Is this the turning point of Pu-erh price

Is now the turning point of Pu-erh (unrealistic) price

pu erh tea bamboo packaging smallMany tea consumers have been flabbergasted by the price tags of certain Pu-erh teas during the recent years.

The dynamic in the Pu-erh’s production and consumption has also shifted during this period and a storm is brewing.

Following are some of changes that have occurred.

The increase of the production

The production of Pu-erh teas has been expending significantly during the last 30 years or so, fueled by the increase in the interest and demand.

It is reported that 50.8 tons of Pu-eh tea was produced in Yunnan in 2010, this increases to 162 tons by 2020. Unparallel to the consumption increase, many tea merchants have stockpiled their teas in the warehouses based on this believe and expectation: ‘sale whatever can be sold and the leftover will increase in value with time’.

This believe is based on:

  1. the fact that he more a Pu-erh tea (provided it is a good quality tea) is aged the better the quality
  2. the price surge of certain aged Pu-erh teas during the end of last century and early this century

The current decline of the disposable income

China is currently going through an economic down turn. Many have expected the economic to bounce back post-Covid and the recovery is not near as robust as expected. The unemployment rate is high and still climbing and the ones with jobs are having their pays cut. With the fast shrinking disposable income, following phenomenon are observed:

  • Pu-erh consumers start buying cheaper, more realistically priced Pu-erh teas,
  • many Pu-erh consumers have their own stockpiles of Pu-erh teas at home for the purpose of buying new at the relatively lower prices to age ( to avoid buying expensive aged ones later). When the budget is tight, they turn to these stockpiles to avoid buying.

The sharp drop in sales of the Pu-erh market and the desperate need for cash

The Pu-erh market in China is experiencing an unprecedent drop in sales - a bust of a Pu-erh bubble if you like. The shops are empty and many are closing down. The still operating small and medium tea merchants are desperate for cash to keep the businesses afloat.

One of the Pu-erh commentators summed up as such: Pu-erh was like gold when the demand was high and the supplies were limited; the stockpiles of the cakes now are not more than money on paper, or local produce just as how the Pu-erh tea started.

The current state and the future 

The current state of the Pu-erh market in China is that the demand for good quality Pu-erh, such as the Gu-Shu Pu-erh from the quality regions/hills is still high. The supplies of other teas have definitely exceeded the market buying capacity.

Whether this will result in a complete Pu-erh tea price crush depends on many factors. The outlook is however not looking bright.


The elevation of tea spirit

Teas, green tea, white tea, yellow tea, Oolong, black tea, Hei Cha and Pu-erh tea, have been consumed in China for more than 2000 years. 

Today, it has developed into a much higher level of significance in many tea drinkers' life than merely a beverage to crunch the thirst. 

Following are the six levels of elevations: 

  1. A beverage
  2. A social media. 以茶会友 (greeting friends with a pot of tea) is a Chinese tradition that represents hospitality and respect. It has become a media for socializing for the young generations in more modern time, similar to coffee.   
  3. The appreciation of their physical qualities, such as appearance, aroma, flavor and aftertaste etc.
  4. A stage where a tea is experienced by one's body, but not just taste buds or nose.  The senses of cleansing, balancing, calming and wellbeing. (These have been validated by the health benefits researched and reported by modern researches.) This is considered to be the point of not return - tea becomes an essential part of one's life. 
  5. The art of tea. Tea drinkers start paying attention to the environmental conditions such as location, tea ware to use, water for brewing the tea and the people to enjoy the tea with. Many tea rituals have developed as the results, such as various tea ceremonies. 
  6. The spiritual elevation and connection with the tea, when all is required is a cup of tea and the person drinking it. It is state of simplicity, purity, exclusiveness and focus. This is used by many, such as Buddhist monks, as an aid for meditation.  



Why are white teas so expensive

Chinese white teaWhite tea is a germ among the premium Chinese teas. The premium white teas have been traditionally produced in limited pocket areas of the Fujian Province of south-east China, such as Fuding, Zhenghe and Jianyang. Fuding (福鼎) white tea is considered to be the best in quality and a 35% price hike was recorded in a year in 2017. The market price of Fuding Silver Needle has tripled during the last 10 years.

Many reasons have contributed to such a price hike of white teas in recent years in comparison to other teas, for example the cousin green tea.

Like all highly sought after products with limited supply, increasing demand is the main driving force.

The limited production

White tea plants 

The tea plant used for producing the authentic Fujian white tea is unique, the most famous one being the ‘Fu Ding Da Bai Hao’ (福鼎大白毫 - Fuding Big White Down). The tea leaves are characterized by being strong, full and bold with needle shaped tip buds and covered with the white down fur - where the name Silver Needle is derived from.

White tea plants take years to gown into maturity before yielding corps of rich nutrients and flavor. The harvesting typically starts 3-4 years after the new plants are planted. Many prime tea plantations are however over 50 years old and have been harvested by many generations.

The areas that are suitable for producing the premium white teas are also highly constricted. The pocket areas of the Fujian Province mentioned above are known to have the ideal soil and climate conditions for the white tea production.

For example, the famous Tai-Lao-Shan (太姥山) area of Fuding is known to produce the best of the best Fuding white teas. The area and the tea plantations have been established for a long time and is effectively not expandable.

Fuding white teaWith both the limited geographic space for growing tea plants and the time for the tea plants to grow and mature, the supply falls far behind the increase in demand.

What is a white tea

White tea has traditionally been defined as:

  • Mainly produced in the pocket areas of the north Fujian Province
  • Made of tea leaves harvested from the tea plant Fuding Big White Down
  • Processed by a simple yet highly skillful technique called Wei-Diao (萎凋-withering) then dried
  • Traditionally dried in the shade or under the sun depending on the weather conditions, some using low temperature charcoal (below 50oC)

White tea grades

Unlike other categories of Chinese teas, white teas are graded in a quality hierarchy:

  1. Top grade Silver Needle - made of only the young bud leaves of the tea plant.
  2. White Peony - made of one bud leaf plus a couple green leaves beneath.
  3. Shou Mei/Gong Mei - made of mostly mature tea leaves.

The techniques to perfect a white tea are considered as intellectual properties and carefully guarded by the local tea producers. The fine details are obsessively monitored and controlled during the tea processing.

White tea 'new products'

Due to the increasing demand, there have been some ‘new products’ on the market during the recent years: some are white teas produced from tea plants other than the Fuding Big White Down; the others produced from the tea plant Fu Ding Da Bai Hao, but recently cultivated elsewhere than those areas in the Fujian Province where the soil and climate conditions are different.

There is also the Yunnan white tea, which is produced based on a traditional Yunnan tea product Yue-Guang-Bai, processed with slightly different techniques and use tea leaves from Yunnan tea trees instead of Fujian white tea bushes.

These white teas are considered as ‘mimic’ white teas and are mostly considered to be of lower quality than the traditional Fujian white tea. The market prices of these teas are lower, but some merchants market and price them as the traditional white teas sold to the naive white tea consumers.

The reason behind the fast-growing demand for white teas

Health benefits associated with drinking white tea

Many health benefits have been reported during recent years associated with white tea drinking. As a result of their unique natural state, white teas are believed to have preserved the most of the anti-oxidants found in the tea leaves.

The reported potential health benefits include:

  • Lowering blood cholesterol level, blood pressure and thus cardiovascular diseases
  • Cancer preventive
  • Weight loss
  • Anti-inflammatory & infections
  • Enhancing body immune system
  • Lowering blood sugar level and increase glucose tolerance
  • Improve bone density
  • Preventive of Alzheimer's disease

Increasing accessibility

The popularity of white tea is increasing not only in China but worldwide. People around the world now have the access to both the information and the supply of white teas, credit to the wide use of the internet.

Aging potential

Most of Chinese teas are consumed fresh, such as green tea and Oolong tea. White tea is one of the few that the quality potentially improves with aging.

This is a local rhyme about white teas: tea for the 1st year, medicine after 3 years and treasure after 5 yeas. The white tea's value therefore will only increase with time.

It works as such: The tea prices have a baseline upwards movement due to the general constricted supply and inflation. The value of the teas with aging potential increases faster than average. For example, the value of a Pu-erh tea (a classic aging tea) is generally expected to increase by about 10% per year. This is because through careful collection and storage, tea merchants and consumers can avoid the two fold increase of both the baseline upwards trend and the value increase as the result of aging.


A pure white tea, by name and nature, appears to those who are health conscious and after an enjoyable life style. Since the supply of the best white teas are strictly limited, the increasing demand will inevitably drive up the prices.

From a tea supplier point of view, my opinion is that there are some alternative options than paying the top prices. For example, the Fuding Shou Mei is at a much lower price on the market than the Silver Needle, as the result of its longer harvesting time and higher production volume. They are not as delicate when fresh, but with similar health properties and a huge potential for aging. The aged Shou Mei is highly sought after in some south-east Asian regions for its mellow taste and valuable health benefits.

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