An afternoon of tea

As I stepped out of the west gate of the Forbidden City, I noticed that it was a nice, bright, warm day. The archives close early on Fridays at 3pm, and I had a choice of going home, or going somewhere else. I decided, the tea addict that I am, to go to Maliandao.

Part of the reason is that L’s business partner in Beijing is back from their trip from Yunnan, and I was eager to talk to her to get some news from the battlefront, so to speak. I got there, and we started chatting over some tea. We started drinking some longjings they brought from Hangzhou last month, fresh from the spring picking (they are all pretty decent, with obvious differences among the three). Meanwhile, I learned about the new prices. They go something like this (all in RMB/kilo and only to the best of my knowledge — subject to change anytime!!!)

Lao Banzhang – 1200 (and rising)
Jingmai – 600
Yiwu – 400 to 500
Other area ancient/old arbour tree teas, at least for places in Menghai and Xishuangbanna – 250 to 350 ish, depending a lot on where, what, and who

Which is insanely high, as this is about double last fall’s prices, and more than double last spring’s. These are per kil of maocha, so divide by three if you want a rough estimate of how much a tea cake from these regions should cost. If the base cost of the materials of a Banzhang cake is 400 RMB, anybody retailing the tea in China will probably have to sell it for 1000 to make a reasonable profit of any sort. That, I think, prices a lot of people out of the market. Of course, plantation teas are much cheaper…. maybe only 20% of the cost of the ancient tree teas or thereabouts.

I got some free samples from her — maocha they bought from Nannuo and Banzhang. I’m going to try them out in the next few days.

I then went to the Mengku puerh shop to see when their new stuff will arrive. Early May, they said. That’s a long time, but for bigger factories, the delay is usually quite long. I guess I’ll find out what they’ve got in the spring this year. Right now, their store is deserted — no stock at all of anything. It’s almost all sold out, and it looks eerie.

I ended up in a store where I bought a cake before, and started looking through the newer stuff they got. They press their own cakes, so they have some pretty interesting stuff. I ended up spending quite a few hours there, trying 3 different kinds of Yiwus and some cooked stuff. The guy even bought dinner, so I felt sort of obliged to buy something. I ended home with one Yiwu, a 2006 fall tea, and I think was decent and not too expensive. One can always try a new cake and compare it with the stuff you’ve already got.


Comments

An afternoon of tea — 2 Comments

  1. Marshal,

    Thanks for the article, and for those of the last few days – I’ve just been lurking rather than posting.

    Do you find that the immensity of the price rise is going to change the way you buy tea? For the *factory* price of a BZ bing to be 400 yuan is rather staggering. I can only imagine what that will look like from the Western end of the market.

    When the prices rise with any commodity, for every winner making large on his investment, there are equal and opposite amounts of cash being lost by others – late investers, or tea-drinkers in this case. It is very tempting to ensure that my tea-spend does not subsidise a dirty commodity trader’s portfolio. I’ve not yet decided how this will affect my buying in the longer term.

    Toodlepip,

    Hobbes

  2. I’m afraid it has already stuff more than one person’s pocket 🙂

    My friend, L, who owns a teashop, is being told that to buy a cake of BZ from Zhongcha (of which he’s a primary distributor) the price is 800 RMB/cake.  This is what a first line distributor gets.  He decided not to sell any this year… he just can’t see a market for it.  I think I agree.  He only bought a few for his own consumption and as a reference.  I don’t doubt the authenticity of the BZ cakes that Zhongcha make, for they have connections, and I’ve tasted some prior ones and they are very good, but the price is simply too high.  That, of course, is the top end of the market spectrum, but as you must know, there are a lot of lesser teas masquerading as a better one… and asking for the same prices.  We’ve all bought a few of those before.

    By the time any cake makes it into a Westerner’s hands… it’s already been through at least two levels of dealers, each taking a cut.  Sometimes the cut is small, sometimes not.  I’ve already started to cut back on buying teas — I can’t afford that much tea, and I’ve already got a healthy stash, not too big, but big enough for personal consumption.  If I buy a tong a year from now, it’s already good enough for replacement.  Maybe when I earn a little more money than a grad student living on a stipend, I will buy a little more.  As it is, I just have to bargain hunt, which, thankfully, I have time for.  After all, a lot of teas don’t suffer the same price rises as a Dayi or a Xiaguan… smaller labels, private labels from a few years ago, etc, are often cheaper than current year teas, as ridiculous as it sounds.

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