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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