Since there’s no travel or anything of that sort in the pandemic, tea buying has to go online (well for those of us who used to do it in person anyway). One thing I’ve done recently is try about a dozen different 7542s from 10+ years ago. These are all from about 2006-2010. The advantage of this is that none of them are too expensive – the most expensive one is still under 1000 RMB, which, for a 10+ year tea, isn’t so bad. The cheapest is around 300 RMB, which at $50 is a lot cheaper than even a lot of newer teas. All of them I bought off Taobao. Retail is usually not much above wholesale prices, which you can get a rough check on with sites like Donghe. They even have an English version of the site.
The prices are reasonable because there just aren’t a lot of buyers. Some years ago I was musing about how in ten or twelve years, there will be a lot of people sitting on a lot of aged tea and they are going to let them go at prices that weren’t too far away from what they paid. The supply is too large and demand relatively small for these teas to rise astronomically like the stuff from the 1990s. If you are an “investor” and looking for capital gains on your tea, you buy those special production stuff from Dayi instead of 7542s. If you’re a drinker, you’re probably not storing 7542s en masse. There were a lot of these made, and the volume drinkers (restaurants, etc) aren’t using Dayi anymore in their teapots.
Storage for these tea is paramount – if you go on Taobao and you buy the same production from Kunming, the taste is a lot younger than some guy selling it from Guangdong. Location is no guarantee – a seller in Guangdong could’ve bought his lot from some guy in Kunming, or Beijing, or whatever. So finding the right guy with the right storage at the right price takes a bit of guesswork and luck, but once you find it, it’s worth it.
What’s the result of my tastings? Well… they’re all pretty decent. 7542s, from batch to batch, could have fairly obvious differences, although these differences are more obvious the more experienced you are drinking pu. One of the teas I bought, from 2007, has a distinct fruity taste up front, while another one costing double does not, but is instead stronger and lasts longer in the cup. Is the more expensive one a better tea? Yes, certainly. Is it worth the extra price? That’s much harder to say. It probably depends on how much those $50 is worth to you.
There is also the risk of buying fakes, that’s unavoidable when dealing with Dayi or any of the major factories. You could try to get yourself a black light and play with the labels, you could do comparisons, but at the end of the day, once you’ve had enough 7542s, you can tell the basic 7542 taste almost immediately – fakers don’t normally use decent tea, otherwise they can’t make money (they’re better off selling it as “ancient tree single village tea” or some such). There was a point in time when fake teas could be as good as real ones, but not in the 2006-2010 timeframe (or later).