VORT & VOATO. Nerdy Tea Comparisons.


In sports analytics (baseball and basketball), there’s a couple of new(ish) advanced metrics that have caught traction over the past decade. One is VORP, which stands for Value Over Replacement Player and measures a player’s contribution compared with what a theoretical placement player might. This is typically measured in baseball as runs with the player being measured vs. a replacement player. Another somewhat similar metric, is WAR or Wins Above Replacement. This is measured in wins. The methodologies for these vary across sports, but involve aggregating data together in some sort of a model.

In these metrics, something that rates exactly 0 would be the level of a replacement player. A positive number would indicate the player has a positive contribution. A negative number would indicate a negative value. A value of +2.6 WAR would mean that a player has positively contributed 2.6 wins. A negative number like -1.2 would mean that an average replacement player would’ve been better than the player by 1.2 wins!

Baseball Reference WAR
Baseball Reference WAR.

VORT (Value Over Replacement Tea)

If we think of the tea-equivalent to the sports analytics, we can think of something VORT or the Value Over Replacement Tea at a certain price point. This is an inherently personal metric in a way that sports aren’t. There aren’t wins in tea and this is subjective. But many of us instinctually do this anyways when we call something overpriced or underpriced. We’re essentially measuring the tea against what is available for us at a certain price range – and I do think it can be an interesting exercise to think about how a tea compares with the replacement level/average tea.

There are no “wins” or “runs” equivalent in tea, so we’re left with a somewhat arbitrary gradation scheme. A tea that has +1.0 rating is a grade higher than an average tea.

How does this tea compared with the average tea available for purchase to me?

In some sense the obvious subjectivity of the judgement is more fine than it might initially seem. You may give a tea a +3.2 rating different from your friend’s +2.5. But presumably any purchasing will also be consumed by yourself, it makes your ratings the most pertinent anyways.

An Example: 2018 YS Autumn Nanpozhai

This logic can be applied generally but also on a more sub-categorical level to young pu’erh, semi-aged pu’erh, Yiwu, Bulang, etc.

Matt has become perhaps the most prolific, established blogger of young pu’erh in the past couple years. One review that caught my eye recently was his review of Scott’s 2018 Autumn Nanpozhai. I have not tried the tea so this comparison is theoretical for me. The tea’s described as:

Overall, this has some really powerful Qi sensations.  I don’t recall ever drinking a single estate puerh this cheap with such strong body sensations.  This puerh really punches above its weight in this department. The taste is alright, a very nice taste actually a bit of a unique very savory taste mixed with some Mengku charms.  This one is all about the intensity of the bodyfeeling and overpowering effect on the mind.

The tea from just Matt’s reaction sounds well-above average. But to really know, we can compare the tea with the other options that are available. The Nanpozhai sells for $72/400g or $0.18/g (it’s since gone up in price).

To do this comparison, we’d think of our own enjoyment of it versus other teas around $0.18/g (say $0.15-$0.21/g). How does it compare with other teas you’ve tried. Maybe you’ve sampled the YS San Ceng Yun ($0.175/g), W2T’s Green Hype ($0.19/g) or Zhensilong’s Dingjiazhai ($0.22/g). Where does the Nanpozhai fit in comparison with these? Is it above average? If so, by how much. We can also extend this comparison out and compare it with something a bit different but still related. For instance the similarly priced, semi-aged pu’erh like the 2005 Mengku Wild Arbor. Maybe Matt in the hypothetical example decides that the Nanpozhai is +1.3 in it’s range or about 1.3 grades higher than the average tea he samples in that category.

Rather than simply thinking of whether we like it or not in a vacuum, it can make a more interesting assessment by comparing it directly with other teas. Maybe the tea’s impressions hold up well, but maybe we’re not as comfortable saying it is better than them once we’re comparing it directly with known teas rather than something more theoretical.

  • If I were to redo the tea of the month reports (or if I ever do more), I’d add this.

VOATO (Value Over Average Tea Owned)

A more practical way to see if you actually want to consider purchasing a tea is to compare it with teas you actually own. My suggested metric VOATO is similar to VORT, but is the Value Over Average Tea Owned. In other words you are comparing it with teas you’ve already bought.

For drinkers just starting out, it won’t be terribly difficult for teas your sampling to beat teas you own. You probably don’t own much.

But for people that have a year of buying or more, it could end up being a harder barrier to beat than VORT. The teas you own are not a random selection and not as random as samples you may buy. They’re teas you’re likely to be drinking regularly, and presumably things you’ve liked in the past enough to purchase. For someone a decade into pu’erh, this is probably a very hard barrier to top!

A tea could end up being well-above average in VORT but still score negative in VOATO. in this case it is better than a random sampling but worse than the teas already purchased. For me this is definitely true, I like a majority of the teas I own and it’s very possible for me to find a tea theoretically above average, but with a negative VOATO.

  • This is also a useful way to think about tea if you don’t sample regularly.
  • This metric can be used independent of cost or with cost considerations.
  • For the hardcore and those hammering teas, an even more advanced metric would be VOAToO, Value Over Average Tong Owned.

Figuring Out Your Average Tea

To figure this out I’d take the teas I’ve bought at a certain price range and toss them into a spreadsheet. If I were to take it at $0.30/g (+/- $0.03/g) I would be looking at teas like:

Sample Table of Teas Owned Around $0.27/g +/-$0.03/g

Purple Yisheng$100.00357$0.28
2004 CNNP 7542$91.00357$0.25

While I’m not sure what would be the median tea in this list, it makes a good list to compare teas too.. If a tea you’re trying ranks at the bottom of that list, even if its above average it’s probably not worth purchasing unless it adds a unique experience that differs from teas you already have.

Mental Process or How We Buy Tea

If you’ve made it this far, it should be quite clear that this way of thinking about tea is totally optional. As someone who enjoys looking at sports analytics, and into extraneous spreadsheets this has a natural appeal to me. I’ve found I already mentally follow a process kind of like this in terms of comparisons and buying tea, even without assigning these specific metrics..

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6 responses to “VORT & VOATO. Nerdy Tea Comparisons.”

  1. James,

    Another interesting article, and I have to say I follow a similar thought process when I am looking at purchasing new teas, though I probably have more than enough already. It’s just fun to try to try new things. I hope you are enjoying the holidays.


    • Thanks Karl. Hope you’re having a great holiday as well.

      I’m kind of at the same point. This may end up being the first year where I bought less than what I originally mapped out at the beginning. When I compared potential buys vs. what I already have, it’s not always a convincing purchase.


  2. James,

    I tried to buy off YS yesterday and failed. Too much mental gymnastics. Impossible to do VOATO for tea buys from 10 years ago. I wimped out and ordered more muscatels and nilgiris from India. I was reviewing some of my past China tea receipts wondering if I really did pay $28 in shipping…


    • Hster,

      Good to hear from you! Mental gymnastics is a good way to describe the way I buy pu’erh sometimes.


  3. James,

    The way you look at tea through a data analytical perspective is interesting. It brings more awareness to the way I cognitively process my evaluations of tea.

    Recently I’ve been comparing a certain quality of puerh to other puerh that’s available and to others in my collection. Your example above specifically was evaluating body feeling in other single estate younger gushu puerh . it was comparing it to both puerh I own and to others out there.


    • Appreciate the comment Matt. I think your review of the Nanpozhai caught a lot of people’s attention. Didn’t end up buying it (I haven’t bought young pu’erh in years) but it got me peeking.

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