Reports are coming in that mao cha prices for pu’er are drastically higher than last year – some reports revealing prices 5 to 10 times greater for the ingredient leaf.
If this is the beginning of another pu’er bubble, what are the alternatives? How long will the bubble last?
News from sources who have recently spent time in Yunnan Province indicate pu’er prices are inflating.
Higher Prices – Factories Wait
Austin Hodge of Seven Cups Tea shared his observations via a LinkedIn discussion. Hodge notes that prices for maocha have reached record highs in some regions, and that major Yunnan producers and distributors are not buying leaf. These large companies waiting for prices to fall, and are easily selling some of the lower quality teas from their warehouses. Austin goes on to say that price inflation may continue for a couple of years, but there is no certainty.
I also asked Brian Kirbis. Brian has been studying the Bulang people of Lao Man’e and their connection to the pu’er trees there. While traveling to multiple Yunnan pu’er tea mountains over the past few weeks, he as seen prices 5 to 10 times higher than usual.
Death Of Old Trees
Even more concerning is the death of old-growth pu’er trees caused by over-harvesting. This article out of China speaks of the elevated prices of maocha, and ends with an observation of a tea firm owner who has seen old tea trees dying due to “exploitation.” Kirbis also affirms the historical links between increased market demand and tree decline.
With major producers opting not to purchase raw leaf, there may be fewer 2014 pu’ers on the market. Depending on how consumers react to this scenario, 2014 may be a good year to explore alternatives. Some will opt for pu’ers from previous years, but prices and demand for these may be affected.
There are other “dark” tea options to consider
In previous articles, Walker Tea Review has outlined the various strands, or families of dark tea. Pu’er is only one. According to previous research, it is a sub-sub-category of all the dark tea possibilities. Another dialog explored the different aspects of appreciating dark teas.
Liu An produces a lan cha, or basket tea from An Hui Province, China that has been traditionally sought out as an aged tea with medicinal properties. GrandTea.com has an example of a 2005 liu an basket tea.
There are other choices outside the usual category of Chinese dark teas. Sara’s Tea Caddie wholesale offerings include an Organic Japanese Dark (Pu’er). If my memory serves, this unique process involves bacterial ingredients similar to those used in sake production.
Inflated prices of maocha may be creating a pu’er bubble and contributing to the untimely death of old-growth pu’er trees. Seeking alternative dark teas may help the market balance itself and encourage the preservation of older trees.
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