Pu’erh Vendor Guide

Pu’erh is a hot tea. In the past 15 years it has moved beyond its longtime audience in Hong Kong and Taiwan into mainland China, the rest of Asia and more recently the west. With Ebay, Taobao, and the ever-growing worldwide marketplace, options for buying pu’erh online have exponentially increased in the last ten years. Pu’erh is even sold as a dieter’s tea to more “ordinary” consumers in the west. This dynamic marketplace has spawned both monstrous creations as well as very high-quality tea. The specialized vendor scenes tends to be different for pu’erh compared with vendors for other teas, i.e. Taiwanese Oolongs. This guide will attempt to highlight the various options available to the western consumer. This guide disregards any offline options (i.e. Chinese supermarkets).

Note #1: Interestingly, the Russian market for pu’erh is perhaps the largest in the west and is growing at rapid speed!
Note #2: Due to the large size of a pu’erh brick or cake, pretty much all vendors here offer sample sizes (usually 25-30 grams).

White2Tea

White2Tea, Pu’erh Vendor. Source: White2Tea.

The Label Effect

One advantage to being a consumer of pu’erh is the label effect. Other teas like oolong, green or black tea are usually unlabeled when sold to westerners online. This allows disreputable or non-diligent vendors to markup their tea indiscriminately or sell cheaper teas like Alishan as an expensive tea like Da Yu Ling. Pu’erh labels make it easy to avoid drastically overpaying as vendors with huge markups are exposed easily. Simply search for the tea you are considering buying on Taobao and see what the Chinese price is. If it is egregiously overpriced, there is no reason to buy it! Forgeries are another issue and represent a huge problem. Major brands like Dayi have even gone as far as creating an anti-counterfeit sticker with a hologram! The forgery problem makes it important to not only buy from a trustworthy vendor but a competent one, capable of sniffing out fake tea!

Note: Be careful if pu’erh isn’t sold in a labeled form or if the vendor avoids showing you the original wrapper! This should be treated as a potential red flag, especially if it is a big brand.

Fancy Pu'erh Paper

Fancy Pu’erh labels. Source: Dayi T-Mall.


Vendor Type A: The Warehouse (Huge Selection + International)

This is not a very typical vendor for other teas, although they will often sell other teas. This type of vendor is commonplace when it comes to pu’erh. Warehouse-type vendors will usually be based in China frequently in Yunnan. Most have easy access to all the major pu’erh brands in China. Vendors in this category tend to sell large amounts of big factory pu’erh and a far more limited selection of aged pu’erh.

Note: Most aged pu’erh is found outside of Yunnan and mainland China. Usually in Hong Kong, Taiwan, or Malaysia.

Yunnan Sourcing (link)

A longtime vendor based in the pu’erh capital, Kunming, that sells pretty much everything. A truly enormous selection of not only pu’erh but green, black, white, oolong, with a healthy inventory of teaware. Scott (the owner) and Yunnan Sourcing have a very solid track record of customer service and bringing tea to the west for good prices. The cost of cutting out all these middlemen? Slow and somewhat expensive shipping. Both enemies that can be defeated with well-planned out orders! In another middleman cutting maneuver, Scott has begun to press his own pu’erh cakes (~25-40 new cakes/year) which offer great bang for your buck. Storage for nearly all of their cakes is clean, dry Kunming storage. A decent selection of semi-aged cakes but not that much truly aged raw pu’erh. Selection has been heavily reviewed (primarily positive) by both Hobbes and Jakub.

Cha Wang Shop (link)

Also based in Kunming, Cha Wang Shop is a similar vendor to Yunnan Sourcing. The prices are just as good and the selection is almost as large. The only notable omission is Dayi tea (overpriced in the opinion of many). They beat Yunnan Sourcing in other aspects, for instance their large selection of hei cha. The problems of Cha Wang Shop are very similar to Yunnan Sourcing: a lack of aged tea, slow and expensive shipping. Cha Wang Shop also presses their own cakes. Their selection has also been heavily and primarily positively reviewed by Hobbes and especially Jakub.

  • Summed Up: An underrated vendor that offers alot of what Yunnan Sourcing does. Great prices, great teaware, decent selection, slow shipping.

Tuocha Tea (link)

No-nonsense factory tea. Tuocha Tea has been around a while and sells legtimate tea for reasonable prices. A good place to check prices with if you are interested in buying from one of the larger factories!

  • Summed Up: Simple, no-nonsense factory recipes.

JK Teashop (link)

Another Chinese-based vendor with a huge selection. JK Tea Shop is based in Guangzhou, another major Chineese tea market. Their selection is a bit thinner than other vendors in the warehouse category. They do have some unique standouts and a relatively complete selection of all teas. Their Dancong (grown nearby) and Yancha have also earned good reviews.

  • Steepster Reviews
  • Summed Up: A large selection of many teas, more top-brand (Menghai, Xiaguan) focused, Good prices, great teaware, slow(ish) shipping.

Ebay Vendors: Dragon Tea House (link), Berylleb (link), RJ Teahouse (link), Western Yunnan Tea (Ebay, Aliexpress)

Ebay vendors have perhaps the largest selection of all, but it is often very monotone. Ebay vendors aren’t trying as hard to bring out the smaller brands that curators or Yunnan Sourcing/Cha Wang Shop do. Mostly these guys sell Dayi and Xiaguan tea. The “free shipping” that many ebay vendors offer allows you to easily buy in smaller quantities but also implies that the shipping cost has already been included within the item cost, making larger quantity purchases from these vendors cost-ineffective! It should also be noted that Dragon Tea House has recently become exposed as likely sending out fake versions of the 2011 Gold Dayi.

Awazon Tea (link)

Based in Kunming, Awazon is an older vendor with a mix of their own-pressed cakes and larger factory productions. They’ve been around a while so their pressed cakes are a bit older than stuff made by other western-facing vendors.

  • Summed Up: Medium-sized selection, own pressed cakes, reasonable prices.

Taobao (link)

The Chinese ebay. A ridiculous selection of teas, both real and fake. Taobao is the ultimate way to cut out middlemen (vendors) and stock up close to the source. Only the huge shipping cost, Chinese language, and disreputable sellers stand in your way! Be sure to carefully plan and research who you are buying from. Google translate and babelcarp are good tools for navigating.

  • Summed Up: Tricky navigation (both language and generally), great prices. Probably the best option to buy tongs or in bulk.

Yunnan Sourcing's Selection

Yunnan Sourcing, plenty of teas to choose from. Source: Yunnan Sourcing.


Vendor Type B: The Curators (Smaller Selection + International)

This is an eclectic group of vendors based around the world that have a smaller concentrated selection of pu’erh. Most have a diligent selection process making it far more difficult for a tea to find its way onto their website. Curators generally sell very little Dayi or Xiaguan, a stark contrast to some from many ebay vendors. These types of vendors are especially great if you share a similar taste in tea to the curator.

White2Tea (link)

White2Tea perfectly fits the curator archetype. It is ran by blogger-turned vendor TwoDog and is based in Beijing. White2Tea sells a mix of very reasonably priced 0-15 year old raw and ripe pu’erh. TwoDog/White2Tea abide by the admirable philosophy of only selling what he would drink. For a smallish selection, alot of different pu’erh is represented in White2Tea’s selection. There are small amounts of oolong and hei cha to be found here as well (also reasonably priced and well-reviewed). TwoDog has also begun to press a modest, but significant amount of cakes. Well reviewed by Hobbes.

Tea Urchin (link)

Tea Urchin is an international vendor, based in Shanghai. The appeal of Tea Urchin’s selection lies in their gushu, a highly-priced group of teas. It is important to note that Tea Urchin’s pressed gushu is not necessarily overpriced but represents the increasing demand of the Chinese market. Tea Urchin has been in business since 2011 (first cakes pressed in Autumn 2011) and their inventory has steadily increased and expanded to a couple types of oolongs. Basically no aged/ripe pu’erh to speak of, but a very large young pu’erh selection.

  • Steepster Reviews
  • Summed Up: Huge selection of very good quality young pu’erh, clean site. Great for gushu.

Essence of Tea (link)

Formerly known as Nadacha, Essence of Tea is another principally international vendor (based in the UK). Essence of Tea presses their own well-reviewed cakes and also carries a selection of aged pu’erh. Prices are on the high-end of things but quantities are available by the gram and Essence of Tea has a strong reputation for high-end, well-curated products. Their aged pu’erh selection in particular is hard to find in the western world. They also sell good quality Yancha and yixing.

Bana Tea (link)

Bana Tea is a US-based vendor (California) with strong ties to the Hong Kong tea scene, specifically Vesper Chan of Best Tea House. Owned by Linda Louie, a student of Chan’s, Bana Tea’s selection is diverse and well-curated with a number of different pu’erh options, both young gushu and aged teas. Louie’s connections are good and prices are high, reflecting the market. While they don’t have the traditional 25-30gram sample method for every tea, they do sell a couple different sample packs with ~7 teas.

Sample Tea (link)

A unique vendor, based in Malaysia. As their name states, Sample Tea sells samples of 10 grams. Along with Essence of Tea, Sample Tea represents one of the best vendors to buy legitimately aged pu’erh. Their selection is dominated by Menghai with a sprinkle of Xiaguan and other aged teas. Because of the high price of aged Menghai productions, Sample Tea is a great way to purchase them in an affordable way. They also sell older yixing teapots. Well reviewed by Jakub.

  • Summed Up: Great place to find aged Menghai and Xiaguan, high(ish) prices, good yixing.

Hou de Asian (link)

A classic vendor with close ties to Taiwan (they’re Texas-based) whose pu’erh selection has dwindled in recent years. Hou de Asian used to be one of the one of the only options to find gushu, something that has changed for the better. The selection remains reasonbly priced and decent. Their pu’erh primarily comes from popular Taiwanese producers (Xizhihao, Chen Guang He-Tang). Nice, diverse selection of young and aged pu’erh.

  • Steepster Reviews
  • Summed Up: Semi-aged tea from principally Taiwanese producers, a few aged pu’erh, reasonable prices.

Life in a Teacup (link)

Similar to their selection of Yancha, Life in a Teacup is all over the place with their pu’erh. A mix of young and old pu’erh, with varying quantities for purchase. Be sure to read their descriptions as they’re necessary to navigate through their teas.

  • Steepster Reviews
  • Summed Up: Medium-sized selection of young and aged big-factory productions, reasonable prices.

China Cha Dao (link)

Originally an ebay vendor and now based in Guangdong, China Cha Dao has become Douji’s official western-facing store. While they do sell other teas and some teaware, Douji makes up the bulk of their selection. Douji’s more recent offerings veer towards the high-end these days. Some of their older (less expensive) offerings have been reviewed by Hobbes.

  • Summed Up: Primarily Douji, high prices, free shipping, young raw and ripe primarily.

Best Tea House (link)

The Vancouver branch of the famous Hong Kong tea house. Their tea veers towards the extreme high-end although there are also some more affordable cakes ($150-200). Their owner (Vesper Chan) is famous for dry storing tea. Much of their tea follows suit. It is also notable that some US-based vendors are disciples of some sort of Chan (Bana).

  • Summed Up: High prices, premium tea,dry storage, lots of aged tea.

Sun Sing (link)

A Hong Kong based vendor. Good selection of aged teas. Their tea will be a bit wetter than most, largely due to being based in Hong Kong. Good selection of aged tea (includes tea from the first half of the 20th century!). Aged tea is priced according to the market (it is pricy!). The site is in HKD.

  • Summed Up: High prices, good selection of aged tea, comparatively wetter storage.

Jalam Tea (link)

A relatively new venture started by explorer Jeff Fuchs. Mainly mini-cakes of raw pu’erh. The teas are priced higher than the market, but have earned decent reviews.

  • Summed Up: High prices, small selection, decent quality.

Pure Pu’er (link)

Medium-sized selection of higher-end tea. They’ve been around a while and their prices started out comparatively high but have eased closer to the market mean.

  • Summed Up: Medium-high prices, mainly raw pu’erh, small amount of aged and ripe pu’erh.

Tea Classico (link)

A newish vendor, with a somewhat unique pu’erh selection. Most of their selection is towards the medium-high end. Prices seem relatively inline with the market.

  • Summed Up: Some aged tea, medium-high end selection.

Royal Pu’er (link)

Tea Spring’s pu’erh site. Young pu’erh and ripe pu’erh. Prices don’t compare very well with some of the warehouse vendors.

  • Summed Up: Young raw pu’erh, ripe pu’erh, so/so prices.

Generation Tea (link)

Sells fake old tea. Recommended against. Also beware of their tea on Amazon.

Phoenix Collection (link)

This refers to the teashop by David Lee Hoffman, not the Seattle area tea shop. Hoffman is somewhat famous, being used as the subject matter for All in this Tea. His pu’erh has stirred up alot of controversy.

White2Tea

White2Tea, a smaller, curated selection. Source: White2Tea.


The Others: Domestic/Regional Type Vendors

These are vendors that are also worth checking out especially if you are purchasing from the areas they are based. Their selection is very similar to vendors found above. Prices are generally a bit higher for these vendors as they have already shipped their stock into the western hemisphere. This is compensated for with cheaper, faster shipping.

Note: Yunnan Sourcing’s US-based site would also fit neatly into this category.

Mandala Tea (link)

Minnesota-based steepster darling with fast domestic shipping (flat $5 shipping fee).  Their selection is fairly well-curated, skewing towards high-quality ripe pu’erh with alot of Menghai. Mandala also produces their own pu’erh, but in a very modest way. Most of their cakes are mini 100 gram cakes (both raw and ripe) made from decent quality single-origin material.

  • Steepster Reviews
  • Summed Up: Good ripe pu’erh selection. reasonable prices, US shipping.

Jas-etea (link)

Similar selection to many of the warehouse-type vendors i.e. Yunnan Sourcing and JK Teashop. Prices are reasonable. Look here if you want some domestically shipped factory pu’erh.

Pu’erh Shop (link)

A large selection, with mainly young/semi-aged stuff from big factories. It should also be noted that Pu’erh Shop has been embroiled in controversy concerning the authenticity with some of its selection. Despite this, Pu’erh Shop’s selection of teas is huge and their prices are good. One other annoying flaw is the lack of sample sizes for many of their teas. Based in Michigan. Pu’erh Shop also presses their own cakes which have earned mixed reviews.

Chinese Tea Shop (link)

Based in Vancouver BC, Chinese Tea Shop  has an eclectic selection of aged pu’erh as well as some hei cha. The quality and age of their older pu’erh has been called into question, but not to the level of scrutiny that Pu’erh Shop has.

  • Steepster Reviews
  • Summed Up: Good older pu’erh selection, some questions on age and authenticity.

Pu-erh.sk (link), Europe

Based in Slovakia, Pu’erh.sk has begun to gain some positive reviews from popular European-based bloggers, Hobbes and Jakub. Has a medium-sized collection of young raw pu’erh productions, semi-aged raw pu’erh, and oolong.

  • Summed Up: Decent quality, in-line with market prices, ships from Slovakia.

Bannacha (link), Endora (link), The-Puer.com (link), France/Europe

French-based pu’erh vendors. Endora sells some older teas.

Others

Vendors that primarily sell other tea but also dabble in pu’erh enough to have interesting stuff to offer.

Teamasters (link)

Primarily Taiwanese oolong vendor with some aged pu’erh.

Teavivre (link)

Small amounts of ripe and raw, mainly from Fengqing. Reasonable prices.

Far Wenwa (link)

A personal stash of a pu’erh drinker. Ships stateside.

The Future

Pu’erh has been a rising trend in China, Russia, and the rest of the west in the past two decades. There is a strong, consistent wave of new vendors that have encouragingly begun to press their own cakes. Big factory Pu’erh is well-plabeled and packaged making it an ideal target for purchase on Taobao (especially for those with the intent of aging). With the new world of gushu and a speculative, wild market it is difficult to tell what the vendor landscape will be in the future.

Vendor Selection Curated? Based? High/Low-end? Ripe Tea Young Plantation Presses? Aged Tea? Teaware
Yunnan Sourcing Huge No CN, global audience. Low-High Yes Yes Yes Minimal Yes
Cha Wang Shop Huge No CN, global audience. Low-Medium Yes Yes Yes Minimal Yes
Tuocha Tea Medium No CN, global audience. Low Yes Yes No No No
JK Teashop Medium No CN, global audience. Low-Medium Yes Yes No Minimal Yes
Dragon Tea House (ebay) Huge No CN, global audience. Low-Medium Yes Yes No Minimal Yes
Berylleb (ebay) Huge No CN, global audience. Low-Medium Yes Yes No Minimal Yes
Taobao The Biggest No CN, CN audience. Low-Medium Yes Yes No Minimal Yes
White2Tea Small Yes CN, global audience. Low-High Yes Yes Yes Minimal No
Tea Urchin Medium Yes CN, global audience. Medium-High Minimal Minimal Yes Minimal No
Essence of Tea Small Yes UK, global audience. Medium-High Minimal No Yes Yes Some
Bana Tea Small Yes US, global audience. Medium-High Yes No Yes Yes Yes
Sample Tea Medium Yes MY, global audience. Medium-High Yes Yes No Yes Yes
Hou de Asian Medium Yes US, global audience. Medium-High Minimal No No Yes Yes
Life in a Teacup Small Yes US, global audience. Low-High Yes No No Some Yes
Mandala Tea Small Yes US, NA audience. Low-Medium Yes No Yes No Yes
Jas-etea Medium No US, NA audience. Low-Medium Yes Yes No No Yes
Pu’erh Shop Large No US, NA audience. Low-Medium Yes Yes Yes Some Yes
Chinese Tea Shop Small No CD, NA audience Medium-High Yes No No Yes Yes
Pu’erh.sk Small Yes SK, EU audience. Medium-High Yes No Yes Yes Some
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6 Responses to Pu’erh Vendor Guide

  1. shah8 says:

    Missing:
    Bannacha
    China Cha Dao
    Teaclassico (which is new and relatively untested)
    The Best Tea House (Vancouver)
    Sunsing (particular for people with money and who wants older, wetter, good aged tea)
    RoyalPuer
    Purepuer (not that I favor them, but others like them)
    GenerationTea (disreputable)
    RJ Teahouse (an eBay puerh place)
    Western Yunnan Tea (now generally found on aliexpress)
    Awazon Tea (a bit more like a blend between tuochatea and Chawangshop)
    Teamasters (sells high quality older tea, generally 2006 and before)
    Teavivre (not too much)
    Far Wenwa Pu’erh (a garage sale of personal stash)
    David Lee Hoffman Collection http://www.thephoenixcollection.com/ (he’s been around, mixed rep, particularly when it comes to storage and hype)
    Tea Trekker (their selection has dwindled, but has some liu bao)
    There are at least three active French puerh online shop, http://www.the-puer.com/, puerh.fr, http://www.endora.fr (has older tea, or did), and one more I can’t find right now…

    • James says:

      Hi Shah,

      Thank you! Apparently I missed more than I remembered :) . Some I had flat out forgot to add and some I haven’t even heard of. I will add these in some fashion soon.

      I appreciate the annotations.

      Best,
      -James

  2. Peter says:

    Great introductory article on vendors, James. Very helpful. Many thanks!

    Jalam Teas is another curator-type vendor, with a highly-selective inventory:
    http://www.jalamteas.com/

    They have sparked controversy as well in some quarters, e.g.,
    http://jakubtomek.blogspot.ca/2014/05/2012-jalam-teas-meng-zhr.html

  3. Larry says:

    As you mentioned many consider Dayi overrated.
    In your very educated opinion, Is Menghai overrated and overpriced?

    • James says:

      Hi Larry, Thanks for the comment! Here’s what I think in my somewhat educated opinion:

      Whether Menghai is overpriced or not largely depends on your point of comparison. If we were to compare it with plantation pu’erh from other factories like Mengku, Haiwan, or smaller operations it is significantly more expensive. This has to deal with the greater liquidity of Menghai as well as their generally good reputation. They are one of the very few factories with any sort of track record of their pu’erh aging going back into the 1970s and 1980s (and it’s a good one). That being said, currently 2014 7542 comes in at ~$25/357g cake. This is much more expensive than nearly all plantation tea but is still only $2/oz. Their reputation for ripe pu’erh is also very good, and in my opinion well-earned.

      If you want the best bang for your buck, I’d recommend against it. There’s a reason good bang for your buck vendors like White2Tea or Chawangshop offer very little or no Menghai. Yunnan Sourcing’s selection has also decreased somewhat over recent years. If you want decent enough benchmarks for plantation tea and don’t mind the higher prices, buying Menghai beengs is not a bad option at all.

      Hope this clarifies! We also have an article coming up in (~3 weeks) that addresses many of these points in greater depth.

      -James

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