I’ve written in the past about relative price comparisons and a couple different models of how we frame tea cost. Tea vs. coffee. Tea vs. wine, etc. How about inner-tea comparisons. Aged pu’erh frequently gets put up against younger tea, Taiwanese Oolong high-mountain tea, low-elevation, Yancha. One comparison I only occasionally see made is types of tea put up against one another. If you focus too heavily on specifics of raw pu’erh like 2015 $100/beeng gushu A vs. 2015 $120/beeng gushu B, it can be easy to miss the big picture. You may forget that according to your taste perhaps raw pu’erh as a whole is under or overvalued. Instead of asking if a $0.40/g ripe pu’erh is twice as good as $0.20/g ripe pu’erh, maybe you should ask if you’d rather have the $0.40/g ripe pu’erh or $0.40/g Taiwanese Gaoshan. This is a casual, fun little thought experiment that tries to make these comparisons. As expected, It’s impossible to make this comparison clean. Vendor markup varies one to one, but here’s what I would choose at these ranges!
Note: Report includes Taiwanese oolongs, Yancha and pu’erh cause it’s what I’m most familiar with.
Note #2: The options here are all accessible to westerners. We’ll be disregarding Taobao and your friend’s cousin that lives in Taiwan.
Note #3: A couple additional cross-tea factors that have some impact on this equation. How much leaf do you need for a quality session? How fast does it brew out? Teas like Yancha can be wasted at low leaf to water ratios.
Cheap Zone (<$0.10/g)
|Yancha||Sea Dyke Red Box DHP.||$10/125g|
|Taiwanese Oolongs||Si-ji, Cui Yu, Jin Xuan.||~$15/150g|
|Ripe Pu’erh||2007 Dayi 7452, 2011 Dayi Wuzidengke, 2011 Hui Run||$35/357g|
|Raw Pu’erh||2015 W2T Little Walk, 2004 Jianshen Tuo, 2015 YS Dehong||$19.50/200g, $9.90/100g, $30/400g.|
- Yancha – Red box DHP (see above). Can be found in Chinatowns for $10/125g.
- Taiwanse Oolongs – Hmmm. It’s easy to find the three budget cultivars, Si-ji, Cui Yu, Jinxuan. You can bargain shop at Mountain Tea, but the average $/g price at most online stores is above the $0.10 range.
- Ripe Pu’erh – Not a terrible selection. This offers some reasonable flexibility of choices. Could easily get a <10 year old Dayi, or an off-brand ripe with 10 years.
- Raw Pu’erh – Options are limited and largely depend on how easily satisfied you are/what you are after. There’s a few young pu’erh options, something OK like White2Tea’s Little Walk or heavier like Yunnan Sourcing’s Dehong Yesheng or White2Tea’s MCA. I’d probably lean towards factory tuo with some age and humidity (i.e. Jianshen, $9.90/100g) or the 2007 Banzhang sold by Chawang. These are all perfectly drinkable but also not the most exciting.
Yancha and ripe pu’erh are easily the most appealing here. I’ve always been easily satisfied with the basic Sea Dyke Yancha, two genres in which I occasionally indulge in and have remained exceedingly easy to please.
Red Box DHP isn’t bad either. More negatively.. I’ve never really liked any of the Taiwanese oolongs at the lower price range. Raw pu’erh is slightly better, although I think that I’d fall asleep if I could only drink from this category.
Reasonable Drinker Zone (<$0.20/g)
|Yancha||YS Rou Gui (or equivalent)||$7-10/50g|
|Taiwanese Oolongs||Dong Ding, Baozhong, Oriental Beauty.||$30/150g|
|Ripe Pu’erh||2002 7572 Tiepai, 2002 Gu Fo Zhuan, 2006 Dayi 7572||$70/357g|
|Raw Pu’erh||Old Bear, Gaoshan Qingbeeng, 2015 YS/ChaWang Spring Line (with exceptions)||$40/200g, $70/357g, $80/400g|
- Yancha – Possibilities open up alot here. You no longer have to scrounge the Asian market and can now get most of the average-priced Yancha from western vendors, like Yunnan Sourcing, White2Tea, JKTeashop, etc.
- Taiwanese Oolongs – Not even gaoshan really. Average Dong Ding, Baozhong, or Oriental Beauty. *shrugs*
- Ripe Pu’erh – A little over $70/cake. You can pretty much go to town at this price range as long as you don’t target the overpopular, older Dayi tea.
- Raw Pu’erh – Less than a decade ago, this included nearly all modern tea. It’s harder now, but there’s still plenty of options. $20/100g can get you alot of tuos and other knick-knacks. Fun teas like the Old Bear, Gaoshan Qingbeeng. There’s also decent quality modern productions, i.e. the entire 2015 YS line (minus Yiwu, Mushucha). You still definitely can’t get everything, but you got options.
This is where the comparisons start to get interesting and a little non-intuitive. In this range you can get just about any ripe pu’erh but can’t even reach Alishan (lower elevation, gaoshan)!? Does that mean it’s worth it? Not necessarily. Ripe pu’erh definitely isn’t for everyone, but it does help to illustrate that ripe pu’erh represents pretty good bang for your buck against other teas if you do like it.
Somewhere in between these two extremes are Yancha and raw pu’erh, where you are looking at some relatively functional stuff. I’d definitely rather shop in the Yancha or raw pu’erh aisle than for Taiwanese oolongs.
Note: Extrapolating further on ripe pu’erh vs. Taiwanese Oolongs. Even something more expensive like that that 1997 7581 Denny and I like is about the price of $0.37/g or basically an average quality gaoshan.
More Expensive, but Affordable (<$0.40/g)
|Yancha||All of YS Yancha. Many of JKTeashops.||$15-$20/50g|
|Taiwanese Oolongs||Lower elevation Taiwanese Oolongs. Alishan, Shan Li Xi.||$60/150g|
|Ripe Pu’erh||Most everything?||$142/357g|
|Raw Pu’erh||Decent (but not top) base material young raw pu’erh. Early 2000s off-brands.||$142/357g|
- Yancha – Just another incremental grade up really. Instead of Yunnan Sourcing’s Rou Gui, you can get their Shui Jin Gui or Bai Ji Guan. There’s eventually a big jump that to be made between these teas and the well-processed, Zhengyan secret handshake stuff that needs 5-10 years of resting. Think ~$1/g+. That leap definitely doesn’t happen here, although you can get some OK stuff.
- Taiwanese Oolongs – Alright, this category finally starts to open up. You can get Alishan, Shan Li Xi, and lower elevation Lishan. No sweat! Still, the top-end stuff is higher and higher up the mountain. Keep in mind that Dayuling is at something like 2,500 meters of elevation. These lower gaoshan areas are high, but there’s a big difference between 1,000 meters to 2,500 meters.
- Ripe Pu’erh – See above..
- Raw Pu’erh – ~$140/357g beeng. Perhaps for young tea this is more appropriately priced at $80/200g or $100/250g. Similar to top-end gaoshan, the high-end is cut off but you can still get supposed gushu from not quite as acclaimed areas.
Note: Young, new school pu’erh prices are really hard to peg down as the range can be rather huge. This range goes from ~$10/plantation productions to $200/cake to $4000-$5000/cake (see 2013 prices, which illustrate the price range).
Premium Zone (invoice my secretary plz..), includes eastern options
|Yancha||Zhengyan, high-fired, several years rested.||>$1/g|
|Taiwanese Oolongs||Dayuling or now high-elevation Lishan.||$0.70-$1/g|
|Ripe Pu’erh||Aged Dayi?||–|
|Raw Pu’erh||1950s Hongyin, Haoji ERA cakes, Lao Banzhang, Bingdao, blah, blah, blah.||$$$$$$.|
- Yancha – Old bush, well-processed and rested. You’re probably looking at over a $/g. Plus you really want to be sessioning a fair amount of leaf per session.
- Taiwanese Oolongs – The highest-elevation teas were Dayuling. There’s also things like the Lishan Tieguanyin. If you’re buying at the 150g quantity, you’re looking at around $0.70/g-$1/g. This doesn’t require as much leaf as Yancha but can pretty taste pretty damn awesome pushed. Taiwanese oolongs seem to give solid bang for buck in a medium price range. Not cheap, but not uber-expensive either.
- Ripe Pu’erh – This theoretically gets capped where young raw pu’erh does (i.e. DC Tea). In most practical purposes it’s not usually thought of as too premium.
- Raw Pu’erh – The sky is the limit here. Hot village x, hot village y, old trees, 1950s Hongyin, 1900s Songpin, etc., etc. The top-end of this category can get seriously out of hand.