Datapost: The Dearth of Aged Pu’erh Available From Western Facing Vendors

It’s no secret that aged pu’erh is scarce out west. The western vendor scene is dominated by vendors traveling to Yunnan bringing back predominantly young tea to sell. For this exercise, I added all of the older teas from western vendors I could think of. Unlike some of my other data compilations, this one didn’t take long at all.. The cutoff for aged pu’erh (both raw and ripe) was set at 18 years (2000 and older). Setting it at 18 years puts it firmly above semi-aged, but also not high enough (25 years) where we would have no teas making the cut. It’s a number that’s probably going to annoy some people off because its too low and others because it isn’t high enough (ask Su what aged tea is!).

Aged Teas

A Few Aged Teas.

A Few Points on the Data

  • The dataset is sensitive to a year or two difference. If I moved it to exclude year 2000 teas, the list moves from 22 teas to 14. If I moved it to 2001, I think it would’ve expanded to around 30 teas.
  • This is an admittedly imperfect way to look at aged tea. I originally thought to do this by some combination of storage and age, both helping to form the basic profile of the tea. There are traditionally stored teas that are only 15 or 16 years old that I’d consider more mature and drinkable than 20 year old Kunming stored tea. In the end, I decided to go strictly by year because I have not tried the majority of teas in this list and a more specific categorization can get complex and too subjective quickly.
  • The age is also obviously subject to misinformation. There’s no great way to verify this.
  • As noted already, this is a small sample size.

What’s on the List?

See the list. It’s a pretty random bunch of tea that is divided relatively evenly between raw and ripe.

Pu’erh Type Frequency

Tea Type Total Productions % of Teas
Raw 9 37.50%
Ripe 12 50.00%
Raw/Ripe 1 4.17%
Name Brand/Dayi Teas (both Raw and Ripe)

This is a good chunk of the most expensive teas on the list and really bring up the average cost. Teas of known origin are going to have higher resale and collectibility value and this really shows in the price. It is telling that the $699 357 gram 1998 Dayi cake on Tea Urchin may actually be under-priced..

Older Teas

Most teas on this list skirt around the 18-19 year old mark. A few teas are 5+ years older and this also gets reflected in the price.

Everything Else

This is pretty much everything else. These teas should pretty much be treated as anonymous white label teas, presumably with some age under their belt. The prices here vary a lot depending on what the vendor thinks they can sell the tea for but are generally much lower than more recognized tea.

Noone is Really Specialized

One way to choose tea well is to select from a shop specialized that does a type of tea particularly well. For instance, buy Dongding from a shop specialized in Dongding. However.. Having a shop specialized in pu’erh that is westward facing, usually means more of a specialization in young pu’erh (and perhaps a region or two within Yunnan). There’s not really any obvious vendors with a specialized bent towards aged (or even semi-aged tea).

This becomes painfully obvious pretty quickly… One surprising thing about the list is that Yunnan Sourcing is the leading vendor in aged tea, having 50% of the productions on our list. Yunnan Sourcing is not a vendor known for aged tea, nor are they a vendor strategically placed somewhere like Hong Kong, Taiwan, or Malaysia to offer aged tea. They are also certainly not aged tea specialists as these 12 teas also compose probably under 1% of their total teas..

Teas Carried by Vendor

 Vendor Teas Carried % of Teas
Yunnan Sourcing 12 50.00%
Tealife.hk 3 12.50%
Tea Urchin 2 8.33%
Essence of Tea 2 8.33%
Adventure in Every Cup 2 8.33%
Bitter Leaf Tea 1 4.17%
W2T 0 0.00%
Crimson Lotus Tea 0 0.00%
Pu-erh.sk 0 0.00%

Cost & Average Tea Size

We’re beaten to death with the idea that pu’erh gets more expensive with age. And sure enough.. The tea’s median $/g is $0.47/g, with the average skewing higher due to older teas and name brand teas. This $/g is indeed higher than young pu’erh, which comes in around $0.30-$0.35/g for 2017 material. Being about 37% more expensive is a significant but a pretty reasonable amount considering we’re talking about 18 year old tea. In many ways this small price disparity says more about the craziness of rising maocha prices for young pu’erh than the price of aged pu’erh.

When I crunched the numbers on teas that vendors added to their sites in 2017, I found that young pu’erh was being pressed in increasingly smaller sizes (median size: 200 grams), whereas many of the semi-aged teas were 357 grams cakes. This trend doesn’t hold up for aged tea (median cake size: 250 grams). The median $/g of semi-aged teas was also just $0.18/g, whereas our aged selection it is much higher at $0.47/g. I’d guess that a large part of the size disparity is vendors actively trying to avoid sticker shock and choosing to source smaller sized tea, even at the expense of slightly more expensive tea. A $100 250 gram brick sounds cheaper than a $143 357 gram cake even though they are actually the same price per gram. Another possible explanation is that cakes from this time period generally use better material and trend pricier, rather than bricks or tuos.

Type of Pu’erh vs. Cost

Tea Type Median $/g
Median Aged Teas (18+ Years) Offered by Western Vnedor $0.47
Median 2017 Pu’erh Western Vendor $0.35
Median Semi-Aged Pu’erh Western Pu’erh Vendor $0.18

The Large Price Gap That Keeps Getting Bigger

There’s another notable source that westerners can buy from, HK-based vendor Sunsing. Sunsing, unlike these others vendors sells a lot of Dayi and name brand productions that are easy to look up in a pu’erh yearbook. Great! Only problem is the majority of Sunsing’s teas from the 1990s currently sell for over $4/g, well over $1,000 per cake. That leaves a gap that is widening between known productions that have greater resale and collectibility and white labels which are being sold at around $0.40-$0.50/g.

Is Aged Tea The Holy Grail?????

One contradiction I find fascinating in the west is how a lot of people put aged pu’erh on a pedestal as their ultimate goal..  But when pushed these same people often have virtually no experience with actual aged tea. I can’t blame the westerners too much for being averse to these teas, although I do think it’s within their best interest to try the options available to them. There’s just not a lot of options and while many are OK teas, the price prevents us from getting experience with higher-quality and more acclaimed teas. This lack of experience could prove consequential.. As more and more people get into pu’erh and attempt to age it, even if their setup ages the tea OK I wonder if they’ll eventually end up with something unfamiliar.

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