Western Brands are Very Different from Big Factory Tea

  • The data from this original post was originally taken from puer.cn, and isn’t totally complete (it’s probably missing some productions). The information is intended as a proxy to look at some trends. Here’s the dataset of White2Tea, Yunnan Sourcing, Dayi, and Xiaguan. Dayi and Xiaguan we looked at 2004-2006 and 2014-2016. For W2T/YS we just looked at 2014-2016.

It’s no secret that the pu’erh market has changed a lot. Old factories like Dayi and Xiaguan have remained mainstays, but are pretty different entities than they were 30 or 40 years ago. Boutiques and more recently westward facing vendors have popped up. Some have pressed long enough to fall into certain patterns for what they offer, i.e. vendor X sells tea as Wuliang every year. As we’ve examined in what western vendors put into their inventory, boutique western facing vendors don’t necessarily offer a balanced selection of pu’erh. So are these big Chinese vendors offering the same sort of tea as we see places like Yunnan Sourcing or White2Tea are? Not exactly.

Who is Buying & Why?

In the western pu’erh scene we get exposed to a whole lot of raw pu’erh, but the selection tends to be heavily skewed towards young pu’erh. There’s also a bias towards drinkability. A substantive chunk of the western audience is buying pu’erh (both raw and ripe) for their own, often immediate consumption.. Big factories, like Dayi or Xiaguan, have a different audience. Their recently produced raw pu’erh probably isn’t consumed young very often, making it a fairly different animal than the young pu’erh western vendors sell. While there is the occasional western hobbyist who buys boutique tea by the tong and sells them down the road, big factory tea has a far easier to determine resale value and can be purchased by the jian(s) as a vehicle for investment/speculation.

  • On the topic of speculation. Factory raw pu’erh from earlier eras has obviously appreciated quite a lot. You can debate how much ripe pu’erh improves with time. But what about price appreciation for known productions? A quick glance at Dayi Shu prices from the 1990s or early 2000s, and there’s no denying that the price for both raw and ripe productions has increased.
Xiaguan Tuos

A pair of 2004 Xiaguan Tuos.

Ripe Pu’erh tend to be a Big Factory (& Bigger Production) Game

Because of how it is processed, ripe pu’erh is usually done in huge batches. The smaller vendor (includes all western vendors) who wants to sell ripe pu’erh under their own label, either needs to rewrap an existing production or buy different grades of tea from dealers or factories or buy a share of a batch. It’s a lot easier to do private label raw pu’erh, where the vendor can go to the farmer and buy as little as a few kilos and press it.

The data reflects this, and while White2Tea and Yunnan Sourcing are some of the few western vendors who do actually have ripe pu’erh under their own labels — it still makes up a pretty small total amount of their total productions, 24 out of 161 productions or about 15%. This fits into the stereotypical western vendor business model of offering a wider range of young raw and a very small selection of other pu’erh categories (i.e. semi-aged, ripe). Compare that with the 2014-2016 Dayi/XG where 126 out of 366 or 34.4% are ripe.

On the subject of production size in raw vs. ripe… Yunnan Sourcing sometimes lists their production sizes. Their ripe productions tend to be much larger (i.e. the 2015 Year of the Goat was made with 300kg of material) whereas the raw productions trend smaller (typically 30-80kg, i.e. 2017 Manzhuan or 2017 Daxueshan). This fits with our understanding of how ripe pu’erh is acquired and sold.

Big Factories Produce More Ripe Tea Than Boutiques

# Teas % Raw % Ripe
2004-2006 Dayi + XG 265 72.60% 27.40%
2014-2016 Dayi + XG 366 65.60% 34.40%
2014-2016 YS + W2T 160 85.00% 15.00%

Fact or Fiction? Xiaguan Presses Sheng Cha & Dayi Presses Shu Cha w/a Little bit of Sheng Cha

Dayi is associated with ripe tea. It has a long history with shu cha dating back to its creation, with then Dayi employee, Zou Bingliang acting as one of the principal parties in coming up with the controlled fermentation process. Many of the famous recipes are Dayi creations, 7572, 8592, 7262, etc. Xiaguan has also pressed ripe tea for many years, but is more known for their raw pu’erh.

Indeed, Dayi does press a lot of shu. Slightly under 40% (71 out of 181) of teas made in 2004-2006 were ripe pu’erh, and ~61% of teas (84 out of 138) made from 2014-2016 were ripe. 18 were numbered recipes compared with 33 from 2004-2006, perhaps indicating an emphasis on special productions or “higher quality” teas, that can be sold as scarcer, more premium vehicles of speculation. This is also a fairly balanced approach in terms of a ripe/raw balance. Dayi has made classic raw pu’erh teas and there’s no indication that they’ve really slowed down in producing raw pu’erh either.

The more extreme change in ripe production has occurred with Xiaguan. From 2004-2006 there were a grand total of two ripe pu’erh teas in our dataset. I suspect that we’re probably missing some productions here, but that is a stark contrast with the 82 raw pu’erh teas in the dataset from 2004-2006. In the same period, Dayi had 71 ripe pu’erh teas. In more recent years Xiaguan has been a bit more balanced, pressing ~19% ripe tea from 2014-2016.

Dayi Presses More Ripe than Xiaguan

# Teas % Ripe
% Numbered Ripe Recipes
Dayi 2004-2006 181 39.20% 18.23%
Dayi 2014-2016 138 60.87% 13.04%
Xiaguan 2004-2006 84 2.38%
Xiaguan 2014-2016 230 18.69%
This entry was posted in Aged Pu'erh, Article, Raw Pu'erh, Ripe Pu'erh and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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