Ripe Pu’erh Shopping. What does your Money Buy?

Tea quality and price aren’t exactly cause and effect. There’s alot of factors that go into pricing tea and there’s a reason why hunting white labels can be lucrative. It’s important to know what exactly goes into the pricing of tea, in order to know where your money is going and to most obviously not get ripped off. Ripe pu’erh occupies a different niche for most tea drinkers compared with raw pu’erh. For many that specialize in other tea genres like Taiwanese oolongs or Tieguanyin, it is their easy-drinking pu’erh of choice. Inexpensive young raw pu’erh is often quite harsh and ripe pu’erh is a far cheaper alternative to drinking aged raw pu’erh. However, there are also more serious drinkers of ripe pu’erh that seek out higher-quality, premium ripe pu’erh. This article will break down the pricing factors and categories of ripe pu’erh.

Here are the major factors that will determine a ripe pu’erhs price.

  • Size (loose 50g, 100g tuo/mini-cake, 250g brick, 357g beeng, etc.)
  • Brand (factory)
  • Age (price jumps at 5-7 years)
  • Base Material
Ripe Pu'erhs

Ripe Pu’erhs.

These are more or less the same factors as raw pu’erh. However, due to the economics of pu’erh many of these must be approached differently than their raw cousins.

Size

An obvious and simple factor. The larger the amount of tea you buy the more expensive it will be. You will also typically get a more favorable price/quantity as the quantity of the tea goes up (aka buying in bulk).

Brand

Brand plays an important part in the pricing of both raw and ripe pu’erh. Brands are treated differently in both cases. Whereas for raw pu’erh, the most premium labels are frequently specialized operations sourcing from individual areas. In the case of ripe pu’erh, big brands are still dominant. Since the advent of ripe pu’erh in the 1970s, Menghai Tea Factory has been the industry leader in pu’erh production. This can be attributed to their experience in the wo dui process, their much-mimicked and marketed recipes and blending skills.  As a result, buying Menghai ripe pu’erh will nearly always be more expensive than the equivalent alternatives from other brands.

Brand plays a role in both the tea’s resale value and quality assurance. It’s alot easier to sell a known brand like Menghai rather than a white label. Other large factories like Xiaguan and Haiwan exist one tier below Menghai when it comes to ripe pu’erh. They don’t have the same reputation, but are generally considered more reliable and respectable than other options.

Note #1: There aren’t nearly as many independent producers of ripe pu’erh as raw pu’erh.

Menghai and Xiaguan

Menghai and Xiaguan. Source: Runming Tea.

Age

The most obvious reason to age ripe pu’erh is to get rid of the wo dui taste. Big factories (Menghai) will help to address this problem by aging the ripened leaves for 1-2 years before pressing. For freshly ripened and aged teas the time it will usually only take a couple years. This means a 2014 Menghai or a 2012 ripe pu’erh from a smaller factory are rough equivalents in overcoming the nasty pile taste.

The other reason to age ripe pu’erh is the improvement of taste. While the change is not as dramatic as raw pu’erh, ripe pu’erh will change and evolve with age. This is especially true for lighter fermented recipes like the v93. When young, the price of ripe pu’erh will gradually increase with age, with much larger leaps once the tea hits certain age thresholds (also true for raw pu’erh).

Note #1: At ~5 year mark, the tea price starts to rise more per year. Storage also becomes more of a factor at this point.
Note #2: Many tea-drinkers believe purchasing aged ripe pu’erh (10+ years) is a bad value proposition due to the high prices and less dramatic taste evolution (compared with raw pu’erh).
Note #3: Others will seek out aged ripe pu’erh partially due to the change in processing.

Base Material

The better the base material, the more expensive it will cost. Ripe pu’erh is usually made up of plantation tea with nearly all the gushu used for raw pu’erh production. For ripe pu’erh, simply having Spring Harvest material can help to elevate its quality.

However, there are some exceptions to this rule. Some productions are done by boutique labels that usually produce primarily raw pu’erh and others will be special productions by a large tea factory where higher-quality leaves will be blended into the recipe (see Ziyun, Anxiang).

Note #1: Partially as a result of lower-quality base material, the price cap on newly pressed ripe pu’erh cakes is much lower than the raw pu’erh equivalents.
Note #2: It is important to note that leaf grade indicates leaf size, not leaf quality. High grade does not imply high quality.

2KG Gushu Shu Brick

2KG Gushu Shu Brick. Source: Crimson Lotus Tea.

A Rough Price Range

This breakdown iassumes western-facing vendors, not Taobao purchases.

Cheap (<$25/357g beeng or equivalent size)

$ Size (g)
No Name/Tiepai Brick $3-5 100
No Name Beeng $8-15 357
7 Year Old Xiaguan XIao Fa Tuo $7-12 100
Young Menghai Tuo (v93) $5 100
Young Menghai Hong Yun $10 100
Young Standard Menghai Recipe (7572, 8592, etc.) $20-25 357
You can get functional and drinkable tea in the very cheap price range. It may not be extremely exciting, but there are alright budget options for fully-fermented tea. Most youngish standard quality Menghai bricks, mini-cakes, and recipes lie firmly this price range. The cheapest option here are low-quality loose leaf or small factory bricks and tuos, which can be usually bought from western vendors for $5 or less.
Note #1: ~$25 is somewhat of a sweet spot if you don’t care about age in your ripe pu’erh. The quality is decent and the price is still low.

Menghai

 Tea $ Size (g)
Young Menghai Tuo (v93) $5 100
Young Menghai Hong Yun $10 100
Young Standard Menghai Recipe (7572, 8592, etc.) $20-25 357
Young Premium Menghai Recipe $25-60 357
5-9 Year Old Standard Menghai Recipe $25-100 357
10 Year Old Standard Menghai Recipe $75-120 357
15 Year Old Stanrdard Menghai Recipe $200+ 357
For the reasons stated above, Menghai pu’erh tends to be pricier. This becomes especially apparent, when looking at the rapid price increase as the Menghai moves beyond year 5. In recent years, Menghai special productions like Golden Needle White Lotus have also risen rapidly in price and are some of the most expensive freshly pressed ripe pu’erh cakes widely available. It should also be noted that Menghai productions have also changed over the years (i.e. pre-2004 Menghai Productions are thought of far more highly than 2004 onwards).

Age

 Tea $
10 Year Old Non-Menghai $35-50
10 Year Old Standard Menghai Recipe $75-120
15 Year Old Non-Menghai (often CNNP) $80-120
15 Year Old Stanrdard Menghai Recipe $200+
Note: Assumes 357g size.Similar to raw pu’erh, the price goes up steadily and dramatically once it hits a certain point. 15 year old ripe pu’erh is about twice the price of 10 year old ripe pu’erh for both Menghai and non-Menghai. Menghai ripe pu’erh is also ~2x the cost of other ripe pu’erh, making aged Menghai ripe pu’erh an expensive value proposition!
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2 Responses to Ripe Pu’erh Shopping. What does your Money Buy?

  1. Hello James,

    Thank you for another great and very useful article.

    From my experience the drinking of various white wrappers and other less well known productions by smaller factories is definitely an adventure or more accurately a treasure hunt. The quality is greatly wide-ranging from these other factories (outside the Big 3) where there are some good and decent ones and if you are unlucky some absolutely horrid ones.

    Personally I enjoy these treasure hunts from time to time as you have quite rightly mentioned it can save you money. My approach is to shoot first and ask questions later by way of a double dose of boiling hot water. Carefully observe for any funny business, sniff and smell before approaching and putting anything in your mouth 🙂

    Best wishes
    Varat

    • James says:

      Hi Varat,

      Thanks for stopping in and sharing your knowledge! I’m looking forward to trying that Red Dayi you just posted about :).

      Cheers!
      -James

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