; Cwyn's Death By Tea: The Final Fantasy of Buying Puerh ;

Friday, May 4, 2018

The Final Fantasy of Buying Puerh

This spring we confront our realities with an armored wallet. While the puerh harvest ahead appears bountiful, according to early reports, prices are headed nowhere but up. I have viewed some pre-order price lists which always show a bit of a discount for people willing to fund a vendor’s season in advance. But if you expect to buy even decent drinker quality puerh this year, your wallet is going to hurt.

The final fantasy of a puerh drinker is expressed on tea chats every day: “how can I buy X tea, or something like it, for the same price or less?” He wants whatever sample or cake he tried last year, but the production is sold out or marked up higher. She hopes Shop Y will offer the same tea as last year, at last year’s prices. Everyone wants a clue from somebody on where to buy some miraculous puerh, preferably for nothing. Oh yes I do have this final fantasy and I am certain if I post it on a tea forum asking people what tea to buy and where, I just might get the perfect answer and no one will laugh!

People ask me if I think we are in a puerh bubble. I do not. In 2007-8 puerh prices took a huge tumble, a bit of history everyone knows. Back then people complained about a 357g beeng costing $30. Now those teas sell for over $100 at half the size. Factory teas are not immune. If you want a spring production, even a 7542 recipe pushes the $50 mark, with Taetea special productions over $100 at retail, if you manage to snag them at all.

The difference between 2008 and today is that we have far more people with lots of money willing to pay even higher prices, and we are nowhere near the ceiling yet. This is partly due to the scarcity of very fine tea, but I think mainly the wealth gap between the top and bottom is so much wider. Wealthy people are richer than ever, and they want puerh. For a wealthy person, what is a few extra hundred dollars, or euros, or marks, or yen or yuan? A few extra thousand? Not much of a dent; such a person probably has those extras in cash and three more large bills from the wallet is not a problem.

Recently I watched some Gold Dayi from a licensed shop fly out of the Malaysian web store, in tongs. People who live paycheck to paycheck could buy tea as a treat back in 2008, now these folks are out of the game of collecting price value. People try and take comfort in the idea that maybe their low end teas will turn into something spectacular through time and storage. A miracle is needed for the teas on the low end to turn into future gold. Expecting affordable teas to appreciate hugely in value, we are living in a fantasy or awaiting a storage miracle. The big difference today is a company like Xiaguan will produce many more tuos now than in the past, such that everyone has them. Lots of lower value summer tea around to press into bitter jincha and meet demand on the low end. You can buy a compressed tea anywhere and even these budget options cost more than ten years ago. But the demand is not the same as for much better tea. Old tuos selling for big bucks now are from a time of smaller productions and bigger nostalgia.

I don’t know about you, but I am mostly priced out of the really fine tea. I hear from a few people who really do possess the funds to keep up. But I hear from far more who do not. The truth is wages are not keeping up with food, rent, utilities and all the other things we need to pay for. More of our paychecks go to basics, leaving less disposable income at the worst possible time when we really need more and more money than ever to buy important things like tea.

Sometimes people suggest buying semi-aged tea. I see fewer and fewer older teas available except for very wet stored or ripe. Most of the semi-aged teas you can buy are the low end, not the high end. The really fine teas are not sold at a bargain basement price. They sell for even more than an average new tea. Disposable income is again a problem if you manage to find a collector willing to part with something good, you need the money up front and fast to have a chance.

My blog is not really about tea reviews, never has been. I enjoy writing about new teas when I have some, but I did not get many teas last year and I expect this year is more of the same. I simply cannot afford to buy all the teas anymore that I once could. Buying a vendor’s entire season for $300 or even $500 is a fantasy now. A single tea costs that much, and my income has not kept up. Even the tea ware I bought a few years ago costs so much more. The vendors who need reviews are new to the selling game, and they are the folks who contact bloggers. Established vendors do not need or even want reviews. Most bloggers who review puerh have invested their own money or rely on samples sent in by readers. A lack of reviews also impacts the budget buyer’s struggle to find “word of mouth” before investing the bit of money she has.

Right now my final fantasy is to keep writing until I drop and my son puts a note on the blog that I am gone. I have not lost hope. I still pretend miracle teas costing less than $10 will show up somewhere and end up in my house without selling the house. For young collectors leaving school and getting started, you will need to find a very lucrative career to fund your tea habit, so choose wisely.


  1. Spot on, as always! I find myself drinking a new puerh tea and thinking, "Well, it's good, but is it worth this price?" And as the prices continually increase, it seems harder and harder to judge.

    I got "lucky" in that I bought a lot of tea back in 2008-2009. But I also bought a lot of cheaper end tea, so that puts a lot of my purchases in the "miracle aging" bucket. It'll be another 10 years before I really know what boomed and what busted.

    In the meantime, I've curtailed my purchases to samples, and perhaps buying one new cake. I've turned my eye toward more mid-range items, but as you note, even those are drying up (or, as I've seen with recent checks on places like YS, prices have gone up 2x or 3x from a few years back).

    As a fallback, there still exist out there some solid, old, daily-drinker types that can be had w/o busting the wallet. They may not offer much variation, but as long as they don't hang up the dreaded SOLD OUT, I'll keep hope in those.... (: Thanks as always!

  2. I can think of no better argument for hitting it hard when you can. While good tea may be available, your ability to purchase it may change. Nice article, very thought provoking.

  3. I'd love to be able to deny your words however you are quite right, no extra nice tea for me this year.
    But it's nice to know you'll continue to write.

  4. It is eyewatering, indeed; that said, old tea is looking more and more like a "bargain", with respect to modern cakes, wouldn't you say? Would you rather have a nice, old cake at $400, or a single modern cake with "verified provenance" etc. that sells for the same price? I find I'm coming down on the side of the former these days, and buying more at 10-20 years of age. They don't have sexy wrappers or cool names and backstories, but they taste nice. :)



    1. Gosh, both types of buying are tricky. I am trying to take the perspective of the person who is new to tea buying, and forget that I might have friends, sources etc. that the new person doesn't have. Finding a decent aged tea at any price just on the open market is difficult. As other writers have noted, few accessible vendors focus on semi-aged and aged teas. Not to mention the collection we already have.

      So, here is a question I posed to a few other bloggers: can you imagine starting over today, from nothing? And, if so, what would you buy?