; Cwyn's Death By Tea: Puerh Trends in 2020: Rise of the Zerg ;

Thursday, January 2, 2020

Puerh Trends in 2020: Rise of the Zerg

A whole new decade feels like the last century fades farther and farther away. Trends now draw less on the past and more on looking ahead. Climate change continues to affect puerh tea harvest, but up to now dry and cold weather affect the supply of high end tea more than the output of factory tea. Whether climate increasingly affects puerh tea harvests is a factor we drinkers need to watch, but I don't think buying trends are impacted this year by climate fears as much as other issues.

Responsible/Conscious buying

This is probably the biggest trend which I feel will impact puerh buying this year. Aside from people who use puerh as a dietary component, the recreational user is more conscious of purchasing decisions. Responsible buying is a trendy concept in consumer spending in general, but we have a lot of reasons why this idea might hit puerh buyers this year.

How Much is Enough? Blogger Mattcha refers to this in his most recent post. Collecting for the sake of owning kicks in once you have enough to drink and beyond. Fear of Missing Out (FOMO) plays into buying, to some extent, as does the thought of buying what you feel you don't have already. But once you find your way out of FOMO and your collection feels full, continuing to buy feels less responsible.

Storage. Blogger Wilson counsels against the issue of storage and questions whether buyers have what it takes to store puerh successfully. He also questions whether the "newer" style of green puerh will age as traditional factory teas do. He suggests buying 5-8 year old tea, and to me this seems like sensible advice. Storage requires space. Whether you have this kind of space currently, or your partner objects to space given over to tea, storing tea is going to require you to give decades of space and costs. When Responsible conscious buying kicks in, storage emerges as a big reason to halt late night shopping cart purchases.

Wilson's post on storage directly hits at FOMO by suggesting that buyers can pick up some tea in years 5-8 with a good start to storage, so why hurry? While prices do rise on teas with age, money saved on storage costs and space saved might seem worth paying a bit extra for tea a little bit older. I have also noticed that western buying of drinker quality tea from each other in years 5-8 generally is well under retail, unless we are talking about premium or collector value tea. Picking up tea from someone getting rid of stash may actually save money over buying from a vendor. All this feels like responsible buying, and also is a way to combat the fear of missing out because you know that you can find tea easily with a few years of age on it.

Money Toward Other Goals. This is rather self-explanatory and certainly is a factor every year. Especially if you have enough tea.

In general, consumers question whether they really need a purchase and this year I feel people are looking for reasons to buy when faced with many reasons not to. Other factors may play into conscious buying as well.

Rise of the Zerg, the Experiential Casual

Zerg is a gaming term referring to a group of people, maybe noobs, definitely in large numbers, who pursue a single-minded goal, while perhaps forgoing other possible objectives. I think puerh is more mainstream every year, and I expect to see more casuals buying puerh with the idea of having a new experience. This is not the type of person who will buy tongs upon tongs, but who will buy sample bags. The Zerg is a responsible, conscious buyer, of course, who wants to experience puerh and who feels the sample bag is a perfect way to experience a tea. The idea here is a short term experience rather than the long-term-commitment-buying we puerh collectors are well into.

The Zerg will feel they have completely owned the puerh experience through the sample bag without requiring more. This is a difficult idea to counter because the Zerg is convinced they have had a full experience already, as much as the person who bought the full tong. What blogger James at Teadb refers to as stamp collecting is sidestepped by the Zerg who will want to know exactly how they are missing out by not owning and drinking an entire tong when their sample bag suffices. After all, oolong is mostly a small bag experience. But more to the point, one cannot tell someone their taste is less than complete when tea drinking is an aesthetic relative to the individual and no real objective data on tongue experience exists to say otherwise, except as the personal anecdote everyone has. The blogger has less value as an aesthete than as a source of recommending a possible experience.

People decide what they know aesthetically, experience cannot be taught and I'm not sure people want to be "mentored" in tea tasting these days. The Zerg wants to find their own experience, free from the overt influence of others while still requiring the participation of others for recommendations. The Zerg may also have friends reinforcing the new tea experience, making it harder still to argue a casual tasting is anything less than knowledge.

The Zerg is a challenge for the vendor and the blogger. Aside from making more sample bags, I think vendors will need to find reasons why a specific tea is a unique experience worth having to convince the conscious newbie to at least try the tea, as well as convince the already-full collector to buy more. Puerh bloggers tend to go for depth rather than breadth of tea coverage, but this is a good reason more people might start blogging rather than current bloggers rushing to keep up. The Zerg will casually ask "what shall I buy?" and someone needs to have recommendations for that sample bag. But, beyond the recommendation the Zerg is out for the short term experience and I expect to see more and more Zergs because they flow in numbers. Good luck telling them their experience is any less complete than yours.

Puerh Cocktails

Tea is in everything lately, and I expect to see more experimenting with serving puerh with other flavors. A bit of puerh tea in a tall glass with ice, a little alcohol, some flavorings and you have a new drink. Gong fu'ers know that puerh doesn't necessarily taste great after sitting a bit, but one doesn't need much to make a drink and other flavors can completely overwhelm the tea anyway.

Additions to Shou

Last year I suggested that we might see weed in tea, and this year I think we will see more than just chen pi in the shou. We already have the traditional additions of rice, ginseng, chrysanthemum and rose petals, but maybe this is the year to add in chocolate and other flavors for the Zerg looking at new experiences in the local coffee bar. Yes, I said "coffee bar."

People Will Throw out the Wrappers

I think saving wrappers is less a trend, we can always find cool new wrappers to buy.

So these are my thoughts for the new year ahead. I will take a look later on in the year and see if any of these develop or if any new trends emerge. All in good fun, of course.


  1. Am I a Zerg?

    As someone whose taste for puerh tea is still evolving, I tend to buy samples, and then if I like it, cakes. The idea of springing for a whole tong of something when I'm still figuring out what I like in puerh seems counterintuitive. There were teas I really liked a year ago, which now seem shallow.

    On the other hand, some teas are sold as a single serving sample or two. I seldom feel I know a tea on first impressions, so this also seems like a poor way to taste tea, especially puerh.

    1. No, I think you’re the opposite of a Zerg who feels a short term experience is complete and won’t hear otherwise.

  2. For what it is worth, tea was often used as part of traditional English punch making, circa Dickens' time.

    Tea has never been much of a part of most traditional cocktails. The emphasis on short, sharp, concentrated flavor profiles in cocktails destroys most tea, even strongly flavored ones.

    Only non-tea infusions can really stand up to booze; hibiscus, mint, etc.

    1. Someone will just think it healthy and chic to add puerh to a cocktail, never mind whether it actually makes sense.

  3. Last month, some on reddit had dissed "boutique shu" after having tasted a few newish custom pressed cakes by Crimson Lotus and a another new outfit I didn't recognize. Never tasted the classics neither.

    I hope millennial zergs don't mistake your post for a boomer tea rant.

  4. Hello hster, you always know how to make me smile. :)

  5. Greatest prediction here is shu infiltrating the coffee bar

  6. I'm more of a Protoss type of buyer anyway

  7. Cwyn,
    Very new to the world of 'CHA'/loose leaf tea, was just beginning to explore Pu Erh - THEN: Stopped in my tracks as I realize the teas I've purchased already were HANDPICKED in China and Taiwan - NOW we have coronavirus. I am concerned but have found no way to get accurate information about this delectable product and the affect or potential of being contaminated by pickers who may have been affected by the virus.
    Can you offer some sources of accurate, factual information on this issue?
    Are you still drinking teas harvested in those areas over the past year?
    What are your thoughts on this subject? Could you offer a blog piece on this??

    1. https://www.teaformeplease.com/can-you-get-coronavirus-from-chinese-tea/