I get asked now and then what I’ve bought and where to buy from. Despite some past efforts of transparency and publicly shaming, I haven’t talked as directly about teas I’ve bought. If you read between the lines you can probably get some idea of what I go for. Over the last few years, I’ve slowed down an awful lot, first in terms of sampling and now in terms of buying. A few cakes I’ve bought in the last 8 or 9 months.
- 2004 Mengku Rongshi Qizibing
- 2010 8582
- 2005 Purple Yisheng
- 2000 Naked Yiwu
The Speed Test & Matt’s Addendums
At this point I have a good idea of what I like to drink and at what pace.. One test that I lacked the discipline to do early on was put myself on a buying freeze and see what teas I would gravitate to, effectively Marshaln’s speed test. Matt also expanded on this with a few additional points that are worth thinking about. Those of us with uncomfortably large amounts of tea means his point that:
Matt’s three points (paraphrased by me).
- Access is important. If a tea is deep in storage, it can be out of sight out of mind. And I’ll be less likely to drink it for reasons beyond the tea itself.
- Reorder potential. If a tea is available for reordering it may impact your own consumption of it. A second test is the reorder test.
- Stamina and potency.
Interestingly, 1 and 2 in particular don’t have anything inherently attached to quality. In my case, I’ve found (3) is actually pretty impactful in what I choose to drink. Some of my better teas that I own enough to drink, I don’t always have the capacity to drink, say 2006 YQH Chawangshu. Even at one session per day, drinking a tea that is both potent, attention-deserving and long-lasting means there’s only a couple days a week where I’d even consider bringing it out. Conversely, there are other days when I’ll be out for most of the early part of the day or I’m meeting up with a tea friend later, and I may opt for something that brews out quickly, like a Yancha or a shorter lasting aged oolong. The speed test helps to sort this stuff out.
There are multiple ways that I estimate my own drinking. If we ignore ripe consumption with my wife (~8 cakes/year), my solo consumption ranges from around an equivalent of 4 cakes or so a year up to a tong. Even in faster estimates (~6 grams a day) I’m drinking under a tong per year, spread across multiple tea types.
What I’ve Been Buying. Small Gambles & Rebuys
It’d kinda be bullshit if I implied I’ve halted my buying completely. I without a doubt spend more than I should but it is a lot less than a few years ago. I’d say my two sorts of buys fall into a few categories.
- Cheaper gambles of factory tea that I think/hope will improve.
- Quality teas that I enjoy drinking now.
- Oolong as I go.
- Ripe tea I drink with my wife.
With the top 2 categories, the teas always fall into something that is older (the youngest tea I’ve bought in the past couple years is the 2010 8582). Things like the 8582 fall easily into category 1, whereas things like the Naked Yiwu fall into category 2, a category where I’m aiming higher. Category 2 are often rebuys and things I’ve noticed I tend to want to drink and which I feel I may run out of at some point. There’s sometimes blurring of lines as others like the 2004 Mengku may fall into both categories.
Quantity-wise, following the grams consumed to grams bought model. If we put total consumption around 2kg per year or 6 cakes. I’m around 1:5 for the past year of buying. In other words I bought five years of tea in the past year. Not great, but a lot of it was in a single purchase where I bought a couple tongs of the Mengku (it’d otherwise be a little under 1:3).
Category 3 is oolong, which I drink fairly slowly but do like to keep around. I don’t buy it often, but I go for WuyiOrigin and Teahome when I do. Category 4 is ripe that I buy as I go from the usual suspects, like White2Tea and Yunnan Sourcing.
I don’t really drink or buy any young boutique tea (from western or eastern sources) which puts me at odds with a lot of the western scene, where something like 80-90% of the pu’erh released from popular western boutique vendors are young.
Around 75-80% of what I own ranges from 2003 to 2007 and that amount expands to around 90% if you extend it to include 2001-2010. So why older teas? Most importantly I prefer them. Young teas fail in my speed test; despite having access to quality options they rarely find their way into my gaiwan.
Secondly, I’m not remotely convinced that younger teas are great value for western buyers (yes I’ve beaten this drum before)… The median 2018 boutique tea is around $0.30/g. Let’s look at the four teas from the top of the post.. The Rongshi and 8582 were a fraction of the 2018 boutique average price (<$0.10/g). The Purple Yisheng, ~$105/cake ($0.30/g), hit around the median. And I bought the Naked Yiwu at a discount before it was on the market at around $0.30/g/cake. In other words, I’m not really breaking the bank by choosing to buy these teas ranging from around a decade to two decades old.
On one hand this is great news (semi-aged for not too much money!).. But hearing this may also be frustrating as the only one sold by a western vendor is the Naked Yiwu.. In my opinion the difficulty with getting decent semi-aged teas isn’t the price so much as access. The Mengku, a friend and I bought out from Taiwan and the 2010 Menghai 8582 was bought from Taishunhe both through a Taiwanese shipping agent. The Yisheng is just a solid Yiwu that I bought on Taobao. In other words, they require more hoops than just adding to cart and paying via Paypal. It’s not easy and requires patience but I do recommend people keep their eyes out for buying and sampling opportunities for semi-aged teas from Taobao, Taiwan, and Malaysia (see Liquidproust, Dead Leaves Club).