En Jie Rudd

Sky prices of Chinese teas

Teas that are more expensive than gold

buy Pu erh teaThere are some exclusive ‘breeds’ of Chinese teas that are currently fetching prices more than gold, a phenomenon that struck many.

Some examples are:

  • The Wu Yi Oolong Da Hong Pao from the original Da Hong Pao tea tree of Jiu-Long-Ke (九龙窠), is priced for 5,200,000 Yuan/500g, that is 10,400 Yuan/g - equivalent to the value of 10 residential apartments in the Wu Yi area, or 34 times of the gold price.
  • The Mao Cha harvested from the Pu-erh king tree of Lao-Ban-Zhang was sold for 240,000 Yuan/500g in 2108.
  • The most famous Rou Gui (a premium Wu Yi rock tea) from the Niu-Lan-Keng (牛栏坑) is being sold for 30,000 Yuan/500g on the current market.
  • 1,280,000 Yuan/500g Longjing (Dragon Well green tea) in 2018.
  • 745,000 Yuan/500g Xin-Yang Mao Jian green tea in 2019.

Note: 1USD=6.7 Chinese Yuan

The above products are not only selling, but hard to get in some cases. The list of sky prices Chinse teas is also growing.

To understand this phenomenon, we need to take a few steps back and start from some fundamentals.

Tea is more than a beverage in China

In China, tea is a beverage, a culture, an obsession and inspiration to many historical and modern artists. Many Chinese ancient poems feature teas and tea consumption as spiritual elements, romantised if not centred in their works.

At the same time, the art of producing the finest teas has been an obsession by the tea farmers, right down to the finest details. High quality teas = demands = profits. The highly developed skills are guarded as intellectual properties and passed down only to the male descendants of the families and kept secret.

The determinants of the quality of a tea

There are tow crucial determinants of the quality of a tea: the quality of the tea leaves and the skills to process them.

There are numerous factors that influence the quality of the tea leaves. The area of production, the species (or particular plant/plants) of the tea bushes/trees and the harvesting time are among the most important ones.

Contributing factors of the sky prices

The affordability that came with the fast expansion of wealth in China is an obviously one.

The one to pay attention here is also a unique obsession about the ‘exclusiveness’ of products that is almost unique to the Chinese. If a product is exclusive (paired with the quality), sky is the limit for its price.

For the sky price teas: they are often marketed as:

  • Tea leaves from xxx tea trees, such as Pu-erh; or xxx area such as Rou Gui; or both such as Da Hong Pao
  • Hand made by xxx tea master

The real statement behind is: there is not another one like it on the current market.

Then it comes the practice of ‘faking’ the exclusive

Tea industry is a market that is relatively difficult to regulate, as it is difficult to standardise the tea quality especially at the top end. Tea consumers are the judge, and many are often not experienced enough to differentiate the subtle differences.

With the astonishing profit margins, a ‘faking’ practice is unfortunately in the brew. Examples are:

  • Tea vendors use ‘blended’ teas to mimic various aspects of certain top end teas. Close but surely not the same and asking for the same or slightly lower prices.
  • False adverting. For example, some vendors would pay to erect the company signages at the exclusive tea fields (eg Niu-Lan-Keng 牛栏坑 for Rou Gui) for purely advertising purpose, such as showing to visitors or in the company advertising materials. Many never use a leaf from these fields in their products.
  • The claims made ‘hand made by xxx’, the truth is that he/she barely looked at the process.

There is an insider information from the Wu-Yi Oolong indsutary that 98% of the Niu-Lan-Keng (牛栏坑) Rou Gui is not from  Niu-Lan-Keng.

The obvious victims of these practices: tea farmers and consumers.

 

 

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The sky rocketed white tea price

The authentic Fuding white teas

fuding white tea planationThe authentic white teas produced in the white teas’ heartland Fuding and Zhenghe of the Fujian Province (south-east of China), made from the plant species Fuding Da Bai Hao (福鼎大白毫 -Fuding Big White Fur/down) have always been considered as one of the top premium Chinese teas and have their unique role on the premium Chinese teas’ stage.

What is so special about Fuding white teas

Fuding white teas are known for their:

  • Limited production – only produced in a small pocket area of the Fujian Province of China.
  • Made from the unique species of the tea plan Fuding Da Bai Hao (福鼎大白毫 -Fuding Big White Fur/down), the tea leaves are strong, bold and rich in flavour.
  • Least processed tea of all teas, no rubbing, pressing or baking, simply withered and sun dried (with highly developed skills).
  • Refreshingly sweet in nature when fresh, age into mature teas with potent medicinal functions if stored probably.

Reasons for Fuding white teas' price hike

The Fuding white teas’ prices have in fact sky rocketed during the recent years. The market announced a 10-20% price hike over the 2018 new year after 10-35% increase in 2017 – determined by the market demand and supply ratio.

There reasons behind the hikes are as follow.  

Aged tea consumption culture

There has been a general increase in interest in consuming quality aged teas. Different from other well processed aged teas, such as Pu-erh tea and Hei Cha, white teas are:

  • Fresh and delicate to drink when young, similar to their green tea cousins. 
  • Age as un-processed teas while reserves all the natural ‘goodness’.

The ageing value only lays with the authentic Fuding white teas

White teas produced using other tea tree species, or using other methods than the original Fuding white teas' processing method do not possess the Fuding white teas' ageing potential and health properties.

Buy new tea, drink aged tea

Unlike most of other tea varieties, which are at their prime either fresh or well aged, white teas are ideal for consumption both young and aged. The locals have a tradition of buying seasonal white teas and drinking aged white teas.

The all rounded natures of Fuding white teas, the bold and elegant appearance, the gentle yet delicate pure flavour and the potent health effects all contribute to their increasing favour among tea consumers. 

 

 

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The age of a Pu-erh when there is not a production date

As we all know, often the first thing we check on a compressed Pu-erh is the date on the back of its packaging – age equals the value and quality in many Pu-erh consumer’s mind. A date on the back Yunnan Pu-erh teawas however not required until 2007 as part of the local government's attempt to regular the Pu-erh production industry. So how do you decide the age of a Pu-erh produced before 2007 with a blank back like the one in the image?

A production date was regarded as not essential for Pu-erh teas until 2007, mainly due to there is not an expiry date for Pu-erh teas – the more they are aged the better, and the traditional way of how they were produced – in the villages and families. During the recent decades, various methods have been used to ‘fake’ Pu-erh’s age for the purpose of fetching a high price on the market. There are various aspects associated with an aged Pu-erh, such as tea colour and texture etc, each one can be manipulated up to certain point. The multiple aspects and dynamic nature of Pu-erh teas make judging their actual age hard, not only for the beginners buy also for many experienced Pu-erh consumers.

To establish some standards, the local governments in the Yunnan Province introduced the 12 points of information, such as the production date, the manufacturer and location etc, to be printed on the back of a Pu-erh product (apart from Maocha) in 2007 to offer consumers some references.

For the products produced before 2007 with a blank back, one can only go back to the very basics of aged Pu-erh teas drawn from experiences: colour, aroma, taste, texture and aftertaste.Buy Pu-erh tea

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How important is oxygen in Pu-erh's conversion?

We are all aware of the fact that the older a Pu-erh is, the better the quality. There are currently two options to acquire a well aged Pu-erh:

1. Buy it from a vendor, which is often expensive
2. Purchase young and store to age

The storage conditions are however crucial, they can make or break a tea. There are abundant theories out there speculating on the ideal conditions for a Pu-erh to age and convert: humidity, temperature and oxygen levels etc. There is however not so black and white when it comes to apply them in real life.

There has been an interesting article published recently about a an interesting experiment.

Method (www.puercn.com, Author: Yang Zhong Yue)

Four samples were created in 2013 using the same product, a fresh Jingmai (景迈) Gushu Pu-erh Maocha:

  • One vacuum sealed
  • One sealed, buy not vacuumed
  • One sealed, buy injected oxygen on a regular base
  • One natural open storage

All four samples were stored in a storage with a humidity machine for 4 years – the machine starts extracting extra humidity after it has exceeded 70%.

Results

  • The vacuum sealed Pu-erh sample: The colour has converted nicely into golden red, aroma strong in both dry leaf and tea brew. The downside is that it is very bitter, the most bitter one of the four samples.
  • The sealed but not vacuumed sample: good colour – golden red; Good aroma, but slightly less than the vacuum sealed sample; Significant reduction in bitterness and astringency.
  • Oxygen injected sample: Colour gold, less red than the previous two; Aroma OK, but not as strong as previous two. Bitterness and astringency reduced, more than the vacuumed one, but similar to the non-oxygen injected one.
  • Natural open stored sample: Colour gold, similar to the oxygen injected one; Very little aroma remained; There is some reduction in bitterness and astringency, but not as much as the sealed non-vacuumed one.

Summary

  1. Vacuuming is good to keep the Pu-erh teas in their original state, eg sample keeping, but not for consumption purpose ageing.
  2. Oxygen did not appear to have significant impact on the Pu-erh tea’s conversion, illustrated by the results of the oxygen injection and the natural open storage sample.
  3. There has been an active and ongoing internal conversions regulated by the internal enzymes of the tea leaves under the sealed conditions, result in rather satisfactory reduction of bitterness and astringency and colour conversion, without losing the aroma as the open stored sample. 
  4. The author acknowledged that this comparison was only conducted 4 years after the storage, longer term differences of the storage impacts on the Pu-erh teas are yet to be studied. 

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Top ripened Pu-erh tea a gamble than a prediction

Compared to most of the Chinese teas, green tea, white tea or black tea, ripened (Shou) Pu-erh tea is still in its infancy state – born in around 1975. ripened Pu-erh tea

Ripened Pu-erh’s ageing process is somewhat different from the traditional raw (Sheng) Pu-erh:

  • It is believed that ripened Pu-erh has less ageing potential, as the potential is overdrawn during their speed fermentation process called Ou-Dui.
  • On the other hand, the residual odours left from the Ou-Dui (acidic, fishy and mushroom smell) takes 2-3 years to evaporate

The combination the above results in a necessity of around 10 years to allow the ‘true colour’ of a ripened Pu-erh to reveal – the ‘bad stuff to disappear’ and the ‘good quality to come out’.

While being relatively new and lack of traditional wisdom to refer to, the Pu-erh masters are trying to draw some ‘road maps’ from the current available experiences while producing ‘new’ ripened Pu-erh tea for the future use.

Like all other teas, producing a premium quality ripened Pu-erh requires: 

  • The right original material – tea leaves
  • The right processing skills
  • The right storage conditions after their production

As the knowledge of processing ripened Pu-erh is being explored and accumulated and skills being fine-tuned, there is a consensus in the community that getting hold of a top end ripened (Shou) Pu-erh tea is more of a gamble than a prediction (可遇不可求).

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