If you have been living in a cave with your pu’erh stash for the past 15 years and arejust reemerging to restock your stash, I have some news for you. You should’ve bought apple stock. And google. And loads of pu’erh. Young pu’erh is expensive now. There was a time not so long age when three figure young pu’erh was considered an outrage. Now it’s commonplace and very easy to spend over $100 for a tiny little 200g beeng that may not even be that good.
- If this caveman had futuristic predictive powers, he probably would’ve scooped up loads of pu’erh ages ago and bought more immediately after the bust in 2007.
Am I in the Market for Young Tea?
The answer is no. I do like young teas and there are certainly some high quality young shengs floating around. There’s a couple factors at work here. Young pu’erh does not do remotely well in my own speed test. And in sheer value (for me), there are better places for me with my own particularly set of tastes to be spending my money.
So why bother?
FOMO, the Fear of Missing Out for those with a maturity level about the age of 25.. Most pu’erh centric vendors rely on young teas to be a big source of their primary income. Similar to other teas like TW oolongs, the western pu’erh world has become surprisingly slanted towards spring harvest and fresh tea. There’s always a lot of chatter about the returning favorites (W2T, YS, EoT), newcomers (Bitter Leaf Tea), and W2T’s wrappers and names. Long story short.. I want to know how they all stack up.
Again. I do enjoy these teas.. I also freely admit to succumbing peer pressure and free tea rather easily. If I had to slam down the $400-500 for all of these samples there is very little chance you’d be reading this report. Big thank you to both the generous people and vendors that contributed tea.
Why Should I Buy Young Tea?
Before you start calling me a snob, there’s a number of perfectly reasonable reasons to be buying young pu’erh that should not be held against you.
The simplest (and best) reason basically boils down to: I like the tea and am willing to pay the price for it. No shit, sherlock. Not everyone has to be a value-obsessed nerd, calculating the $/g for every tea. If you like a tea and are OK with the price, there should be no judgement passed if you decide to make a purchase.
I want to have the education and experience of buying a tea young and drinking it while it ages. This approach holds some charm with me but I’ve bought too much young sheng that I simply don’t drink. I also already have a few random beengs from prior years that will suffice.
I enjoy drinking young fresh tea. For this drinker it’s even simpler because they don’t really have to worry about the difficult question “will it age?” and can just drink and buy off their taste buds.
Getting premium tea where older material is either not available or more expensive. This reason used to be considerably more straightforward. Pu’erh usually goes up in price. Therefore buying current year pu’erh is the best way to acquire the higher-quality material. Alas, this is not as true as it used to be.
Rising maocha prices have thrown a wrench into this equation. While maocha prices have generally risen across the board, they haven’t risen evenly. Areas like Lao Banzhang teas have climbed far more than an area with a lower profile. In some of these cases, availability to the west has also decreased..
Take for instance two cases.. The first case is the greater Yiwu area. In this case, it is possible to find some older examples of both plantation or premium teas that have 7+yrs of age on them and are debatably cheaper than the same quality material from 2016. Things like W2T’s 2009 Yiwu or Yunnan Sourcing’s array of functional, decent teas (Ancient Spirit). On the premium side there is Yangqing Hao. The second is really good Menghai county tea.. Aged options are very limited and not easy to find. This is when things like W2T’s Treachery or Untitled 02 start to look appealing despite their very high price.
- These buyers are not mutually exclusive. It is quite possible to be a mix of buyers. If I were indeed buying I’d probably fit into buyer C/D if I were.
- It is not hard to find reviews for these teas. I would like to shout out Marco, shah, Oolong Owl and Cwyn for their reviews. I’m sure there’s some I’m forgetting but if you angrily disagree with me you can certainly find a counterpoint.
$0.40/g+ – Premium Cutoff
This is modern pricing. In the not so distant past, $0.40/g was basically unheard of. Now for some vendors it’s their mid-range. Yes. I drank the rinse.
- General brewing parameters were 5g/75ml.
Yiwu has continued to be a personal favorite of mine. It is an easy sell for me and I enjoy both the Yiwus with age and young tea.
Yunnan Sourcing Walong, $0.50/g
A steady production in Scott’s catalog and I have enjoyed this each year.. This is not a knock your socks out tea, but it is very decent and well-balanced. Immediate sweetness and back of the mouth with throat coating. The tea starts out as moderately oily and thickens up for the first few infusions There’s some slight cooling and qi. Longevity is good and it goes for 13 or 14 infusions under my parameters.
Essence of Tea’s Manlin, $0.47/g
Essence of Tea had a bit of an unusual year, defying their reputation and pressing a number of cheaper teas. Their club seemed to have their more premium ones (as wella s oddities). This tea was featured in their tea club box, thanks to a tea friend and David for sending it our way.
Small leaves. It’s got acceptable thickness but is not as consistently dense and a bit more finicky when put against the Yibang or Walong. It starts out really soft, before getting a bit stronger. Coats the mouth and has some activity in the throat. It moves towards more florals and nuts as it steeps and maintains its bitterness. I’d rate it a hair beneath the Walong and well beneath the EoT Yibang which gave more consistently robust brews. It’s still a pretty nice tea and has some qi.
Essence of Tea’s Yibang
More strength than expected. It’s consistently thick, viscous, oily and bitter. It starts out with an interesting texture, bitter and nutty before moving to more florals The tea causes a swelling ball feel at the back of the mouth and leave behind a mouth watering sweetness. It has some activity in the throat and decent qi. It also has better thickness and depth than every tea than anything but the very top-end teas. A good companion to the nice, but inferior Manlin.
Bitter Leaf Tea’s WMD, $0.88/g
I was curious about this tea after the initial reviews and because it’s in the greater Yiwu area. It’s not a bad tea but is unfortunately a disappointment.
It smells nice and the leaves do look nice. Florals, butter, leather, fruits, and some pine nuts in the initial aroma before moving to principally florals. As others have noted, this is not an elegant Yiwus and is consistently bitter, astringent, a bit drying. The astringency does transform to sweetness. Body is medium light and thickens. Due to the rough edges of the tea it’s harder to push than some of its colleagues. There’s back of the mouth sweetness and some light throat coating. Longevity is pretty good. I do enjoy the tea and it’s got flavor but lacks the depth and qi of high-end Yiwus.
Bitter Leaf’s Autumn 2015 Bohetang, $0.48/g
Darker leaves. It starts out with medium body, an interesting texture and the noted mouthcool. After the initial steeps it becomes very floral before moving into brown sugar/fruit. There’s some light aftertaste in the back of the mouth but doesn’t have a ton of depth and is fairly front focused. Viscosity is lighter than the other teas here. Overall I didn’t really enjoy this and there’s not a lot to keep me engaged. In the middle steeps it becomes thin and rough in a way that I usually don’t like in teas.
- A note on Bitter Leaf Tea. I still have a large pile of untried samples from them. These particular two I didn’t find up to snuff, but have high hopes for the rest (see future report).
What Would I Pick?
In the lower rungs of the price range, I’d probably choose something like the Walong or if you want something that’s not really a pure Yiwu, the Bosch. Higher up, there is of course Last Thoughts which was not reviewed this year and is a tea I’d rank above those reviewed in this report.
This is an area where good options have really not materialized. TwoDog has been allegedly spending a lot of time here and has made it a serious point of interest, but others are shying away. Scott does not even press tea from Menghai county anymore and it remains a minor place of interest for other serious producers like Tea Urchin.
White2Tea Teaclub Mengsong Mini (the “old tree” one)
Legit tea. Soft, oily, thick. Light bitterness, nuts, hay, vegetal. It coats the throat and has qi and leaves a lasting effect on the mouth. Brews out for a very long time. I’m curious what this would’ve cost if it were pressed for sale as it’s very decent but unfortunately unavailable.
White2Tea’s Untitled 02, $0.90/g
First of all, I’d like to thank the Oolong Owl for meeting and handing me two anonymous baggies of tea (U2, Mystic) on a random Seattle street corner. It was the sketchiest tea transaction I’ve ever conducted, an achievement to be proud of. It also helps that the two teas dealt were of the narcotic type.
Floral, nutty aromatics. There is a very nice velvet soft texture. Viscosity is medium. Immediate chestiness is felt. There’s a bit of feeling going down the throat and good returning sweetness. The bitterness is pretty persistent as it brews. Leaves lots of sweetness in the throat and mouth and a heaviness in the body. This is in my humble opinion a very good tea. It isn’t as complex as Treachery, but it’d be a very interesting tea for me to buy if I was willing to stretch mybudget.
White2Tea The Treachery of Storytelling, $1.85/g
This is a very expensive young tea and W2T has generated a good deal of scrutiny (and interest) by not offering samples. Does it live up to the hype? Thank you to the dear tea friend who sent this in.
Small, furry leaves. Lemon, pineapple, acidity in initial aroma that eventually moves to florals. Immediate chestiness. The aftertastes are generally excellent.. First I noticed the immediate coating of the roof of the mouth. Felt it in the body, and the throat. I almost didn’t notice the viscosity due to the rest happening in the diaphragm and rest of the body. It’s got a soft texture with a bitterness that varies depending on the strength of the brew. Qi is alerting and very present. This is a deceptively very strong tea and may not be a tea that newer people will appreciate until they have more experience. Recommend to take this slowly and spread a session into 2-3 sittings.
What Would I Pick?
There’s no real competition for TwoDog from 2016 or earlier. A cross-region blend like Bosch is worth considering for the lower end of this range. It offers less in strength than Untitled 02 or The Treachery of Storytelling, but is certainly a high-quality blended tea.
Northern Tea/The Rest
These northern areas (Lincang, Simao) represents a good deal of most vendors catalogs now.
Yunnan Sourcing Bingdao Laozhai, $0.43/g
Pungent aroma. Floral, some nuts. It starts out plenty bitter, floral, nutty. The thickness starts out very nicely for the first four infusions or so. Very strong initially, the bitterness transforms to sweetness around most of the mouth. It has an engaging cool, lemon. As it steeps out it loses its thickness but it can be pushed a bit more and it gains a bit of depth, extending further back into the mouth and top of the throat with some returning sweetness to the throat.
Essence of Tea’s Huangshan Shu, $0.59/g
Roasted pine nut, floral aroma. Medium bitterness, mouthcool, minerals. It thickens to about medium viscosity and eventually moves towards a vegetal, nutty, herbal bitterness. Some slight returning sweetness to throat and light qi. Mild stomach irritation. This is a decent, clean, well-produced tea but one that doesn’t really necessarily fit my own stylistic preferences.
White2Tea’s Into the Mystic, $0.75/g
I tend to gravitate away from northern teas, but was happy to drink this. It starts out with a really nice, thick, oily, somewhat syrupy mouthfeel. It is cool, floral, and nutty in nature. Moves into more of a green, grassy bitterness to it. It’s considerably more dynamic steep to steep than the U2, probably because it is a heavy blend. There’s also qi and throatiness, but it is not as deep or far reaching as something like the U2.
What Would I Pick?
I am not terribly interested in buying young northern tea. I suppose if I were in the market and for buyers that want to buy regardless of $, I’d pickout White2Tea’s 72 hours blend (over Mystic). In terms of other functional northern tea, there’s a good amount of options from Yunnan Sourcing/W2T such as the Bingdao Laozhai and W2T’s Heart of the City.
|Manlin||Essence of Tea||$93.00||200||$0.47||B-.|
|Yibang||Essence of Tea||–||–||–||B+.|
|WMD||Bitter Leaf Teas||$88.00||100||$0.88||C.|
|Bohetang||Bitter Leaf Teas||$95.00||200||$0.48||D+.|
|Huangshan Shu||Essence of Tea||$117.00||200||$0.59||B-.|
|Into the Mystic||White2Tea||$149.00||200||$0.75||B.|
|Bingdao Laozhai||Yunnan Sourcing||$170.00||400||$0.43||C+/B-.|
|Treachery of Storytelling||White2Tea||$369.00||200||$1.85||A.|
Concluding Thoughts & Recommendations
As I said earlier, I’m not really spending money in this category of tea. At least not in 2016. Aging baby tea has its charms, but at least for now I’d rather focus on things that I crave and drink often. Here’s what I would seriously consider.
If money is no problem:
- Untitled 02 (Treachery if budget allows, but U2 is good enough for me)
- Last Thoughts
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