How Much Does Ripe Pu’erh Cost from Western Vendors?

Since I’ve crunched a bunch of numbers for other pu’erh categories, I figured I should do the same for ripe pu’erh. Ripe pu’erh is not exactly the most talked about tea, but it is generally considered to be affordable and there’s enough options easily accessitlbe to keep most people satisfied. I compiled all the ripe productions sold by popular western pu’erh sources: White2Tea, Crimson Lotus Tea, Bitter Leaf Tea, Chawangshop, and Yunnan Sourcing, limiting the massive Yunnan Sourcing selection to 50 teas (still more than any other vendor). It’s also important to note that this data shows the cost of ripe pu’erh for a western audience and doesn’t necessarily imply much about the ripe pu’erh market in east Asia.

Two Ripe Pu'erh Cakes

A couple inexpensive ripe cakes.

Basic Stats: The Average Ripe Pu’erh Available

  • Dataset: View.
  • Median Size: 225 grams.
  • Median Price: $0.11/g.

Price by Quartile

 Quartile $/g $ (357g) $ (200g)
Q1 (25th percentile) $0.07 $24.99 $14.00
Q2 (50th percentile, median) $0.11 $39.27 $22.00
Q3 (75th percentile) $0.18 $64.26 $36.00
Calculated above are the quartiles of production. Q1 is more expensive per gram than 25% of our dataset, Q2 or 50% of our dataset (the median), and Q3 or 75% of our dataset.

As expected, the average ripe pu’erh is quite a bit less expensive than young pu’erh, which comes in around averaging about $0.30-$0.35/g. This is about 3x more expensive than your average ripe pu’erh and substantially more expensive than even our more expensive ripe tea. The 75th percentile or the 3rd Quartile value comes out to $0.18/g.

On the cheap brews it’s also worth noting that not only are half the teas at or beneath $0.11/g, but 25% of the teas in our dataset are beneath $0.07/g about 1/5th the price of average young pu’erh. For the budget drinker there are plenty of teas where you can brew standard size sessions (5-10 grams) for under $1/session.

Mini-Tuo Convenience Tax. Smaller Sizes Mean Generally Higher Prices. Bigger Sizes Means Generally Lower Prices

$/g by Size

Size Median $/g
357g & Over $0.09
Under 357g $0.14
Under 125g $0.14
Under 100g $0.21
I’ve long had a hunch that smaller compressed pu’erh tend to be more expensive per weight. Part of this is based on just the size.. Buying a 357 gram cake, is a significant amount and by buying something smaller you are paying for the convenience. A sample always costs more per gram than the cake.. There is also virtually no sticker shock risk for selling small quantities. $10 for 50 grams of ripe pu’erh or $1.20 for a 5 gram mini-tuo doesn’t sound expensive, but they are both around twice as much as the average ripe pu’erh available in our data. Average ripe pu’erh isn’t very expensive at all so there is a sales advantage if you can get your consumers to mentally buy on an oolong price scale, where you’re thinking and buying in smaller increments, say 25, 50 or 100 grams.

I think this price disparity becomes most shockingly obvious when you look at pu’erh that is compressed smaller than standard size (100 grams). Pu’erh pressed at non-standard or loose shapes under 100 grams are nearly twice as expensive as your average ripe per gram.. Conversely, standard size or bigger teas offer a comparatively good value ~$0.09/g.

  • Some bricks like Hailang Hao’s boutique ripe pu’erhs which are both big and extraordinarily pricy run contrary to this trend.

Price by Vendor

 Vendor Teas Carried Median Vendor Price
% Expensive Than
Crimson Lotus Tea 8 $0.22 81.00%
White2Tea 15 $0.11 50.00%
Chawangshop 41 $0.08 31.00%
Bitter Leaf Tea 6 $0.21 80.00%
Yunnan Sourcing 50 $0.12 53.00%

High-End Ripe Pu’erh

See the high-end teas in a sheet here.

The high-end ripe pu’erh available can be essentially separated into two categories. The first category are older teas that are documented in books and now demand a certain price tag (see Dayi). The second category is composed of contemporary high-end ripe pu’erh made by boutiques. Of the 11 most expensive teas, there is almost an even split. Six of the teas fit into the contemporary category which were made within the past two years and the other five teas are at least 18 years old.

Over the past year, I’ve seen some people get pretty put-off by the second category, boutique ripes. Even though it’s not a category I buy from, I disagree with this sentiment when the quality at least improves with the price. From our data, it’s pretty obvious there are loads of normal options for affordable ripe. If someone wants to spend $0.40/g or over $1/g, why should we stop them. This happens frequently for young raw without cost shaming vendors or consumers, why not ripe? They are subject to the same prices for pu’erh materials, so it makes sense that the price ranges could be similar when better quality base material is used. You may not want to buy it, but expanding the market towards a more premium product is a worthy task.

There’s also a notable lack of a middle class here. A lot of the raw pu’erh middle class that I am most attracted to are teas that were made a decade ago when costs of raw material were less expensive. The best deals are teas by producers that never got the marketing buzz that others did. Unfortunately, there isn’t a huge ripe equivalent available from western vendors. While there were a few producers messing around with boutique ripe in the mid 2000s, it was not common enough to create a wealth of options a decade later.

This brings us to a very interesting question. Is shu just cheap because people historically haven’t made premium shu or is it cheap because shu is inherently a daily/casual tea? This is difficult to answer with any degree of certainty. I do suspect that there is at least a western market out there for more boutique ripe. A lot of people like ripe and there are a few vendors looking out for boutique pu’erh. In the end, even if there is a market out west this doesn’t necessarily mean much.. Small-batch shu isn’t common and we, the western pu’erh hobbyists, are spectators of larger industry trends that are targeted at Chinese consumers. In Yunnan there’s indications that this market may be expanding. Glen of Crimson Lotus has told me that the good batches of premium ripe pu’erh are often swooped up within 24 hours. We’ll see in a few years if these premium ripes become a regular thing.

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10 Responses to How Much Does Ripe Pu’erh Cost from Western Vendors?

  1. Jonny山內 says:

    Hi James

    I have been thinking some similar thoughts around mini Tuo Cha. I find that the popularity of such very small products is slow to be taken up with Western consumers. I suspect similarly there might be an element of “boutiqueness” in these choices . I also think that Western consumers tend to be more cautious around Shu productions generally which may be further enhanced in decisions around buying mini tuo cha, despite their convenience and seemingly more appropriate to Western consumer lifestyle/culture.
    Whilst you are also right with the costings on your typical 5 gram mini Tuo Cha, I am not sure that this has much impact on decisions around their popularity or even consumption in the West. I would suspect it might be more around the tangibility of having a 357 gram cake in your hand rather than a 5 gram button in the similiar way that vinyl records remain popular over CDs.
    I think I remember Scott from Yunnan Sourcing saying somewhere that there are many Western vendors who consider a bing to be a sample!! Therefore i feel in answering your findings around mini productions it is perhaps market forces that result in the smaller pressings being higher as although more convenient they are less popular and less demand might have an impact on prices.

    • James says:

      That’s possible. The thing that was striking to me is that the mini tuo has a reputation for being subpar and a trap for pu-newbies. This is obviously not always the case, but it was striking to me that it was both nearly 2x the average price despite its mediocre reputation.

      I think for sampling purposes this isn’t a very big deal, but if you are buying a couple hundred of these in bulk (as I’ve heard of people doing) you should really look at the $/g and make sure the quality really does match up.

  2. Karl says:

    James,

    You mentioned that boutique ripes are not a category that you buy from. Why not? Is it cost, or age, or? Some, like those from YS, have been tested for pesticides and are very clean shou’s to start with which is a good thing. Don’t get me wrong, I am a big fan of Dayi shou and have a fairly large amount of their ripe teas. But I also have a lot of the boutique ripes from a number of vendors and found them worthwhile. I won’t spend the $$$ for the highest end stuff that is put out today, but I won’t spend a couple hundred on a 20 year ripe either.

    • James says:

      Hi Karl,

      Good question and I’d chock it up more to personal drinking habits and preference rather than a quality issue.

      For me tea drinking falls into three basic categories. (1) Casual brews I drink/make for my wife. (2) Teas I drink gong-fu throughout the day. (3) Teas I drink with other people.

      Ripe pu’erh tends to do very well in category 1 and depending on the audience category 3. It doesn’t make sense for me to be brewing something fancy for category 1 and for whatever reason I just about never want to drink ripe as my gong-fu session for the day. That just leaves category 3, and I’m not sure I’m at the point where I can justify fancier boutique ripe sheerly to serve guests. I’ll admit to having considered but I’m not quite there for myself. I also certainly wouldn’t fault the person who chooses to buy it.

      That’s probably too much information but I hope I’ve answered your question.

      Cheers,
      -James

      • Jonny山內 says:

        James I think this might be true of most drinking habits of consumers. I sometimes I have the thought I have way too much Sheng. But this is often when I am reaching for something that I want to drink and enjoy now in a casual sessions with my partner or at work.

        However, when I think more about what I want to drink and enjoy in the future and further down the line in more formal or special times I have that mild panic that I don’t have enough of it.

        Certainly Shu slips into that “convienience” slot for less formal tea sessions yet might not be my buying choice generally both due to cost and to the complexity of the experience that otherwise leads me to a larger Sheng buying habit and collection.

        That saying I have recently revisited one of Scott’s production the 2015 “Green Miracle” which although a Shu production, now at 3 years, is an exceptional ripe tea well worth the $/gram, so I am now having that mild panic that I dont have enough Shu – Ha! Ha!

  3. Nathan says:

    Hey James, as always a great write up. I love your analytical approach to tea topics. On the topic of shou puerh prices, How is there such a massive price difference between ripe and raw if the base material is basically the same? I know lower grade tea is usually destined for ripe instead of raw, but the price difference is astounding and really shows just how much of a premium is being placed on raw puerh. I don’t know or expect you to have an answer for that, just an observation I had after reading.

    • James says:

      Thanks Nathan.

      I think there might be a couple factors at play.

      I do think the biggest reason which you also mentioned in your comment, is the quality difference in materials between raw/ripe. As consumers it’s really difficult to do a very direct comparison of the same material for raw and for ripe.. I’d expect that just about 100% of the ripes listed in this post are plantation material and probably a good chunk of it from harvests that aren’t sought after (i.e. summer). Compare this to raw where most of the productions being copped to the west are at least purportedly spring/autumn.

      One other thing that skews the data is that the majority of young raw pu’erh being sold in the west is boutique tea. If a few more run of the mill factory teas were sold, it’d definitely bring down the average price of raw tea. Probably not to the level of ripe, but a bit closer at least.

      -James

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