; Cwyn's Death By Tea: December 2019 ;

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

Puerh Trends: how did we fare in 2019?

Earlier this year I posted a topic called "Puerh Trends We Need to Thrive in 2019." This post exceeded the view count of all my other posts this year by far, and continues to show as one of my top ten posts every week. I am not certain where all this traffic comes from, are puerh drinkers reading this post, or maybe vendors looking for information? Is Google showing this post someplace? I have no idea. But given the amount of attention, I should at least revisit a few of the statements I made as guesses for the year and discuss how the year turned out.

What we need: more $100 and under options.

What we will get: more tiny tongs.

Given the recent frenzy for white2tea's Snoozefest on Black Friday, a sell-out within hours, it seems to me price is as much a factor as tea quality, if not more so. Getting our fix for the least amount of money possible might outweigh saving for a special production. In puerh discussions I see price discussed more often than the specific production. In other words, people ask questions and advice about buying a tea attractive because of the price, rather than because of traits of the specific tea. The identity of the tea might be called letter U, but U is not as important as the cost of U. This sort of observation can lead to a preferences survey and subsequent factor analysis and I'd bet my boots that price is the number one factor to emerge from a potential preferences survey. Here I think the $100 is just a random number I pulled out of my arse and just represents what (gasp) is a low price for puerh these days. This price business is issue number one.

Number two here is whether or not people bought tiny amounts of tea. Based on my observations of social media, this year I saw far more photos of tiny puerh balls and discs containing 10g or less of tea, that is, a single serving of tea. These small puerh servings are not new to market, but they are usually marketed as a convenience item. I wonder though if people are buying these not just as a convenience to storage and drinking, but because they don't want to pay for the full size tea. Again, is price the issue rather than the size?

What we need: more semi-aged teas in vendor shops.

What we will get: more buyer-led group buys.

I am not sure how well this call-out turned out in 2019, personally I don't feel we saw more semi-aged teas offered by vendors this past year. Recently I noticed more white label teas on Yunnan Sourcing. I wonder whether buyers are attracted to the idea of white label teas. Personally some of the best teas I own are white label teas, teas that have little to no provenance but are good or even excellent drinkers. These teas have no collector value, as such, but might generate a temporary word of mouth. I haven't read anything about Yunnan Sourcing's white label teas. But I applaud such options if price is really the main factor driving purchase decisions these days.

At the same time, the group-led buys focused on tea auctions such as those on Facebook or for Taobao buys seem more about getting semi-aged tea again, for the best price, with quality quite variable. Facebook auctions do seem more production-focused than Taobao, on Taiwan productions by reputation with little information on storage but at least the production matters as much as the price. Whereas Taobao is the perennial search for a diamond in the rough with a success rate low enough to discourage the activity for most people after a few tries. 

What we need: teas with body feels.

What we will get: weed in tea, teas with body feels.

This actually happened, I saw a few tea vendors in Portland offering CBD-laced tea. Not quite the same as weed since CBD is not THC, we are getting close to pot tea meaning more than the teapot. My state is not weed-legal so I don't have access to even CBD tea although I can get CBD tinctures. I am not necessarily tempted to add CBD to my tea. I am not sure body feel is really all that important to puerh drinkers even we really should be drinking with our bodies, the concept seemed less important than price was this year. 

What we need: premium shou.

What we will get: premium shou.

Yeah. More people are drinking shou and calling it puerh. Did you notice this in general social media as I did? Shou is all over and I see people posting about shou puerh and I can tell they don't know the difference between cooked and raw, or that sheng even exists. Shou is puerh, and puerh is shou. Shou puerh hit mainstream big time this year...just as a an example, check out Peet's Coffee because yes, they are selling shou puerh as puerh. 

I also noticed western vendors offering even more shou productions, possibly as a response to yet higher prices for raw maocha. Are puerh drinkers drinking more shou this past year? If they ordered more shou from western vendors, this means paying a premium which sort of shoots beyond the price factor theory, because those of us around the block awhile are probably more likely to pick up much less expensive shou from a Chinese factory label than from a western label. 

What we need: affordable sheng.

What we will get: white tea and red tea.

This is 100% true, and add in oolong and other types of tea as well. Here I do think the higher prices for maocha in 2019 led to vendors taking some less expensive maocha and turning out other types of tea to pad the catalog. Or, to put it more nicely, perhaps a puerh vendor turned more general tea vendor. 

The question is whether buyers followed. Did you pick up red tea, white tea or oolong from a puerh vendor this year? I don't count teas like Liu Bao since these are also post-fermented and more likely bought from wholesale rather than vendor-produced, since some of these post-fermented teas are made by factories in areas of China other than Yunnan. I wonder whether buyers followed here or as in the past chose to buy other types of tea from vendors who don't specialize in puerh (such as vendors selling tea from India or Taiwan or some such). I buy a little bit here and there from puerh vendors but the bulk of my non-puerh purchases are from vendors who don't specialize in puerh. 

One reason for why I buy elsewhere is that puerh vendor teas cost quite a bit more. Again, if people are buying more non-puerh teas from puerh vendors this shoots the price theory to shreds. If buyers are truly looking for low prices for puerh, why would they buy hongcha and pay far more from the puerh vendor than elsewhere? Or is it about reaching a free shipping threshold? Or is the non-puerh tea bought from puerh vendors overall so much better? 

(I might be overthinking because I'm facing a sad few weeks ahead as I contemplate a tin of Trader Joe's cinnamon red tea for my tea machine, a gift well overdue for drinking up and I must hold my nose on this one.)

Here is another thought, do you consider yourself a puerh head because you buy non-puerh tea from a puerh vendor? Who the hell is a puerh head today? Does the ordinary puerh head spend as much time drinking other types of tea? Another rabbit hole for another day.

What we need: Taetea collector prices to fall.

What we will get: more Taetea special productions.

Well, I don't think Taetea prices fell this year. I did see more people asking about 7542 and what this sort of puerh tastes like. The entry level for puerh now is not through the 7542 anymore. I can safely say that only a specific type of puerh collector is seriously buying up the numbered productions for collector value. I think we can all agree that if the numbered productions have any value in the future, it will be the rare example that survives storage and we won't see many '88 Qing Bings emerging from the worldwide sales of recipe numbers. I think we have put to bed the idea that buying rough numbered recipes is a financial investment for the future. Special productions are where the money is probably at, and like a used car the special productions by and large don't retain value, they lose value after you buy until and unless they sell out or a few decades pass and a nostalgia factor kicks in. 

The only real value in owning a collection now is having bought for less in the past, as Hster recently suggested. Starting up now costs whiskey-level prices rather than ordinary tea-level prices. People starting up now don't know anything about that 2011 Taetea special production and don't care what the "current value" is. They don't know what a 7542 is much less the century production from that year. Those who have collections should stay in holding because you won't find knowledgeable buyers so much as people just wanting a cheap deal. Or maybe people are just buying to drink rather than hold. I think the collector market is not really in the west anyway and we will never develop real nostalgia for productions of recipes beyond a wedding beeng or some such.

Does any of this hit the mark or not? Obviously I'm working off anecdotes because we don't have real hard data about puerh buyer behavior. We know what prices are but not what goes on in people's heads beyond the cheapest deal for the best tea. If I come up with any thoughts for next year, I will certainly try and post another predictions topic just for fun.

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Never Too Soon

I tell myself the question is not how much tea I own, but rather how much I drink. In fact, the first question people ask me when trying to track me down these days (I'm around) is how much tea I am drinking. Oh, I drink plenty. I'm still officially "off" coffee, using my tea brewing machine in the morning to make a cup of whatever. Mostly for my a.m. cuppa I am trying to work my way through a variety of teas that I really should have consumed by now. For example:

This photo of a bag of Korean high mountain balhyocha is by Jeon Jae Yeun and the sticker reads 40g, but the bag is really 40g x 5, or maybe x 6. I have written about this tea before on my blog, as it is quite one of my favorites, imported by Morning Crane Tea. The bag here is about 3 years old at this point, an example of my hoarding as I felt I needed nearly a half kilo, and then proceeded not to drink any of it. Downside to hoarding the tea sits and the bag was not vacuum sealed when I got it.

While this tea is certainly still tasty enough, I notice it developed a malty flavor, somewhat like a Yunnan hongcha, and a slightly sour note. I kept it too long, and I don't mind drinking it now in the a.m. with its light chocolate and rosy sweetness, but a wiser lady than myself might own a vacuum sealer to keep the tea fresh. Even better if I had divvied up the tea into smaller bags before vacuum sealing. My tendencies toward hoarding and/or laziness are probably better suited to puerh.

I also collected a bit of oolong over the past five years and recently dug out this specimen from Taiwan Tea Crafts, a very reputable source for oolong and a frequent holder of sales although I have not ordered anything from there recently.

When did I get this 1999 oolong? Probably about five years ago. I recently brewed up 12g and I can tell the tea got a re-roast, and I'm not entirely sure the tea is 1999, but the color of the dry leaf is a faded brown, and it smells like an old pantry shelf so maybe the date is legit.

Again, the problem here is a bag with no vacuum sealing. I can taste the roast faded to a lovely light touch, but so too the rest of the tea has lost most of whatever other flavors. I should have consumed this tea right after I bought it, not five years later.

The oolong is still a little green but with brown edge.
I am on safer ground with puerh tea, assuming I am keeping my collection in decent condition. One of my recent teas finding its way into my cup is a cake of Bitterleaf Teas' 2016 Mansa, another tea I've written about previously. I own a couple of cakes and now am down to one after oops, drinking up all but this last piece I am somewhat hoarding for another day.

Only one chunk left of this cake.
I wrote a bit about the body feels behind this tea, but what I notice now is the large floral presence which just blossoms in the mouth, a huge flavor burst. We usually think of puerh as a tea that will always improve, but this Mansa might be an example of whether hanging on to teas for the future is always the best idea. I assume that puerh improves over time if something other than this beautiful floral must reside in this tea to emerge later on, and I can only guess whether or not that is true. I have a better idea of highly bitter and smoky puerh teas, that something more develops, but my Mansa tea is going to lose its best floral qualities due to normal aging, and I am not sure it has anything else to develop. Maybe it does, but really I just don't know.

What I do know is the tea is so good now, and enough people probably own one of Bitterleaf's Mansa cakes to form some collective idea of whether we should drink this now or hang on to it, hoping for more. I own maybe one more of the 2016 shown here, and also one of the 2017 which I did not like as much but I have not tried it recently. The 2016 though is really an excellent tea and rivals the far more expensive ChenYuanHao teas of the same year.

With so many unknowns with aging puerh tea, I can say that it is never too soon to dig into my collection and drink a tea and depending upon the tea it can indeed get too late. Puerh is more forgiving than, say, the Korean balyhocha in terms of sitting a couple of years. Had the TTC oolong received a vacuum sealing, it might be good almost indefinitely. Many puerh teas are undrinkable young, and speak for themselves that more aging is needed. But I think this Mansa is probably at its best now, and risks fading in the future, and perhaps drinking up highly floral teas sooner rather than later is a good idea.