Pu’erh Buying Thoughts: Diversification & Buying Tea for the Long Haul

Pu’erh is one of the trickiest teas to buy and a very different landscape than other teas. One reason is the instability of the market, partially because pu’erh is treated as a commodity for investment and is mainly due to the the thought that pu’erh will improve over time. Another is the psychology behind the consumption of pu’erh. Pu’erh drinkers think about their tea in a much different way than drinkers of other teas. lacking the immediacy that naturally accompanies other teas (especially greener teas). In 2007, the pu’erh market busted largely because of over speculation of tea that really wasn’t very good to begin with. People were aggressively buying at a rate that outpaced consumption and the market eventually corrected itself. This article will discuss a few thoughts on pu’erh buying and an alternate buying strategy.

Yunnan Sourcing Brand Autumn Yiwu 2010
Yunnan Sourcing Brand Autumn Yiwu 2010. Source: Yunnan Sourcing.

Tenet 3D, Hitting Hard, & How Much Will You Spend on Pu’erh

Tenet 3D, named by TwoDog (also covered in this post by Marshaln) is one way of purchasing tea. The basic idea is finding a tea that you enjoy and buying it in *as much as I can afford* quantities. It’s a sound idea and is predicated on buying very good quality tea that will increase in value in the future. This second part is sometimes overlooked, but is very important.

There area couple dangers with this approach. One is cheaping out and prioritizing the buying of quantity over the quality of the tea. This usually ends up with purchasing alot of something that is alright, but probably unexceptional. Perhaps most importantly, buying errantly in this manner can result in teas that will nearly always be attainable for low prices (i.e. youngish plantation tea). Buying in this manner is especially appealing when comparing the relative cost of cheap tea to better stuff

However… For a tea drinker, it is extremely easy to buy a year’s worth of pu’erh or five years or even a lifetimes! It is far better to buy spend more per tea and buy better tea, even if it means lower qualities and doesn’t necessarily qualify as hitting hard! In the end, there is a danger even in hunting for deals or value buys in cheap tea.

It’s important to either know or be able to approximate your own drinking habits. For some, a 357g cake of pu’erh might be a month’s worth of tea. For others maybe it’s two weeks or maybe two months. This allows you to approximate how much tea is appropriate to buy and what hitting it hard actually means for you. We all consume at different speeds and one person’s tong is another’s cake.

A second danger is buying something that ages into nothing. This can occur by either messing up storage (see the caveats section) or buying base material that ends up not being what the drinker actually wants. People’s taste can change and/or the tea’s base material might end up aging poorly. This risk is amplified when buying young pu’erh, especially for people that don’t have experience aging tea.

Note: As absurd as it might sounds, a fair and reasonable strategy for an average drinker with a daily coffee-sized budget could be to buy a $100-150/beeng a month, as opposed to three $50/beengs. If you’re spending $150 anyways, why not buy the better tea, rather than target value and have tea just lying around? Another alternative could be to live off of daily-drinking inexpensive beengs and save up for super-special $400-500 teas.

Cheap Pu’erh Tins.


Asset allocation is an investment strategy that avoids active management and tries to manage risk and reward by shifting the overall portfolio, based off a number factors. These factors usually include the investors risk tolerance, age, goals, and time-frame. A recent stock rover review mentioned that it is often effective over long periods of time because it invests in large portions of the stock market (usually index funds) rather than individual stocks (making it naturally diverse) and tries to minimize investment fees.

Asset allocation is no guarantee (nothing in the market is), but over time it has proven to be an effective way of managing a portfolio. One risk for instance, is the whole stock market going down or crashing. In that scenario you will lose money regardless of how you invested!

Many concepts are not necessarily directly applicable to pu’erh investing. However there are some principles, specifically diversification, for those that aren’t totally confident or don’t want to deal with the inherent risks of Tenet 3Ding.

Stamp Collection
Stamp Collection.

Diversify! Build A Stamp Collection

What is a pu’erh stamp collection? It is essentially a a variety of beengs/tuos/bricks bought in relatively small quantities. For some people, a standard-sized 357 gram cake might be only a little tea and this strategy doesn’t buy nearly enough. For most 357 grams is quite alot. Buying 357g of high-mountain oolong or any other tea would certainly be considered alot!

Building a stamp-collection is a great way to minimize the risks of buying pu’erh. Don’t overcommit and buy tea that fits your budget. The tea can be a few different styles of cakes from a few different vendors from different years. Over time and with increased experience you’ll have a much better feel for tea and what constitutes a good or bad purchase.

Note #1: Stamp collecting is pretty close to Tenet 1, walk before you run!
Note #2: Another advantage to buying a few cakes of everything is getting more reference points both for your teas as well as your own storage.
Note #3: A tong wasn’t necessarily designed for a single person’s consumption. If you really like a tea and want to load up in quantity maybe a better quantity is 3-4 cakes?
Note #4: The good news is stamp collecting is probably fairly similar to how alot of us buy pu’erh anyways!

A Few Caveats

There are definitely still some risks here, many of them inherent with the aging of pu’erh. Maybe your cat knocked over your water bowl onto your cakes. This is a joke to some, but can most definitely be a real concern. A single mistake and can ruin alot of time and money.

Perhaps the most important caveat is your storage. Set it and forget it, isn’t a very good strategy for most of the western world. Perhaps your climate prevents you from having reasonable storage conditions. In that case it really doesn’t matter what your base material is. If you plan on buying pu’erh in quantity to age, then you need to have a storage plan and ideally sooner rather than later!

YS 2012 Xin Banzhang, HLH 2011 Lao Banzhang
Pu’erh Sessions.

13 responses to “Pu’erh Buying Thoughts: Diversification & Buying Tea for the Long Haul”

  1. 1) It’s basically too late for more casual drinkers to hit it hard. When acceptable Banna tea is $50/400g, dropping $350 for a tong is a serious purchasing decision. Hitting decent to good teas hard would require about $700-$1300 for a tong. And we’re just talking about teas that ought to age into fairly decent stuff! Not great tea or the nonpareil stuff. Great teas seems to have doubled from 2012’s $150 and now starting at $300/400g; nonpareil stuff is around $700-$1000 (for new tea!), and isn’t really particularly available, as there are *lots* of aggressively priced (like law schools with higher prices and rejection rates more than actual quality career placement) lesser teas out there. You have to hunt for older teas. I do think that people are not always willing to price shu too crazy, and that careful work is more likely to give a chance of a worthwhile hit it hard.

    2) As for finding out what will successfully age, I think it’s important to emphasize that this is as much an art as it is a skill. It’s really not easy to figure out what tea will do well and what tea won’t, in part because I don’t really think good puerh tea goes stale that easily. They can get flat, of course, but all tea will be less dynamic at ten years of age than they were as new tea. However, it’s also about what sort character you broadly accept from tea. Lastly, most teas will give you fairly different sessions from one another, so unless you try them reasonably often, you can be misled about its character. All this means that you will mostly likely find yourself surprised by what tea you like at five, ten, fifteen years of personal storage.

    3) Puerh tea is for drinking, not admiration. The biggest peril of stamp collecting is that you’re too freakin’ chicken to have yourself a cup of your nicest tea, when you could really use the treat. So don’t buy those teeny 100g cakes from Diancha for $400, if you can’t buy a few of them.

    4) One needs a smart plan for acquiring tea regularly. As in buy a tong or two of older sheng and shu, and regularly salt away a tong of the best deal you can find for that year. As well as a cake or two of the nice stuff you take out for special occasions. This, of course, means a huge budget for tea. Best thing about it, though, is that after five years or so, you have all the tea you ever really need, with some diversity as well. Plenty for gifting and trading, following years can solely be about awesome yancha or other teas, etc.

    • pssssst Shah…Shah!!! Start. Your. Own. Blog. Hurry up, I’m not getting younger and I will only have a short time to read it. We need more tea blogs to read anyway in order to stop reading tea shopping sites. And with a pen name like Shah, I can think of all the directions you can go. And the photos! Sitting like a pasha on pillows with crossed legs surrounded by all those pretty…tea cakes. I do like the idea of spending a year focusing on another really good tea type, that is a great idea.

      Thanks for the article, James. I like the stamp collection metaphor for the older person to think about when facing a shorter lifetime. Like, buy interesting cakes, unique ones maybe. Enjoy them all the more while that single beeng lasts.

      • Hi Shah & Cwyn,

        Agreed! This comment is a blogpost itself.

        1. Thanks for providing reference points for the market. I agree with your point. It makes me cringe when I hear people talk about hitting certain cheap teas really hard.

        3. Definitely agree with this. I also struggle with not wanting to drink the stuff that I have in lower quantity (as if a cake is 10grams of a special tea). It doesn’t help that I have huge bags of samples and it’s no coincidence that the only cake I’ve really gotten through is that inexpensive Yongde Shu. Still.. I am hopeful that I can mind-fuck myself to drink my better single-cake stuff more indiscriminately.

        4. That sort of buying makes alot of sense. Wish I had the self-control and calculation ability to pull off something like that..

        Cwyn, as much as I’d love to take credit for the metaphor it’s been around for a bit. Don’t know who originally referred to these single cake collections as stamp collections, but Marshaln does a few times in his blog.


  2. I would recommend budgeting for the longer term and not on a yearly basis. I’ve dropped $4500 on tea in the last three years in dribs and drabs and I would have bought differently if I knew I would eventually put in so much. Actually the only puerh I really cherish from that period is tea I’ve received from tea friends. I’ve bought some good albeit overpriced beengs but I’m not sure my tea life is that much richer for it. The bigger your collection becomes, less meaningful each purchase becomes.

    If you are trying to save money or pay down debt, establishing and sticking to an honest tea budget is critical before it gets out if hand. Don’t go broke over tea.


    • During 2010 and 2011, I spent, just on non-samples, no shipping, a bit above $5k. Add $500 for shipping, all the samples. That’s a lot of money, and I still wish I spent about $2k more than I did.

      You were always going to struggle getting that old tea you crave so much, hster…

      • During 2006-2008 I spent maybe $4000 on tea and teaware and if I had the same knowledge that I have now, I would spend more and also I would by some teas I found expensive those days (like $450 for 88 Ching Bing or $350 for 99 YiWu Wild Tree seemed crazy to me that time). But now I have enough good tea to have it for lifetime.

    • Dear Hster, shah, and Alfi,

      Thanks for the comments and sharing your experiences. Much appreciated as always.


  3. Sputters…I dunno what shocks me more here. All the great posts. All that $$. Or James saying “mind fuck.”

    The problem with the best of Tea Plans is the Cake that comes out of nowhere. And then the thought that if you don’t buy it now, it will be gone forever.

  4. Great post James, and I also appreciate the comments from Shah, also got me thinking. I can feel it in my bones that I’m focusing on buying ‘decent/good’ tea right now, and hitting it somewhat hard on what I like. But as the hoard grows, I can see myself branching into the idea of buying one cake for $150 instead of 3 cakes for $150, as you mentioned above, just based on quality. Guess I’m hoping for a decent stockpile and then go from there. Also, I really try to practice Hobbes’ advice, that if I buy something to store, make sure it’s something interesting. Hoping that will help me enjoy what I have in the future and the present.

    • Hi Double B,

      Thanks for chiming in! Good point, re: Hobbes. I think once your stash is getting developed it’s important not to buy too much of the same stuff.

      I did the same thing as you when I started out and now have a whole lot of $30-50 daily drinking type things. I think I got relatively OK bang for my buck, but at this point my pumidor/apartment protests at adding more $50 cakes, gotta get the special stuff!


  5. I know that its been a year since anyone posted here. I will make this a zombie post!
    I want ya’lls opinion. I recenter spent around 2k getting single cakes of a lot of tea from white2tea bitterleaf tea and teaurchin. I spent the most with white2tea buying his 2016 bosch tuhaoaf last thoughts repaved and the treachery of storytelling. I also got a cake of repave. From bitterleaf I got wmd mansa x2 secret garden and yiwu blend 2016. From teaurchin I got a bulang secret garden and mengku bang die (I think that’s the name). On top of all this I got a crap ton of samples. I want to know what I am missing in terms of tea education etc. So far my fav under 100 buck cake is actually new ameryka2 from white2tea. Any advice would be appreciated. I am trying to figure out a couple tong purchases for the future.I want a daily drinker and a tea in the new ameryka2 price range. I am considering repave because it’s so damn yummy and at 180 bucks you cannot beat that.

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