Pu-erh tea is popular around the world but why is it so expensive? It has become a mainstream beverage in tea circles in the west while people in China have been drinking it for centuries. Tea connoisseurs in the west have grown fond of it and the price of pu-erh tea has increased more than tenfold in the last decade(s). There are various reasons why it can be so expensive and this article discusses the main reasons.
Pu-erh tea is expensive because the demand for pu-erh tea has increased a lot in the last decade(s), especially the demand for high-quality pu-erh. Some areas are overhyped and cost more than other less popular tea regions. The age of pu-erh tea is another important factor because tea storage is expensive and there is less aged tea available.
Which type of pu-erh is expensive
When someone is talking about expensive pu-erh tea, this person is usually referring to sheng pu-erh. High-quality sheng pu-erh is usually a lot more expensive than shou pu-erh because of the ability to mature over time. The older sheng pu-erh becomes, the better and more valuable it gets. You can compare it to red wine if you think about it.
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Sheng pu-erh changes drastically over time so sheng pu-erh of around 5 years old will be very different from a 30-year-old sheng. Shou pu-erh doesn’t age as much because it is artificially fermented. This means that the differences between a 5-year-old shou and a 30-year-old one will be less noticeable.
Why is pu-erh tea so expensive?
Now you know sheng pu-erh is usually more expensive than shou pu-erh, it’s time to discuss several reasons why you might need to break the bank if you want to enjoy a nice cup of delicious sheng pu-erh tea.
The first reason why pu-erh tea has become so expensive over the last decade(s) is simply that the demand has increased quite a bit compared to twenty years ago. More and more people have discovered pu-erh tea and brew it on a daily basis.
Not only people who drink pu-erh are responsible, but also collectors are looking for pu-erh tea to age and sell in a few years/decades. They realized that a big profit can be made when you buy and age the right tea like sheng pu-erh from big factories (Dayi and Xiaguan).
It’s very hard to find those teas at an affordable price because wealthy investors buy as much as they can to store away for the future. There is only a small amount of good tea available and if the demand is high for such teas, it’s only logical that prices will increase.
Market value of a particular area/mountain
Another reason that some pu-erh tea is expensive has to do with the region the tea comes from. Some areas are more expensive than other areas and mountains. In some cases, the tea is overpriced/overhyped just because it comes from a famous tea region.
The most expensive area for pu-erh tea is Lao Ban Zhang (老班章). Lao Ban Zhang is usually described as the ‘King of Puerh Tea’ because tea from this area tastes very powerful and bitter with a sweet aftertaste.
One can discuss whether the (insanely) high price is justified or not, but if you want to taste pu-erh tea from a famous area like Lao Ban Zhang, you will need to pay a lot. A 357g cake of young Lao Ban Zhang sheng pu-erh (1 or 2 years old) will cost you around $900-$1000!
Age of the tea
The age of pu-erh tea is a major factor contributing to its price. The older pu-erh tea gets, the more expensive it becomes. Just like fine wine, pu-erh tea gets better with age (especially sheng pu-erh).
If you buy tea that is 20 years old, it makes sense (not always) that there is less of that tea in existence than tea from last year. Old tea is more difficult to find because most of it has been drunk over the years. Young sheng pu-erh is relatively easy to find while finding 30 year-old-sheng can be a challenge. If there is less of something available, prices will increase.
Storage of the tea
Storage is connected to the age of a tea and is another important factor to determine the worth of pu-erh tea. If you’re buying old pu-erh, that means that it has been stored somewhere. You might think that storing tea is not expensive as it’s just lying there, but that is not the case.
Storing tea in your house is not that expensive, but investors and large tea shops store pu-erh tea in big warehouses. They rent or buy warehouses and these can be really expensive in some areas. Real estate prices in Hong Kong, for example, have gone up quite a bit since pu-erh tea became more popular.
Hong Kong is a good place to store and age pu-erh tea so many investors/collectors store their tea there. If they have to rent or buy a warehouse, they need to raise their prices to make it financially viable. Not only the cost of the warehouse itself but the upkeep and checking in on your tea on a regular basis can be time-consuming.
Quality of the leaves
For pu-erh tea, the quality of the final product mostly comes from the leaves and less from processing. This means that the quality of the leaves has a big impact on the price of a cake of pu-erh tea. However, the processing is not entirely unimportant because some people prefer tea that is processed in a certain way.
The most expensive tea comes from gushu tea trees but this is only a small percentage of all tea that is harvested every year. The better the base material that is used to press pu-erh cakes, the more it will cost you.
Processing can also play a role in the quality of the leaves. Not only processing after the leaves are picked, but also the way the leaves are grown. Did the producer use pesticides? Is the tea fully organic? Some people like their tea to be fully organic and processed by hand. If this is the case, this will take more time so it will cost more to produce.