply a preference for aged tea over fresh. But the new teas were far and away super premium leaf, unspoiled by poor processing and yet most folks wanted the grungy old cake that had no real depth of character except for the fact that it was fifteen years old.

So in lacking other aged alternatives people buy older factory teas, paying huge mortgage-sized sums in a few cases, putting up with very wet storage and retired smoke. On some level, the flavors in older factory teas are what people are accustomed to. On the other hand, some older teas do pack a punch and I respect the stomach enough to know that aged teas are better to drink. I hope that we don’t always need to settle for dusty old brick simply because it’s aged, or pay out the child’s college fund merely to drink decent aged tea.

I also hope that as people get more heated in debates over tea preferences, we remember to respect the drink of our fellow men and women. In the remains of a long day we all need our tea, and punching someone’s enjoyment steals peace from the tea table. Disrupting the tea table is the bigger faux pas, and a huge rudeness in the end. The reality is in a moment of thirst we all will gladly drink that dusty old brick if it’s the only thing we have rather than a jasmine oolong, though I suspect many of us might quaff the oolong too. After all nobody is going back to coffee.
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To wit, the “Taobao Tea Melee.”

Tea heads are not the only ones duking it out. I rejoiced to see this headline in translation on puer.cn. I envision Taobao store owners engaging in hand to hand combat with girls in candy colored swimsuits walking around with numbered placards for each round, and clowns flinging puerh discs like Frisbees to eager outstretched hands. It’s about time puerh tea gets more fun because really the whole scene is far too serious.

Actually, the article is referring to the quick buck made by Taobao sellers of fake old tea, mostly “wet warehouse” designed to jump-age the tea artificially. The author points out that people are fooled once, maybe twice, but eventually customers catch on to the game. He advocates for “small profit” tea selling of the genuine brand. I like that, but it’s a pipe dream. What I really glean from these articles and around the net is a continuing down trend of highly wet stored tea in the consumer palate. A bit of humidity is good for buyers in the west, but more than 3-5 years humid storage is a risky buy, whether on Taobao or anywhere else. Stick to dry unless you are certain you like overcooked tea.

Yunnan Sourcing will make a Jinggu cake.

In a tea world of such contention and climate change, some things in the puerh tea world are reassuringly reliable. As my post here goes to press, Yunnan Sourcing has announced they will be rolling out a new website format in the next few weeks. Apparently the old site is straining under an antiquated architecture. I glanced at the new site, and the look is quite different. I am sure the new site will be serviceable, but I will miss the reassuring feeling of tea shopping with the gold and red colors of the old site. I want to thank Scott Wilson for giving us so many wonderful years with the former site, and I look forward to testing the new one.

Well, now you have my predictions. Do you have any predictions for this year?







8 comments:

  1. > we have an opening in the western puerh market for Florida homesteaders to rent a warehouse and start charging for long distance storage.

    I have sometimes wondered if I should try this.

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  2. As for factory vs gushu...a couple of things

    First of all, factory teas that are genuinely good don't normally cost less than most gushu. In general, much of the factory tea biz is good in the sense that good enough is so prevalent and the customer usually have a tough time understanding what is truly worth paying for. Very much in the sense that so many people buy "dayuling", "dahongpao", they buy '90s 8582, 7572, 8653, and so on. Generally, they won't be awful teas, and plenty will be pretty good. However, you'll be paying a pretty penny for pretty good. Well stored example of these teas, particularly the 80's tea with that great material can be ridiculously priced, and you have to know who to buy from as well.

    The other thing is that there have been these recurrent battles about factory teas vs gushu, largely because new people flow into the hobby, and it takes awhile to figure out for yourself why something is good. And then there is the more traditionalist wing that is used to a very specific taste and feel. Eventually, gushu wins (the real stuff)--until the next round, that is... I don't give a *bleep*, though. Take Changtai 2nd Memorial. If you put that against same year Dayi and Xiaguan, etc, sure you can get some discussion over whether factory tea is better than gushu, and it'd be pretty honest in my eyes. Putting the '06 XZH Youle against *any* factory tea should have that tea not just win, but blow out the '06 factory tea more than half the time. I can examine the YQH 666, and I do know what older attempts at this style of tea comes to, and I can be *very* confident that in about five to seven years, it should outperform *any* factory tea made after '03. There are concessions needed around tastes and moods, but gushu will win, provided we are talking about reasonably gushu stuff.

    If we want to compare much younger gushu vs a genuinely good example of factory older than say about 15-17 year, so...'90s tea--well, are we really talking about apples vs apples? I'd be interested in great aged tea, but I'm also not interested in paying the prices for great aged tea--and I'm almost certain not likely to think of the 2003 Changtai Brown Characters as great aged tea, for example. I pretty much know what Changtai likes to do, and their best teas tend to be the things other people custom orders. I've had the 2002 7542 208 and I own the '01 Red Dayi Simplified Characters, and I think those teas are really good that needs more time. However, the price! Remember when white2tea wanted to sell that 7542 for $1k? Or that '90s LiMing? Heck no! There are amazing gushu teas I know I should buy for that much money!

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    1. Excellent stuff here, well spoken. There is the more specific point here that Gushu wins, regardless of who produces it, and more generally that factories do produce Gushu cakes too. Which suggests that factory vs boutique is rather vague, and a much more nuanced response to this tired old discussion. Yet, as you point out we have until the next round, so be ready send out the swimsuits girls. Thanks for reading and for your comment,

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    2. I still think there are some 'Special' factory productions out there. I know Dayi and HaiWan do source some good material and also add in already aged material in some of their lines. It tends to give the tea an older feel from what it actually is.

      I agree on the Gushu win but how long are we going to be able to afford the real stuff?

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  3. My predictions for 2017...

    * "Beenghole" to be included in the OED.
    * A posse of swivel-eyed puritans will become aware of the fact that many people **cough** "enjoy" __winkygrin__ Pu-erh far too much, and will begin to badger the authorities for a ban and prison time for "dealers" and "users".
    * IKEA to become aware of the untapped potential of the teaware market, and subsequently introduce the "Stöpkanna" gong-fu line, c/w a range of affordable 50g mini-beengs that you have to press yourself from a flat-packed envelope of mao-cha.

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    1. Yes, the NPR article this week is not helping matters. Let's hope they go away ;D

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  4. Please forgive me if my rumblings and grumblings has rustled your bustle:)
    1) I predict my tea will age gracefully.
    2) A decent tea shop will open up by me.
    3) Florida will become new Pu-erh mecca of storage.
    4) I will buy more tea.
    5) Science will out this religion of tea.

    -Deven

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    1. My bustle can get down with this list of predictions,

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