The custom private label pu’erh has really thrived in the western market – with vendors increasingly sourcing their own pressings directly from Yunnan. This was a new thing for westerners back in 2009 when just Yunnan Sourcing and Essence of Tea pressed tea. Now it is almost a rite of passage for a pu’erh-centric vendor, and we have access to a sleuth of options all over Yunnan.
- I took the 2017 raw pu’erh added to some of the most popular western pu’erh vendors. The data was broken down into prefecture, Xishuangbanna, Simao and Lincang. There’s no way to exactly verify the tea is exactly where it is marketed as, we assume that it is likely accurate for the greater area.
Xishuangbanna Material Usually Runs More Expensive Than Simao or Lincang
In the 1990s and 2000s as the pu’erh scene began to pick back up, the earliest regions to get marketed were Xishuangbanna-centric. Yiwu, then places like Banzhang, Mengsong, Nannuo – all are in Xishuangbanna prefecture. It shouldn’t be surprising that in 2009, Yunnan Sourcing and Essence of Tea pressed predominantly Xishuangbanna teas. Scott pressed what has become annual pressings of Ailao and Wuliang (both in Simao), but all of the rest (12 of 14) were pressed out of supposed Xishuangbanna material (see 2009 Western Vendor Pressings).
As demand has increased and the price of higher quality Xishuangbanna material has gone up, these other areas have developed their own demand. I don’t have pricing data for 2009 but I guarantee they were a fraction of 2017 prices.
Price per Prefecture
|Prefecture||# Teas||Median $/g||Avg. Cake Size||$0.50/g+||$200+ Teas||$100+ Teas|
This may not be breaking any news, but it can be a shocking to see how comparatively expensive some of the Xishuangbanna cakes are. Xishuangbanna sits at the top with a median price of $0.56/g, a figure which ranks about 3x as high as the median price for Simao ($0.19/g) and Lincang ($0.17/g).
The average cake size is also an indicator of a modern pu’erh trend – the Xiaobing. One way to fight sticker shock and produce a more appealing product is to reduce the cake size. Unsurprisingly, these pricy Xishuangbanna cakes are much smaller on average falling at an average of ~235g vs. ~380g for Lincang and Simao cakes. That doesn’t totally stop sticker shock but it does probably help to mitigate it.
It’s worth noting that while Yunnan Sourcing started out with a heavy Xishuangbanna focused it has since shifted – Hobbes has correctly noted that Scott has increasingly pressed the majority of his tea from less hyped and less pricy regions. Yunnan Sourcing’s low average costs and larger cake sizes stand out. It also means that YS pressings make up a large chunk of our data on Simao and Lincang pressings.
You could also argue that YS is an unfair outlier that brings the averages down. However, these overall pricing trends hold up within YS own selection as well. Some of Scott’s most expensive teas are the four Xishuangbanna cakes which have both a significantly higher price (med: $0.41/g) and smaller cake size (250g) than the rest of his tea.
Vendor Breakdown Regionally
|Vendor||# Teas||# Lincang||# Simao||
|Bitter Leaf Tea||8||1||1||6|
|Essence of Tea||8||0||4||2|
|Vendor||# Teas||Median $/g||Average Cake Size||$0.50/g+||$200+ Teas||
|Bitter Leaf Tea||8||$0.35||170.5||2||0||0|
|Essence of Tea||8||$0.24||400||2||2||3|
Who’s Missing? Where Crimson Lotus Tea & Chawangshop Fit
These two weren’t included for the simple reason that they had yet to release the 2017 lineup at the time of the number crunching. Vendors tend to follow certain patterns and use connections from previous years so we can take an educated stab. Crimson Lotus, would probably offer a few productions from Lincang (i.e. Baiying) and a few Simao teas (Jingmai, Kunlu), as well as a blend or two. This makes them perhaps most similar to a Yunnan Sourcing in their willingness to press predominantly Simao and Lincang material.
In past years, Chawangshop has pressed a lot of budget Xishuangbanna tea (Bada, Bulang, Manzhuan) with a few outlying areas. This probably would’ve brought the overall median price down a little bit for Xishuangbanna tea but probably not enough to cause a huge difference. Chawangshop is most similar to Yunnan Sourcing in price per gram.
There’s a lot of choices for us to buy our young pu’erh. Cheap, mid-priced, expensive. Xishuangbanna, Simao, Lincang.. Most vendors don’t sell out everything from previous years, making the overall selection even vaster than what this data shows. It certainly gives us a lot of young pu’erh options.
It’s interesting how much more expensive Xishuangbanna-made raw pu’erh tea is compared with the northern prefectures. Still I’m not sure that really informs our buying. A lot of the worthy pu’erh has historically come from Xishuangbanna and there continue to be high quality tea made there. I also don’t want to assert that you can’t get premium tea from outside of Xishuangbanna — areas such as Bingdao, Xigui, and Jingmai aren’t exactly the bargain bins of Yunnan.