Friday, February 09, 2007

Puerh's latest news

Teaparker has come back from Shanghai last weekend. He was very impressed by how quickly China was developing in terms of quality and prices of tea. Old puerh can be found in department houses and it sells for top dollars. He also visited a new tea house in Shanghai that left him stunned. The setting is an old renovated colonial house (in the French quarter, if I remember well). Inside, each room is named after a famous puerh mountain. And in the main room, the wall is covered with a display of old puerh beengs (Sung Pin, Red label, Yellow Label...) All the famous puerh cakes are there. And -what makes it worth mentionning- they are real! (According to Teaparker's evaluation). The prices for such cakes run in the 200,000-400,000 RMB (25,000 to 50,000 USD) in this tea house. If that's too expensive for you, you can always ask to just brew a little sample of such teas for... 20,000 RMB (2,500 USD). This is just 2 third of the price membership there costs... If you choose to brew something younger and less expensive, just keep in mind the minimum cover charge of 1000 RMB (125 USD)!

This feedback about China (I personnally haven't been there, despite over 10 years on the island of Taiwan) sounds pretty consistent to what my brother in law reported. 7-8 years ago he travelled there feeling proud and superior coming from Taiwan. 2 weeks ago, feeling that his career prospects in the construction business are limited in Taiwan, he made another trip to interview for a engineering job on the Mainland. This time, he felt very humble. So much had changed there. He almost felt he wouldn't be qualified enough for the job. The project he would work on (the construction of a new industrial park) is bigger in size and capital spending then all the building projects he has worked on in Taiwan over his 20 years career!

In June 2005, when China's stock market hit a low, I had recommended China as a good investment opportunity. The China 25 ETF I had mentioned has roughly doubled in the meantime (also boosted by the fact that the dollar has started to loose value against the RMB).

What does this all mean for puerh fans? China's continuous and strong economic growth means that there are more and more people who can afford quality tea. But not only do they have the means, but they also start to the desire and the curiosity to buy puerh. That Shanghai, a green tea stronghold (Bi Luo Chun from Jiangsu) would be the place for such a puerh store shows that the rich and famous are being conquered by the puerh wave. And like most fashions, they start in the cities of influence and then spread to the rest of the country.

The combination of these 2 developments means that puerh prices are rising and will continue to do so for some time (or that the quality you get for the same price will be lower than in the past.) I'm probably not the first (or the last) to have figured this out. This also explains why so many merchants are keeping puerh for long term storage. However, Yunnan is one of the poorest regions in China and I believe that increasing prices will mean that more puerh plantations will be established to fill the increased demand. That means that plantation puerh shouldn't increase as much as wild puerh.


Last Sunday, in a tasting of puerh from south west Yunnan, we had 2 different cakes (sorry, no pictures). They were indeed very different. One was excellent, fruity with a long aftertaste that seemed endless and coming layer by layer. The other one was so bitter (after the 4 minutes testing brew) that I still shudder when thinking about it. The mao cha used in these 2 beengs was were very similar. The main difference was in the process. One had been made with care, with leaves sun dried. The other one showed more sloppiness in the making: the cake was uneven and not well pressed. Also, the leaves had been oven baked. So, even if the leaves are first grade, coming from an old and wild tree, this still doesn't mean that the cake will be good. It still takes lots of skills to process it well.

Teaparker had a fitting comparison: you may have a farm chicken fed on organic food, but it still takes an experienced cook to turn it into a wonderful dish! A hint: look at the craftsmanship of your cake. Are the leaves evenly laid out? Is the inside the same as the outside? Is the back the same as the front? How well is the cake on the rim? Are there old leaves?... This can help you evaluate the quality of the cake, even though there is no substitute to actually tasting it.

5 comments:

Anatol said...

Bonjour,

J'habite en France, un peu loin de tout, et je suis donc obligé d'acheter mon thé par correspondance. Dernièrement, j'ai trouvé que la qualité est fortement en baisse chez les grandes enseignes Francaises bien connues (en particulier, les thés ne correspondent pas toujours à la récolte annoncée).

Pouvez-vous me conseiller une bonne adresse, en France ou par Internet ?

Cordialement,
Anatol.

Stephane said...

Bonjour,

Je vous propose humblement de faire un tour sur ma page de 'Tea Masters Selection - Thés chinois et ustensiles'. Vous y trouverez la liste de mes thés et mes coordonnées pour me contacter par Internet.
Merci,

Stéphane

Aaron said...

Hello Stephane,

I just wanted to say, that even here in New York City with a huge Chinese population, I can empathize with the above poster; as I find it a difficult struggle to procure quality tea myself. ( and I will be e-mailing you for your updated price list shortly)

Lately, I have been thinking about the rising prices and demand for Puerh. In my relatively limited experience I agree with your conclusion that there have and will continue to be new factories and plantations to fill the increasing demand. Quality seems to vary widely, even from the old reputable factories as the price has been increasing rapidly. The positive side of this increase in price and seems to be all kinds of excellent product from some Taiwan based factories. Though in the end, you are right that even if the cake looks good, (or if it looks like it may taste bad) the only way to know is to taste it.

On a related note, I recently read that there is a theory among Puerh experts that quality has been slowly declining since around the year 2000. Any thoughts on this?

Best Regards,
Aaron

Alex said...

Bonjour

je suis en ce moment à shanghai. J'aurai aimé savoir si teaparker pouvait me donner quelques bonnes adresses. C est vraiment tres gentil de ça part.

Cordialement,
Alex

Stephane said...

Aaron,

The puerh fashion seems younger than from 2000. Besides, it may be difficult to generalize like this. Even now, there are very good puerh cakes made in China (according to the tastings of samples Teaparker bought in Yunnan). However, these cakes are much more expensive than before. So, the problem is not more that there is more and more average (bad) quality on the market and that good stuff is getting more expensive.

Alex,

j'ai eu ton message ton tard, au retour de mes cours avec Teaparker. En Chine, l'important est de gouter avant d'acheter et de montrer que tu t'y connais en thé.