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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.





4 comments:

  1. Cwyn,

    I think you are absolutely right that more and more people are buying based almost solely on price. This is the first time I’ve heard anyone say that- it’s so true but so sad as well. You know as well as anyone that a cheap cake can be much better than an expensive one and vice versa. So this approach is really flawed.

    I think this is turning into the new reality because the cost is going up and people don’t want to put their hard earned money into sampling and would rather blind cake something especially if it’s limited or deemed special.

    The other big factor influencing the trend to buy solely on the price is that vendors have blinded the informed consumer to important details such as age, area, Autumn or spring, terrace or gushu, what exactly is in a blend, etc.

    This leaves the consumer to base their purchasing judgement to the only thing that is real and tangible which is price and hijacks them to marketing ploys and brand identification.

    Sad.

    Peace

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    Replies
    1. Some good points here. I agree that lacking details about the tea does rather force the consumer to consider price, because what else is there, lacking any word of mouth?

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  2. Lots of stuff to ponder. More tea being processed like puerh makes me wonder how those cakes will turn out. Will they age like puerh, only time will tell.
    Sheng is shou and shou is sheng. Seeing a lot of that too.
    DaYi, yep way overpriced this year and I will stick to older stuff with much better pricing.
    Hype and white labels, I agree some of the cheaper stuff is better than the hyped productions of today.

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  3. I’m sitting here in the new year contemplating your blog and the responses and wondering what all this will have on the growth of new Pu’erh drinkers. Will the unaffordable options drive them away to other teas or to what you have noted above as pu’erh becoming synonymous ( with some) shou? I wish I knew but I suspect that this might be true. In any case the western scene will not drive any aspects of the market regardless of what happens. As time goes on, I am becoming more like Hobbes and disappearing into my stash anyway....

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