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Sunday, June 25, 2017

How can I afford this hobby? Puerh teas on a budget.


The most common question I get as a puerh tea writer is “did you really drink that?” The answer is, yes I did. The second most common question I get as a tea writer is “how can I afford to buy good puerh tea?” Mostly this second question comes from young people who are in some stage of schooling. These are young people of intelligence, sensibility and very good tea aesthetics who quickly realize their taste buds have outgrown their wallet. These same qualities apply to people who are older and perhaps have young children, a potential spouse or goals like buying a house that preclude spending lots of money on tea. They realize the truth of tea drinking, which is that once you start, your taste develops and the tea that made you happy last year does not satisfy any longer. It is true that the more you drink tea, the more you start to appreciate better and better tea.

First, a few facts. The people who buy and drink premium and super premium puerh teas are mostly, from what I can tell, over forty years old, many over fifty years old. These people are at the top of their professional earnings, their kids are grown, retirement fully funded, and of course their housing is covered. Sure, there are younger buyers with excellent salaries who might buy premium tea. But many younger people I know with good salaries are sensible, and they would rather put their money into that house fund, or pay off student loans or start a retirement savings instead of sinking that salary into super expensive tea. They don’t need to drink super premium tea because very tasty and cheaper alternatives are available.

Next fact: if you are a young person, time is mostly on your side. You can buy a very inexpensive factory tea now and hope to arrive at the day when that tea ages out. Not all factory teas are bad and anyone who says they are bad isn’t holding old tea. Young people can play the long game with puerh tea, and should.

A third fact: puerh tea isn’t a beverage you need to drink every day. If you are a young person, a good session once or twice a week is not only realistic, but better for the health. Other days of the week may consist of black/red tea, oolong and herbal tonic teas. When children are in your future, you need a varied diet to keep in good shape to bear and subsequently chase after those young children when they run into the street. I was in top physical condition when I had my son, and I am exhausted now. In any case, even if your stomach is all you need to care for, then all the more reason to drink a variety of teas and keep your puerh sessions for the weekend. In this way, if you can only afford a little fine tea, drink it on your days off when you have time to appreciate it, as opposed to running off to work.

The good news is that by drinking puerh once a week, at 5g a session, a single 250g cake will mostly get you through a year. A single 357g beeng will last even longer. A sensible buying strategy is one factory cake a year to put away for the long term, and then one reasonably priced drinker tea for the current year. Most puerh vendors carry long haul puerh teas, as well as decent drinker teas.

For long haul teas, look for pungent and highly bitter teas such as 7542 recipe teas, or teas that tell you in the description that they are bitter or meant for aging. For drinker teas, expect to spend a little more. If new, green puerh is not to your liking, then look for semi-aged tea or traditionally stored wetter tea. Even better, look for a decent drinker in the $20-50 range and spend another $20-40 on black teas or darker oolong teas.

You know what? There is nothing wrong with tea bags. Yeah, yeah factory fannings and all that, but people all over the world drink them every day. I drink tea bags too. I start my day with a tea bag and milk because I need to swallow harsh pills. Why should I waste good tea washing down meds when I can save that good tea for later, more pleasant hours of the day? Those pills affect the palate at the back of my mouth and in my stomach too for some hours. I want to get rid of those pills digestively, and save my palate for teas that deserve my aesthetic senses.

Don’t tell me you can’t afford tea bags, because anyone with a SNAP card can buy tea bags at the grocery store and look better at the checkout than the people buying sugared soda, about whom the newspapers are always complaining. Most tea bags in my opinion are fine, just never buy Uncle Lee’s at Walmart or anywhere else. Even better, most groceries carry gunpowder tea for about $5 a box if you need a step up. Nothing wrong with English Breakfast bags too. Student life is about living on a budget and let's face it, tea is something to skimp on now to build more money for later.

The $50 challenge.

People still complain about tea prices even when they can afford to buy. It's always fashionable to rant about the prices of tea and this is true every year. Really, to fit in well with tea social circles, developing a rant-type of vocabulary is a necessity. A rant on tea prices will instantly draw an audience. "If Bingdao isn't bad enough already to acquire, now they are starting in on Mengku. What on earth will be next?" Add some exasperation in your tone. Everyone will nod in agreement and add their favorite epithet before getting down the real business of what to buy. You will go home feeling completely justified in paying less even if your wallet is the reality.

I will look at my favorite puerh vendors and see what I can get for about $50 that will make me happy. Keep in mind I will buy tea bags during the year too.

Yunnan Sourcing

2012 Impression Raw Tea $29, or $26.10 on sale now (long haul tea).

2012 Silver Needle (processed as puerh, not as silver needle white) $11, or $9.90 on sale now.

Or any of the Wuyi oolong teas $7-11.


Honestly, if I have only $30 I can make do with the 2002 HLH and Drunk on Red. Next semester I can buy a long haul tea and another black tea. I am not forgetting YS also sends a sample in the box. I can look at Yunnan Sourcing all day long coming up with $50 combinations that are truly enticing for me.

White2Tea

2016 Prolaxicorvatin $32 (long haul tea)

2016 Daily Drinker $19

Don’t have $50 to spend plus shipping? Then I’d buy the 2017 Nightlife white tea for $35 and call it a day. Remember you get a nice sample too in your box.

Chawangshop

Take your pick.

2005 Nannuoshan TF Menghai Raw $39 (long term)

2008 Yong Pin Hao Yiwu Zhen Shan Spring Raw brick $25

2012 Xiaguan FT Flame Mushroom Raw $14 (long term)

2010 Wuzhou TF Large Leaves 05307 Liubao 1000g $30. That’s right, impress your roommates with 1 kilo drinker tea, buy this and the Mushroom and you’ve spent only $44! Seven years of age on this Liubao, air it out and should be good. Won’t need tea bags. Wash out a used large popcorn tin to keep the tea dry and protected.

2016 Chawangshop Hekai $38 (my personal favorite, but for older people who need what it does.)

I can shop at Chawangshop all night long looking for $50 combos. What I want is the $50 Manzhuan cha gao paste. Yes. I do.

Bitterleaf Teas

2016 Year of the Monkey Spring Mengku Raw 357g $28.50 (long haul)

2016 Fall Maocha Party Mix Tasting Set $19 (for the dorm)

Beautiful Taiwan Teas

This US-based shop is a good choice if you want to save on shipping.

2010 Mengku Raw 357g $29 (long haul)


Also pick up a sample of one of their 1990s aged puerh teas, $5-10 each.

Berylleb King Tea, eBay

I’m not a snob. On Berylleb, just expect what you pay is going to be the quality.

2013 Xiaguan Gold ribbon Raw $11.99 with free shipping (long haul). You can’t kill this tea. I’ve tried.

2014 Gu Se Dr. Pu’er Bulang Ancient Tree Ripe $29.99. Ignore the description. But Dr. Pu’er makes an all right daily drinker fully fermented shou.

Conclusion

During your student years is a great time to build a palate drinking budget teas and saving money for the wonderful adventures you plan to have in your life after school. Along the way you can pick up teas for storage. You probably noticed I recommended very bitter long haul teas. These teas can survive in a plastic bag in your dorm for five years with no problem. Think of it as a dowry for the future.

When you get to better housing, you can think about buying a crock. Or, you can keep your eyes open for broken mini fridges while in college that you can get for free to start a pumidor later. Just take that fridge back to your parents’ garage and promise them you will pick it up. No doubt any parent will feel proud at their child for making concrete plans to settle down. 



11 comments:

  1. Few comments:
    2002 Hai Lang Hao is 100 gram only, so you need more than one beeng - best is to compare per gram prices
    You did not count the shipping prices, which may be quite high especially when buying one or two cakes (I mean, it's different to pay $30 on shipping of items worth $30 than on shipping of items worth $300)
    5 grams per sesions makes a weak tea unless you are using really small teapots

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    1. You should go with the eBay option then.

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  2. Great article and so true I've really changed my drinking habits the last 8 years it is all about the price in grams now instead of the total price of a tea in a shop. I'm not a student anymore and my income varies a lot so it makes sense for me to invest a bit of cash in tea to have some good tea in the future.

    So I'm considering the fridge plan somewhere down the line but would it be wise to store Pu Sheng and some Fu Zhuan Hei Cha together? Now I just need to figure out what I'm spending the cash on because I would also like to try age some oolong.

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    1. I store my premium sheng puerh teas together, and Shou teas apart. Then I have a set of drawers that contain heicha teas along with some not very premium sheng bricks and tuos.

      It's great to focus on building a collection. My tea buying these days is entirely about the tea. Price is not really a factor. If I want the tea, I will pay the price.

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  3. Keep sheng and shou apart for sure. Different processes entirely. I also echo these vendors as having some good affordable stuff. You also listed my trusted eBay seller as well. They do good work.

    Great read again Ms Cwyn.

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  4. Bitterleaf's year of the Monkey you listed is out of stock :(

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    1. I just checked their site and it says In Stock...?

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    2. Oops my bad I guessvIbwas looking at the Yiwu. That's what I get for having multiple tabs open.

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    3. Multi view puerh shopping, nice! :)

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  5. Cwyn,

    This is a great article in today's puerh drinking climate because it offers an opinion different than we normally hear. All too often I see written "drink your good teas", mulling about high prices, critiques on hundred dollars cakes or others who talk of dumping their puerh leaves out first infusion if the tea is not to their high standard.

    That's not what drinking puerh is all about. To me great enjoyment can be had with almost any puerh because each tea is its own regardless of its price.

    Thanks for this discussion. We puerh drinkers can really loose sight of this simple enjoyment.

    Peace

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    1. Hi Matt, as always, I appreciate it that you stopped by and left a hello.

      BTW, some of the stuff I write is a kind of comment on things that I hear just as you do. For example, my remarks on young people not drinking puerh every day are partly a budget comment and partly poking at the so-called "millenial" oft-reported "attitude" of "I don't want to be caffeine addicted," presumably like their Starbucks-addled parents. Though I think some readers mistook that for physical advice. ;)

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