Things that have been occurring in the tea world that I like and dislike..
Group buys have been popping up with increasing frequency over the past 1.5 years. They can be a very good way to try teas, often very inexpensively. When there’s a markup it’s nearly always smaller than a vendor and you’ll usually get very fair value for your money. It’s also worth doing, because there’s a lot of learning that can happen when people are drinking and discussing the same teas. Here’s a couple public ones worth mentioning:
Toby & his curated boxes – Toby has now curated four boxes that ship from China or Taiwan. It’s usually large samples (20-40g) of four or five different teas for under $100USD. The area of focus is usually semi-aged factory teas that are not available in the west. This is a fun area to explore as there are so many different teas that fit into this category and very many sold by established western vendors.
Teas from his boxes can all be acquired as cakes, making the box an effective way to sample. It’s also important to note, that there’s a markup to cover the time spent curating, breaking up cakes and shipping samples.
LiquidProust – Say what you want about the guy.. There’s no denying LP is an eccentric and wholly unique member of the community.. But in terms of sheer value his boxes are a tough proposition to beat. While you get small samples, the number of samples spanning across multiple sources make it easily worth the money. His boxes vary and have ranged from aged oolongs to a number of pu’erh themed boxes.
How does LP keep costs so low? He makes samples small and does his buys more or less at cost. This is impressive to me, as I want to gouge out my own eyes every time I make even a few samples.
- There’s also countless private group buys taking place to either reduce the shipping or combine purchasing power.
Buying Off the Shelf
This is when you start to wonder if there’s any difference between drugs and tea.. Do you know a guy who knows another guy who knows another guy that’s got that hookup overseas… What’s not to like about multi-hundred dollar (or thousand?) unsecured family & friends paypal transfers to “some person” on the internet.
The more plugged in you get, the more you see tea passing through in the shadows. One popular example is Emmett’s YQH & now XZH buys. Maybe it’s someone going to Asia or a private auction site. This is overall a good thing for the consumer as it’s another avenue to get tea and one that has the potential to be more direct to the tea’s actual source.
If an unspecialized vendor is selling tea from very old trees it is extremely unlikely to be the real deal. Does that mean the tea is terrible? No. Can you tell by just tasting the tea? No. It can still be a decent tea, but that definitely doesn’t mean it came from very old trees. I find it especially disheartening that the most recent instance of this has resulted in more sold out tea. A blatant lie shouldn’t be a profitable marketing tactic. This is not the first time this has happened in our western pu’erh world and it sadly won’t be the last.
So what’s a reasonable range of tree age to look for? Who cares.
Is the vendor maliciously lying or did bad information get passed down somewhere down the line? Who cares. Don’t buy the tea and reward vendor bad behavior.
Lack of Information on Teas
This is a mix of like & dislike depending on the situation.
White2Tea has become increasingly hermetic and reclusive in their desire to give you as little information as possible about the origin of the material. I mainly am OK with all of this, although some more information to help consumers determine if its worth sampling or not would be helpful. It’s a statement built on the idea that taste is the main determinant. On a whole with examples like that under Tree Age happening, I can get behind this initiative.
Sellers deliberately not showing wrappers or rewrapping older tea. I hate this.. White2Tea may’ve incidentally had a hand in creating this trend with some of their wrapped up specials from a few years back (most notably White Whale). If there’s a wrapper that shows the factory, the vendor should show it. There may be some concern of people taobaoing or going around the vendor. That’s partially true I suppose, but I strongly suspect the vast majority of their consumer base is unwilling to go through the hassle of taobao and more information is almost always a good thing.
Yunnan Sourcing’s Sourcing of Guangdong & Banna Teas
An unlikely source has become one of the better vendor alternative for teas with Guangdong/Xishuangbanna storage.. The old-timer, Kunming based Yunnan Sourcing. Scott’s background is from primarily Yunnan, specifically Kunming. As a result, very few of these teas are overly dirty or muddy, and tend to run on the clean side of storage.
It wasn’t that long ago that the Ancient Spirit and a few others were the only wetter stored teas on YS. This has slowly been rectified . As of this writing this category now has a very respectable 61 different teas, the vast majority being raw. The majority of these cakes also fall into a pretty respectable ~$0.20/g price range. That’s not peanuts, but makes many cheaper than popular young pu’erh drinkers. If you’re looking to learn about how pu’erh ages or pickup some reasonably priced teas with age, do yourself a favor and do a sample run on this category on Yunnan Sourcing.
- If I were buying and looking for age, I’d select for teas at 2009 or older.