Friday, August 19, 2005

Puerh fever

A reader wrote me that Puerh prices are "skyrocketing" in San Francisco and that many vendors are sitting on their inventories and are waiting for prices to level. From my side, I can report that the Taiwanese importer I get my Pu-er from came back from Kunming, Yunnan last month without placing a single order for the 2005 harvest. Too expensive, he told me. Prices are at record levels this year. The booming Chinese economy and wealthier Chinese consumers may explain this inflation, but is it the only reason?

Let's see what Teaparker is analyzing the situation. He notices that Chinese tea drinkers in China, Taiwan, and around the world are currently very fond of puerh. Its quite trendy to collect puerh, especially since it's one of the few teas that will improve over time. Many merchants see puer as a product carrying little risk. You can buy it young and resell it when it has matured at a higher price.

However, the assumptions behind this price exuberrance are flawed and will come to haunt buyers one day:
1. It is believed that any puerh will improve over time. But Teaparker stresses that only good quality pu-er gets better. Let's compare it with red wines (they also experience the slow post fermentation process): the cheaper wines turn to vinegar while only the best get better!

2. Merchants look at current old pu er prices to estimate what their pu er will be worth in the future. However, they don't take into account the fact that the supply of old puers is scarce because few people knew it would improve. Now that this fact is widely known there is a lot of pu er kept to mature. This added offer of old pu er will weigh on future prices.

3. Few puer traders participating in this speculation actually know how best to store the tea. Some think it must be kept in a cool and dry place, like wine. Others will wrap it in plastic to avoid contact with air. In an other article, Teaparker informs us that some merchants have even been caught storing their puerh in pig and chicken farms. They hope the animal heat will speed up the aging. Don't they know tea absorbs odors from its environment? And what about germs and dirt?! Anywone cares for pork flavored puerh?!

These three reasons will cause the prices of low quality, badly stored puer to crash one day. Currently, the tea is not tasted and passes from trader to trader. The crash will happen when the retailers try to sell such teas to their actual consumers. And also when angry collectors of poor quality young puerh understand that their tea won't improve.

In this last article, Teaparker gives a few tips to detect the fake old puer:

1. You can smell a strong odor of mildew when you open the wrapping paper,

2. There is a white layer on the tea leaves and/or little spider nets. The stems of the pu er leaves are black instead of dark red like wine,

3. The taste of real old pu er is calm and without any strong smell.

4. The color of the rim in the glass is lustreless, black. Real old puer will have a shiny, white (some say greenish ;)) rim.

For these reasons, on the other hand, buying good, real, well aged pu er at a reasonable price will continue to be difficult. Luckily, I'm now here to help!

1 comment:

Linda said...

Thank you for this website. I plan on checking back from time to time. I've lived in Taiwan for awhile and studied a little bit about tea whilst living there. I am a Western-educated Taiwanese. However, it was not until recently when I returned to NYC and realising how full-blown the market here is for teas. I hope to study more about it here in NYC and plans for China, Taiwan, Japan and Korea next year. I hope to also be educated by your website. Well-done and good descriptions. Prends soin de toi!