Western Vendor Pu’erh Prices at Conception have Risen Since 2011 (& Probably Before)

It’s common in the pu’erh-verse to note the seemingly always rising price of freshly produced tea. Every year more expensive than the last… Even with the limited scope of western-vendor labeled pu’erh, we can take a quick look at the Way Back Machine and glance at what pu’erhs were selling for a few years ago and compare it to 2017/2018 prices.. It’s also an interesting exercise to look at old Half-Dipper reviews and realize that a lot of tea is simply no longer available. It used to be noteworthy when a fresh cake sold for three figures, now it’s commonplace. Those times are gone.. Oh and that cake is probably 200 grams…

  • Scroll to the bottom if you want to read about the dataset.

Pu’erh Prices at Conception Have Risen A Lot Over The Past Seven Years

Median $/g per Year for Select Western Vendors

Year # Vendors Averaged Vendor Median $/g
2011 2 $0.08
2012 3 $0.14
2013 3 $0.18
2014 5 $0.29
2015 5 $0.23
2016 4 $0.25
2017 4 $0.35

This is our top most perspective.. If we look at the average price of the median tea per year, from 2011 to 2017, the upward trajectory is obvious. In 2011, the average tea landed at ~$0.08/g a modest $28-29/357g cake. In 2017, this number rose to $0.35/g. The comparison is simplistic and shows a huge increase in the price at conception (~335% increase) with 2017 representing potentially the highest prices ever. The median priced 2011 tea in $/g (literally the middle of the road production) for Yunnan Sourcing was $0.07/g, with the median productions being the $27/400gram Shangchun and the $29/400g Bada.. For Chawangshop it wasn’t much different a bank-busting, $0.08/g. These days it is rare to find fresh tea for those prices.

If you are interested in how YS controls their pricing over the years we can observe that the now seven year old Shangchun sells for $58 (115% increase) and the 2011 Bada sells for $72 (148% increase). These increases amount to about 15-16.5% per year. More on this later..

Prices Are Generally Trending Up, but 2015 is an Exception. UP/DOWN

An alternate way to look at potential price trends is to compare an individual vendors prices year to year.

EXAMPLE: Theoretical Vendor Median Production $/g Price

Year
Median Production $/g
2013 $0.25
2014 $0.40
2015 $0.35
2016 $0.50
2017 $0.45
If we average the prices of the median production for all years we get $0.39/g. In 2016, the median tea across all vendors was $0.50/g. 2016 was UP from our average, a potential sign towards higher than average prices for that particular year.

Yunnan Sourcing Median $/g & UP/DOWN Year Measurement

Vendor Year # Teas Average $/g Median $/g UP/DOWN
Yunnan Sourcing 2011 10 $0.10 $0.07 DOWN
Yunnan Sourcing 2012 19 $0.13 $0.09 DOWN
Yunnan Sourcing 2013 16 $0.17 $0.13
Yunnan Sourcing 2014 16 $0.12 $0.12
Yunnan Sourcing 2015 16 $0.20 $0.14
Yunnan Sourcing 2016 28 $0.21 $0.17 UP
Yunnan Sourcing 2017 36 $0.22 $0.19 UP
Yunnan Sourcing TOTAL 141 $0.18 $0.15
Yunnan Sourcing AVERAGED YEARS 20.15 $0.16 $0.13
UP/DOWN by Year
Year # Vendors # UP # DOWN % UP % DOWN
2011 2 0 2 0.00% 100.00%
2012 3 0 2 0.00% 100.00%
2013 3 0 1 0.00% 33.00%
2014 5 3 0 60.00% 0.00%
2015 5 0 2 0.00% 40.00%
2016 4 2 1 50.00% 25.00%
2017 4 3 0 75.00% 0.00%
By simple observation, we see there are a lot more recent years where prices are higher than the vendor’s average, whereas 2011-2013 were lower.
  • The notable exception to the rising prices trend is 2015 where no vendors tracked had an UP year and two had a DOWN year. Uncoincidentally, 2015 is occasionally noted as a year with lower maocha prices than the more expensive 2014.

With Vendor Adjusted Prices, Prices Are Still Up

One adjustment that we can make to our very basic glimpse at average pu’erh prices over time is by adjusting for vendors. Yunnan Sourcing and Chawangshop tend to press more inexpensive tea at conception than more premium-oriented vendors like Tea Urchin and White2Tea (Crimson Lotus Tea falls somewhere in the middle). If the median tea for YS (avg. tea price for all years is around $0.13/g) was priced at $0.25/g that would indicate that prices overall that year might be high. Whereas if White2Tea (avg. tea price for all years $0.40/g) median production was $0.25/g that would be an indicator that prices are unusually low. Because YS was the only vendor that produced pu’erh every year, this means that depending on the year and who pressed pu’erh can bias our dataset.

Vendor Adjustments Table

Vendor # Years Total Teas
% Price Compared to Typical $/g in Year
Chawangshop 6 35 -33.88%
Crimson Lotus Tea 4 27 3.10%
Tea Urchin 5 47 53.53%
White2Tea 4 47 41.74%
Yunnan Sourcing 7 141 -33.88%
With this table of vendor adjustments we can create a separate $/g metric that adjusts the median price depending on who pressed tea in that particular year.

Vendor Adjusted Median $/g

Year Averaged Vendor Median $/g Vendor Adjusted Median $/g
2011 $0.08 $0.11
2012 $0.14 $0.14
2013 $0.18 $0.18
2014 $0.29 $0.26
2015 $0.23 $0.21
2016 $0.25 $0.27
2017 $0.35 $0.30
This indicates a steady increase in price and that 2017 was the most expensive year ever. But the price increase is smoothed out from a ~335% increase to a ~175% increase. Under both the average vendor $/g metric and the vendor adjusted one, the only year where prices did not rise was 2015, which is only a small blip against the overall trend. This lines up with our UP/DOWN tracking from earlier.

Semi-Aged Tea Can Potentially Represent Superior Value

Let’s look at the 2011 Shangchun and Bada from the earlier example. These were about average productions for Yunnan Sourcing in 2011 when originally made. If you were interested in one or both, the best case would’ve been to buy those teas fresh, as they have risen steadily and now sit respectively at 115% and 148% higher than original prices.. Because we do not have a time machine, and we limit ourselves to present day options, you can (a) buy them now or (b) buy something fresh.

  • The average (median) material from 2011 YS now costs $58 ($0.15/g) and $72 ($0.18/g) as six/seven year old tea.
  • The average (median) material from 2017 YS is $0.19/g as fresh tea, an example being the 2017 Zaoqiaodi selling for $76/400g ($0.19/g).

Over doubling in six years is a significant increase — but even still the median of the 2011 production is cheaper than the median fresh and unaged 2017 production. If raw material quality is assumed to be constant, this would infer that despite annual price increases (15+%) the cost of the raw material has risen at a similar, if not faster speed. Another way to look at it… The prices of these YS teas have increased by 115% and 148%, but our previous measurement indicates that the price at conception has risen even more, anywhere from 175% to 335%!

This case comes with its share of caveats. For one, quality isn’t controlled for and you could make a case that the average YS production is better processed or higher quality in 2017. There’s also the matter of a different markup and other behind the scenes stuff that is difficult to determine. Still I find the case for semi-aged to be a compelling one and a nudge towards the concept that buying semi-aged tea doesn’t necessarily come at the cost of inferior base material.

  • In this article, the oldest tea we’re using for our data is from 2011. Nearly all indicators point to pu’erh prices being much lower on conception in the 2000s. These trends likely extend through most of the 2000s.

Dataset

For the dataset I used the pu’erh productions from Chawangshop, Crimson Lotus Tea, Tea Urchin, White2Tea, and Yunnan Sourcing. All of these have been pressing tea on their own label since 2014, with YS and CWS having pressed tea since 2011. The list is not totally complete as I’m sure there are certain productions missing. There are also other productions where I couldn’t verify the release price. Still it’s a dataset that spans 297 productions over 7 years (2011-2017)..

  • I excluded pu-erh.sk and Essence of Tea because the exchange rate makes these calculations complicated (they don’t deal in USD). Other vendors that haven’t been pressing as long (i.e. BLT) were also excluded.
  • tldr: Pu’erh prices have gone up.

Filmed an episode with 2017 Chenyuan Hao Dragon Egg. Thanks @liquidproust

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4 Responses to Western Vendor Pu’erh Prices at Conception have Risen Since 2011 (& Probably Before)

  1. Karl says:

    James,

    I appreciate the time and effort that you put into your analysis. Caveats aside, this has matched my own perceptions regarding the price of new Puer tea and the relative value of semi aged Puer tea by comparison. As you surmised, I have seen this trend as a continuance from even earlier years. As a result, I have not purchased many new raw teas since 2012 but have stuck to primarily teas with 5-15years of age for the last several years. My only real exception has been ripe teas…but the last couple of years have seen significant increases as well. Luckily, I have enough tea in storage that I only purchase a few cakes a year now.

    Regards,

    • James says:

      Thanks Karl. I appreciate the comment. I totally agree and my buying has gone in a similar pattern the past few years.

  2. Cwyn says:

    The productions are worth scrutiny on a more specific basis, especially if a vendor’s median tea was, for example, an inexpensive Yiwu a few years ago, but now that median tea is something more common. White2tea has said there is no way they could do Pin again, the price for that material has nearly doubled and the customer probably wouldn’t pay the premium. I hope buyers look at vendor catalogs to see what productions are not on repeat and pick up any of interest before they are gone.

    • James says:

      Hi Cwyn,

      I agree. When it comes down to picking what to buy, it really does come down to a tea by tea basis. It’s hard to predict when the window of opportunity for certain teas will disappear or the price will go up dramatically and that can vary a lot tea to tea.

      -James

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