When I investigated the teas that western vendors tend to sell (tldr: young raw pu’erh), the topic of pu’erhs value over time was brought up. In that post, I found that the average cost of a young raw pu’erh listed on western vendor’s sites tended to be less expensive than the semi-aged (7-15yrs+) or ripe teas that were listed. You shouldn’t read too much into this as it’s an imperfect comparison. The most obvious flaw is that the source material isn’t the same. There’s no quantitative way to measure the quality of the leaf, which makes the question of value over time tricky to answer. This article kicks off a series of posts looking at the pu’erh market.
- Value and price are the key terms.. I’m not addressing the question of pu’erh improving with age.. Price and quality are obviously linked, but they aren’t the same and can sometimes vary quite a lot.
A blogger, Peter Lista crunched some numbers of teas sold on teas sold on Yunnan Sourcing and White2Tea and published them. The post is worth reading even if the results weren’t conclusive. For Yunnan Sourcing’s catalog, Peter found that there was a reasonably high correlation of tea price and age. The findings were reversed for White2Tea, a vendor oddity due to their focus on pressing more premium and higher priced pu’erh under their own label.
Big Brand/Factory Pu’erh
Teas made by Dayi and Xiaguan are in a different market from smaller scale boutique productions and tier B factories. Most of these teas are large batch productions and there is a well-established market. For instance– you can look up these teas and verify its identity in a pu’erh yearbook. The tea productions are more liquid, and there’s natural resale value baked into these teas. The older versions also sell for an arm and a leg, helping to stir on the pu’erh collectors wet dream.. This all contributes to make established factory pu’erh a natural vehicle for investment.
Crunching the Numbers for Popular Recipes
I crunched the numbers on two of the most popular numbered raw pu’erh recipes for Dayi, the 7542 and 8582 as well as their ripe recipe 7572. They’ve produced recipe tea consistently since the 1980s, including these three. The older versions of these are well known and run into the thousands and tens of thousands depending on their condition. The pricing I used the listed jian prices for Menghai recipes on Donghe whose data runs back to the early 2000s.
- For simplicity’s sake we’re ignoring the possibility of fakes and storage.
- It’s important to note that these prices are a proxy for making comparisons and not meant to imply any sort of exact price or that you can acquire the tea for exactly this price.
- See the full data/spreadsheet.
Current Prices of Different Years of 7542, 8582, & 7572
The Older Versions of these Recipes are More Expensive
All three teas show a very clear trend — older versions sell for considerably more than the younger versions. The price correlate heavily with age. From our dataset which ranges back to 2000, if we pick 2003 (the earliest year where we have data for all three) they sell for anywhere between 7.48 (7572) to 33.14 (8582) times the price of their youngest cousins. This number would grow even more if we extended the time frame out just a bit further.
We don’t have quantitative data of what the early 2000s teas cost when they were young.. But — if you bought a tong or jian of any of these teas before 2007, you’re probably very satisfied. If you bought one of these before 2004, you’re even more satisfied.
Most anecdotes of people who bought these teas in their youth indicate that these teas could be purchased for considerably less than the ~$20 required to buy young versions of these recipes, making the actual profit rather hefty.
The Growth Over Time Mainly Disappears When We Look At 2010-2017
While the growth is impressive if we look back to 2000, everything looks much different if we reduce our timescale to just 2010-2017. In fact– 2010 tea isn’t much more expensive than 2017 tea. 2010 7542 for instance is even slightly cheaper than the 2017 7542!
2010 Recipe Teas vs. 2017 Recipe Teas. Average Prices
Two conflicting interpretations on Modern Recipes..
- The optimist: The 7542 and 8582 are not the cutesy boutique pu’erh that are ready to drink at birth. A little bit of price fluctuation is normal and in the long-term they will improve with age and good storage. This should coincide with an appreciation in value as they hit certain pre-established landmarks of aged tea (i.e. 7 years, 14 years, etc). For instance, if you look at the 2009 prices of each tea they are higher than 2010. A 2010 Dayi 7542 pro-rated cost $20.. Are you really telling me that in 13 years, that same tea made by the biggest, most reliable factory won’t be much, much higher!!?
- The skeptic: They just don’t make em like they used to. In the early 2000s Dayi had far less competition and better access to higher quality material. The quantity of good pu’erh is finite. Now, Dayi is producing for a bigger market at higher volume, increasing the supply, and lowering the price and potential value of the tea down the line. Back in the 1990s, they only made a few different teas. Now the numbered recipes are at the bottom of the food chain… Even if the tea improves with time it will never be as scarce nor as sought after as the early to mid 2000s productions. Terrible investment.
Batches Can Vary in Price
A more minor point I’ve mentioned in the past is that there can be a significant difference in batches. This varies and sometimes there’s not much of a difference between batches, but occasionally one batch can rise quite a bit above the others.
2005 8582 504 Stands Out as an Outlier
Price per 357g Cake
|2005 8582 501
|2005 8582 502
|2005 8582 504
The Growth of the 7572 is a bit Flatter
Raw pu’erh is generally acknowledged to transform more with time than ripe — Dayi is also well known for their ripe pu’erh. It seemed foolish to ignore such a big category of tea.
Indeed 7572 from 2004 and earlier are substantially less expensive than their raw cousins from the same year. Even though Dayi has made both ripe and raw pu’erh for a long time, the most expensive productions of the year inevitably end up being raw. This also supports the idea that (generally speaking) ripe pu’erh tends towards bigger productions and won’t necessarily have the larger upside that raw does.
So… Does Big Factory Pu’erh Increase in Value with Age?
We need to look back at our optimist and skeptic interpretations. There’s good reason to believe that these represent solid investments. But it’s also concerning that the value is relatively stagnant for some of the more recent productions. These big Dayi recipes have proved to be a good investment in the past but that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re a slam dunk in the future.
Personally, I think there’s truth in both the skeptical and optimistic predictions and I subscribe to a bit of both perspective. Having had the privilege of consuming a few older 7542s and 8582s, they certainly don’t make em like they used to. Even disregarding aging, quality is lower and quantity is higher. I believe it is wishful thinking to assume that your 2012 8582 will rise to the same value of 2003 or 2004 8582 when it is 13 or 14 years old.. That being said, these teas are built for aging and demand should increase as they do age and people consume them.
My own thoughts: the younger productions (2010-2017) will slowly creep up in value without ever growing quite as fast as their predecessors.. Investing in these standardized recipes (not special productions) over the long-term is probably the equivalent of a safe, conservative investment.
Special Productions, Landmark Years, Tier B/C Factories
I intended to include these in this post, but it’s frankly too big a topic to tackle in a short format. These will be topics for future articles. Within this dataset we can see some evidence that the landmark year, i.e. 2004 signify big changes in the market. Special productions also behave differently than these recipes.
We can also assume that a high-production, well known factory like Xiaguan can be tracked similarly.. What about other factories like Haiwan or Mengku productions. Should Dayi be looked at as the standard torchbearer/model for these other factories or a higher standard of factory tea? More of all this later.