Pu-erh Tea Business

A brief description of how pu-erh tea business works in China. Following options separated by the strategy concepts how to make a money out of the puer tea.






6. Tea for “Mianzi”



Commonly known concept of investing into the pu-erh tea is to buy , store and resell later. This type of making money on puerh tea has many variations.

Individual vendors – usually purchase directly from the tea factory or their agencies for wholesale prices. Sometimes vendors or agencies are working together and buy a whole batch produced from the particular factory which allows them to keep control on the price of this product. Since no one else has that tea, they can make an agreement for selling price suitable their needs. One of the smart tricks is to put the particular tea on Taobao ( which many tea drinkers mistakenly refer as the price guide ) for much higher price so having a space for negotiations with customer or get wholesale buyers interested ( since there is a space for their margin as well ). More in Choosing Tea Vendor.

Big companies – purchase particular full batch which they promote to their customers. Since no one else possesses this tea, it gives them full control of the selling price. The big advertising costs are usually involved. The other concept ,we have witnessed , is using puerh tea as shares. The company offers to shareholders a puerh tea cake instead of the “piece of paper”. That strategy is based on sort of security that if company bankrupt , the shareholders are not going to be left behind with useless paper but have some tea which has some value ( and if aged sometime , it also has an additional value ) . To get a shareholders even more interested, they offer to buy those pu-erh tea cakes (if clean stored) back for the reevaluated price.

Zhong Cha

Annual presentation of Zhong Cha Tea company at the Xiong Da Tea market in Kunming.

Of course this is set mostly being profitable for the company, so the buying such a “pu-erh shares” means overpaying actual value of the tea  (the difference is the money the company needs as the investment ) , and when buying back , of course the evaluation is made in favor of the buyer ( the company ). Yet , we have found this as an interesting way how to do the pu-erh tea business.


This comes from various investors and in many cases even from people who are / weren’t involved in tea business directly at the first place ( like case of Lao Bang Zhang for example ) , yet using the opportunity to make a money. They search for less developed areas which have some tea trees with potential but sold for very cheap compare to existing prices on market , because not being known / promoted. Investor will rent the place / tea garden , invest into the processing area if needed , contract the tea farmers and promote the area when product is made. The contract consists many conditions which one of them is that farmers are not allowed to sell the tea to other people or sell it for set price set by investor.

puerh development

New establishment of the pu-erh tea business in small village.

We have witnessed one of those on last trip to Mang Fei. The general effect is that the price of the tea from that place going up from 2 to 4 times more than it was before investor showed up there. With the right marketing and catching the momentum of booming pu-erh business / demand , things can turn the way as in mentioned Lao Bang Zhang or Bing Dao. Many places trying to follow up that model, although not is extreme way , yet success is there.

3. Production

Tea factories or smaller producers are investing into the storage in different areas or provinces. Shifting the tea from dry to wet or back to adjust the aging. This brings the expenses up, yet it helps to generate some good pieces of sheng puerh. Many factories are also started focusing on the production of shu puerh, especially recently.

There is also bigger effort from the big tea factories aiming on end customer / consumer directly with retail prices by improving the packaging , investing into the marketing and opening sales department which didn’t exist before. In the past there was no need, because sales went well in wholesale platform, but given the economy situation, the strategy had to be changed. One of the obvious example is the making VIP pu-erh products. Tea from the very expensive place like Lao Bang Zhang or Bing Dao. Which , in my opinion , is not much as targeting rich customers but more for the prestige , therefore marketing.

The tea factories raising the prices of their aged pu-erh every year despite the economy slowing in order to keep the investors happy and get new ones interested. For them this strategy is crucial. should they slow down or even stop with price increase , that would have a catastrophic consequences. No investor would be interested any more.


Is the concept what we do and highly recommend to our wholesale customers , instead of purchasing and promoting other producers tea. Simply sourcing the tea from small tea farms , blending, pressing and wrapping with your very own label. The advantage is the have full control of the product and , these days , also minimize the costs ( if know where to buy of course ) .


Sounds like very simple concept and yes , it is. Many tea vendors located on wholesale tea market do not bother much with quality of the pu-erh tea and treat it as an item to resell with some , even small , margin. I’ve been in present couple of times when a tea vendor was purchasing a ” no name puerh tea ” from the wholesale supplier only buy sniffing on of the cakes.

Sitting at the big tea table, drinking some decent Gu Shu , smoking Yunnan cigarette and smelling the 20 CNY tea cake for any dis-comfortable odor. As I was told, and makes a sense , this kind of tea no need to be drunk in order to make a sale. Purchasing few boxes which was shipped directly to the vendor’s shop for the resell with the story printed on the wrapper ( the name of the place of production ) which doesn’t really match to the content inside. More in “fake tea” article in our blog.

5.Tea for “Mianzi”

The pu-erh tea in China is also very suitable gift. As in other , usually western , countries is awkward when gift has a visible price tag , in China in certain cases is a “must”.

To give a “Mianzi” ( face )  means something like show respect or appreciation and pu-erh tea is the right choice thanks to it’s variety of prices available. How does it work? Lets say you have a boss , manager or any other higher ranking person in your work and you want to make a good relation or get a promotion etc. You can buy some branded tea which price is know on official sources like internet or branded shops. Your boss might be curious how much you want that promotion 😉 That could be too expensive for you , so other smart way is to bring him / her to your friend’s tea shop and drink some tea suitable to your pocket, see which matches the taste and then buy it right there. But the price at that moment will be much higher ,so you can give your boss a very big “mianzi”. Later your friend will send you some money back to match the original price.

As I’ve heard on tea market , this technique was used in the past by some officials who were disposing the state’s money for buying some gifts. Simply purchasing overpriced tea and getting some “cash back” . Please note : I’ve never witnessed such a transaction in person but heard this many times from different sources involved in tea business.


Please also note that this is not a static article but dynamic one , we do update it time of the time with new information! 


Bulang Mountain – Bu Lang Shan

Arriving to steamy hot Jinghong late afternoon. The temperature still holds over 30C which is rather pleasant. Yet next day the barometer hits almost 40C and there is no fun being outside more than 1hour. Trying to figure out how to run into the mountains asap to escape this sauna. Menghai is bit cooler but still not really pleasant during the day when walking around local tea shops.

Still we have to do some walk around and see what’s new on the market coming down from surrounding mountains and taste some 2019 spring mao cha before hit the road up to the hills. Every year the Menghai layout gets upgraded. New shops, new apartment blocks , buildings . Some restaurants close some open , but this year , as we also learn from the boss of our hotel , that not many regulars ( tea biz people ) has showed up.

Yes, the dry season. This year is quite bad for tea . Too little and too expensive of course. As we learn from our friend who has tea shop in Jing Hong, that this year instead of buying 100kg of this and 200kg of that, he only could get 10kg or 20kg of some teas. Is some cases even purchased 5kg of Gu Shu on pre-order for his regular customer. So instead of buying a ton of tea, could get hardly 100kg , but almost for the same price…as he sarcastically noted 😉

The positive thing about Menghai these days is that many shop owners are actually the farmers or tea producers, not just vendors like in Kunming or other places. Usually their children or family members are looking after the shop so we getting hands on this year’s Hua Zhu Liang Zi. The excessive bitterness with aggressive hui gan please those who love powerful tea with jaw screaming “ba qi” , but the price is not pleasant at all.

Of course that the rent of the shop costs something and farmers are not investing money into the direct sourcing just to please tea drinkers with lower prices with concept ” skip the middleman – get it cheaper” , but we do not feel that the tag is equivalent to what is in the cup. Randomly trying many other fresh shengs and slowly getting familiar with threshold prices of the this year’s mao cha , at least in Menghai. The bottom line has definitely gone up despite the quality stays the same or even worse.

Due to the small harvest issue , the overall grade of mao cha also decreased. Most of them were not selected out of the “huang pian ” yellow leafs , yet sold as higher grade with words ” ooh, yes, there are some huang pian there, not much” . Longer stems and lower grade ratio of tips:leafs reminding last trip to Mang Fei ( also in our blog ).

Tea producing village on Bulang mountain.

Next day heading to the mountains. This year we aim on Bu Lang Shan. Meeting with young tea farmer who bring us to his village and letting us try his 2019 Bulang sheng puerh coming from the old tea trees growing right behind the house. We are impressed with the thick and bitter ( typical for Bulang ) tea liquor and sweet olive hui gan after few cups. Yet, same story with the price.

He honestly told us that he also doesn’t think that this year tea not worth the commanded prices pointing on the blue roofs of the houses in the village. We learn for what prices Gu Shu has been sold to Cantonese tea businessmen who come over apparently to buy their tea because very close to Lao Man E in taste and so they re-sell it back in Guangzhou for the equivalent price. We do not bother much if the story is true or just little trick how to lure in customers on impression of higher ranking tea , since the asking price is very off what our clientele is willing to purchase.

Walking around the village I can see that business is still doing well. Quite few new houses just being built from the foundations, some of them repaired or extended. In first look very quite small village, but after roaming a bit , realizing that local economy is not so bad ( comparing to other places we have been to ) .

The new , more convenient , road also has been built to the village for easier access , which boosted their traffic for tea. Local Mayor seem to be very active in tea business and organizing various projects for supporting local tea farmers , including Yan’s family ( our farmer ) .

Unfortunately , as it is also common in such places , dealing with the plastic garbage is the last thing they worry about. These issues worry many small villages like this , yet even those with better economy do not feel it is their responsible to deal with it.

It does take some investment into the waste management and bring the garbage to the recycling location , which could be quite far and for many villages not affordable. Yet, Yan has managed to buy him self a brand new SUV car , so the things can not be that bad here alright. It is hard to judge if those people are actually in need , based on their house or clothes , since no matter how much money they would have in account, these things would stay the same.

Yan is driving us down in to the lower part of the mountains to visit his house where he lives with young wife and mother in law. This village looks more “real” , not much developed , authentic place with very little to offer to such a hyped tea tourism. Small arbors and bush tea plantations located on the west slope of the mountain , which is hardly to be harvested for some big tea business purposes.

Of course we try their tea as well. Yan’s wife is working hard all day long with other women in the village ( as it’s common in their culture ) . She fried few woks of fresh tea leafs , cooked dinner for us, gave a shower to their daughter then do the “rou nian” to roasted tea leafs after , while he was relaxing with his phone and calling up some friends who later arrived later.

As it’s usual in such a places, nice dinner , lots of drink , music played on local instrument. As we learn later , not many local people are actually willing to try to find some other day job in Menghai. In other villages some tea farmers have also regular whole year job and going back to village only for the harvest season. That’s the best way to keep family income above the critical level and get some bonus in spring with autumn. Many of the Bulang people rather bet on tea business which requires only few months actual work and therefore the tea price comes from availability rather than quality. Similar concept we have witnessed in Yiwu, where some farmers call the price after full harvest is done / processed. Then based on desired half year ( till next harvest ) income, the price is set.

It is hard to judge, since we don’t live there all year long to know the overall situation and I can imagine the work opportunities in places like Menghai must be very limited, yet seeing dry soil on slopes full of the Gu Shu growing just right behind the house with water supply from local stream and hearing farmers “crying” about the dry weather – therefore increased prices of mao cha instead of going and bring some buckets of water or simply pull the hose out.

Dry season on Bulang Mountain

If your source of living ( tea trees ) are dying , you would better to do something about it. Especially tea trees with such a value. This is not a first place where we are getting an impression, that local people just taking that for granted and expect that everything will be done it self somehow…or at least they think it should be.

Going back to Jing Hong with few bags of “left overs” from spring harvest without any disappointment ( as we expected already such a result ) , but with good lesson. We do not position our selves as big tea business company with large amount purchase , yet not as just some tea tourists who would just follow the path made by the tea farmers aiming on overpriced retail concept.

Video from Bulang Mountain

Tea Market News – 2019

…just doing my regular rounds in KM tea markets and talking to the tea shop owners about 2019. I hear lots of skepticism and complains how last 2 years were bad in matter of tea business. Ancient “gu shu” tea trees & aged tea concepts , which still work well for foreign market , are not good enough here any more since many people know that this has been vastly abused.

Dry stored teas are more “read-able” so not much space for “adjusting” the age and arbor tea material is rocketing high on prices already from the source ( tea farmers ) . Tea price forecast for this spring does not look good for anybody who runs the tea business because seem to be more than likely adjusted for tea tourism growing fastly in places like Xishuangbanna ( tea clubs , tea tours , organized jeeps / SUVs bring tourists to the tea locations ). Higher traffic is expected when the high speed train to Jinghong is finished.

Also info from other provinces circling around local soc.medias. Such as Fujian people will focus more on aged white tea , and “focus” doesn’t mean they are just going to suddenly find it somewhere being stored for 10y+ ;-D Same as more aged oolong is expected to show up on markets this year , and that’s not because 10 or 30y ago the sales were bad and somebody was lucky to find a forgotten storage as well;-) (which is the common marketing for this type of tea)

The overall economy in China is slowing down , more and more Tbiz owners are trying their luck abroad (FB,Inst. Ebay, Amazon ) . ID’s of some Tea factories and even some ” Tea farmers ” are showing up the FB more than ever ( hard to say which one is real because we all have pictures hugging the tea tree, right ? 😉 . ( more here https://yunnancraft.wordpress.com/choosing-tea-vendor/ )

It can be promising for consumers abroad – more competition = lower prices, but unfortunately not better quality. On such a saturated market the price is playing the major part. When I looked on Ebay recently “pu-erh tea” 14500 items. ,Many of wrappers I recognize, many are those 10-20CNY pu-erh cakes wrapped in names of famous mount. or villages. Most of it is coming from Guangzhou , Shanghai or HK where inter. trade has a long history. Comparing the prices & quality in last 2 years, the rise & fall is significantly noticeable.

As I follow this year, not many vendors raised the prices of pu-erh tea as it’s common after CN New Year. Mostly the tea factories had to raise their tea prices in order to not to upset their investors. Dropped sales might go with pu-erh prices either way. One can cause lower the prices as natural behavior caused by lower demand and increased competition. Or other way might cause increase the prices ( especially arbor and gu shu tea material ) , since the shops need to cover their same or even higher this year expenses with a smaller amount being sold then in previous years.

Even shops with long history and long customer’s list , struggle now. Seems like we hit 2007 year again which suggests that in 10 years from now there will be lots of aged pu-erh on tea market causing the price of ” lao cha ” not being much higher after such a long time . That slows down tea vendors in decision to make a tea for storage this year as an investment for future.

There are various concepts I hear from sellers. Somebody wants to focus on different packaging, different way of selling (online / offline platforms or places ) , somebody focuses on small amount but many places , somebody wants to do small amount but higher quality or famous places. But not many of them planning to go big and simple this year. It will take probably few years when that momentum of decreased demand will reach the tea farms and make the tea farmers reevaluate the prices. Although we have already seen desperate situation in some places last year, yet farmers still hanging on and hold the prices high despite having 2-3y old tea not being sold in few tons amount.

Some on tea farm / storage is ok until the certain time. Most of those places are in high humidity environment and too long is not too good.

Many villages are eager to get their tea tourism promoted as they can see the successful model in places like Bing Dao or LBZ , however that is dependent on many factors which they simply can not control. So what they usually do, is the old fashion way to get an attention – raising the prices ridiculously high. This concept still works for many Chines consumers in many branches and tea is not an exception.

New concepts from tea farmers and tea producers are showing up more then before. Known as ” xing gong yi” – Extended “wei diao” – withering time processed tea leaf , “yao qing” step applied during the processing or “gao wen sha qing” higher teamperature during the kill green step. In all cases it is done for few reasons. Make tea the sweeter , therefore approachable to the wider audience / clientele or sell it as an Gu Shu tea despite the young age of the tea tree. I came across Bai Yun Shan wild tee leafs processed with “yao qing” which was really sweet all the way long, yet the oolong processing ( reminding a Dan Cong tea ) was noticeable along with wild tea taste which was also obvious from the tea leaf structure. It was sold as 500+ years old Gu Shu for 6000 CNY/kg.

Please also note that this is not a static article but dynamic one , we do update it time of the time with new information! 

White Pu-erh

White Pu-erh Tea

Maybe with high demand of pu-erh tea or just because it’s fashionable these days to drink pu-erh , maybe just catching up with keywords for search engines…who knows?
Some pu-erh tea sellers call White Pu-erh simply the white tea pressed into the 200-357g cake or small “long zhu“ Dragon Balls

. In some tea stores can be also seen a loose white Da Bai Hao
, Yue Guang Bai or even tea tree flowers Ya Bao sold as “White Pu-erh“.

Pressed White Tea

Pu-erh tea is specific for it’s way of processing which part of it is “kill green” process. ( see full processing in our blog )
Although white tea can also age like pu-erh so the pressing it makes sense ( old white tea if properly stored is very nice ).
But since it doesn’t go through this step of processing (kill green), there is no reason to call it pu-erh at all.
Black tea or green tea – same tea leafs can be used , but different form of processing makes this final product being appropriately named.
Basically in our understanding , the tea is categorized by the way of fresh tea leafs were processed ( withering, kill green, rolling, fermenting etc. ) and not by way of the dry tea leafs being stored ( loose, pressed into the cake, brick , tuo cha etc. )
It would be like putting a grape juice into the long green glass bottle with cork and call it red wine then.

White Tea Tree Variety ( Bai Cha gu shu )

For example : the black tea Shai Hong is sometimes pressed into the cake ( due to it’s partially similar ripening characteristic with puerh ) and this tea is not called “black / red puerh” either.
So ,if you press oolong tea into the cake , would you call that “oolong pu-erh tea” ?

Anyway, the way the tea business is going in China, I wouldn’t be surprised to see that on tea market soon.

There is only one type of tea what could be called as White Pu-erh tea.
It’s a tea leafs come from old white tea tree ( which is not exactly the same as regular tea trees. ) and processed as pu-erh tea ( so inc. kill green step ) . The front taste of tea is like regular white tea but it has also “hui gan” sweet aftertaste and “shen jing” sweetness on sides of your tongue.

Tea leafs from white tea tree processed by pu-erh technique

This type of tea is very rare and mostly never get into the Chinese tea market not mentioning the foreign pu-erh tea stores. This kind of tea is just being shared between the tea farmers and their close friends.
We are lucky to get some of it to try.

Please note:
This article was written just for information purposes. The aim is to try make the things a little bit straight in such a chaotic and commercial world of tea business.
Hope it helps.

Dan Cong Xing Ren Xiang

Dan Cong Xing Ren Xiang comparing

light roasted (left)
vs dark roasted (right)

Unfortunately we didn’t have an opportunity to compare exactly the same grades of those two Dancong teas, but it might give a rough idea about the differences.

The light roasted has much more intense scent before and after brewing with fresh green type sweet notes. Sweet mouth feel is long and steady and more obvious than bitter texture. The dark one has much distinctive cocoa-dark chocolate scent along with hint of almond , which is this tea originally named of. The sweetness is not that intensive like in green one, but deeper and in in certain infusions gets “eaten” by bitter texture , so need to be very careful with brewing techniques.

It’s hard to compare those two types , since the dark roasted is made of small leafs and green one from the big leafs. Although the price of dark one is double, at the end, it’s the matter of personal preference whether it’s worth the difference.
The higher price definitely comes from the grade of the leafs and processing complexity although the drinkers of classic oolong might appreciate the full mouth sweetness from the light roasted version more.

Da Jin Zhen ( Golden Needles )

Da Jin Zhen black tea – comparing 2 different grades.
Left – grade 1 , Right – grade 2 , price difference 100CNY per kilo.
120ml gai wan, 4g tea leafs. Spring harvest Feng Qing – feng qi hao (No.9)

Left – grade 1 , Right – grade 2

1) Dry leafs releasing intensive woody scent when sit in hot gai wan. The scent can be experienced also with first infusion but it changes to honey one in your cup. The dark yellow-red tea liquor is quite rich in mentioned woody notes along with touch of honey and after sweet mouth / below tongue feel .
The noticeable “cha qi” will let you know that you are drinking the tea and not colored water.

2) Dry leafs releasing mild woody scent with touch of honey when it’s in hot gai wan, but not as intensive as the other one. The fruity sweet notes with very slight touch of raw potato sticking to the hot gai wan lid will let you know about medium-mild weathering and low temp. heat processing.
Cup gives out pleasant fruity notes which are also in present in taste. The light gold tea liquor is overall sweet but very mild and with increasing infusions or time of steeping the raw potato sensation will slightly increase.

Overall judgement : both teas are good, only depends on personal preference. Although the 2nd one has not really welcomed potato influence, still its in the tolerance. At least for us. As we can conclude from the amount of steepings and overall behavior / change of the teas taste, the price is on the right spot.

Purple Pu-erh

2007 Lao Tong Zhi Zi Ya sheng pu-erh – purple leafs.

The wet storage although looks very well settled but thing is that wet notes completely cover the real taste of the leafs. Sort of bitter wet dust goes over the tongue and no “hui gan” neither “sheng jing” appears in later infusions.
Nice color and slight mushroomy scent ( typical 4 wet storage ) tea liquor cant provide any pleasure, at least not for me. Dry storage has a very nice body and fruity notes highlighting the natural dry fermentation.
The pressed tea leafs and tea liquor wouldn’t really give obvious feeling of 10y old tea , but some Kunming stored teas are like that. Both teas come from an authorized sellers. Wet storage 180CNY and dry storage 280CNY for 357g cake , if u buy directly from the auth.seller in China.

Left : wet , Right :dry storage.

Wild Black Tea

Difference between those two is the size of the leafs and also amount of “ya bao” . “tou chun” have smaller leafs and more “ya bao” which makes overall sweetness. Small leafs release the rich flavor quickly and along the noticeable sweetness of “ya bao” the slight bitterness of hong cha is in present. Overall body would be woody and nutty with pleasant biterness.

Ye Sheng Hong ( tou chun ) – left & Ye Sheng Hong ( chun wei ) – right .
From Feng Qing – spring black ( red ) tea

Chun wei doesn’t have that many “ya bao” but overall sweetness is reached by processing. Bigger leafs need more time to release real juice , but still its not as rich as “tou chun” . Overall body would be rather more fruity .With color of tea soup and scent reminds type of the black tea called “Wu Long Hong” ,which is a red tea post-processed as oolong. ( http://www.yunnancraft.com/en/red-black-tea-fengqing/wu-long-hong-cha )
This tea also has a bit sour notes , which would disclose that the processing is not perfect. That is the art and skill about processing Ye Sheng teas. If you do it wrong, it turns sour. This one in not that bad, just have touch of it and could be rather than pleasant as a summer drinker.

Price difference: There is significant price difference. Chun Wei is almost double of the “tou chun” price. We don’t know if the processing work is twice as much harder but speak of the taste, we wouldn’t rate it like that. Chun Wei deserves bit higher price , but not double for sure.

Gu Shu Pu-erh

Comparing Luo Shui Dong with Wang Gong from Yiwu mountain.

has a sweet “front taste” which makes it overall much softer.
The big difference between them is not only in leaves but also in processing. Wang Gong has a longer “withering” process so the leafs got partially fermented ( like with black / red tea ) .
That dramatically affects the flavor ( details are in our blog http://yunnacraft.blogspot.com/2017/05/2017-yiwu-pu-erh-tea-spring-harvest.html ).
Farmers like to experiment with this particular step of the process. But if you brew Wan Gong stronger , you can get an interesting bitter sweet taste but of course its quickly loses its power.

Da Jin Ya

Da Jin Ya black tea – comparing 2 different grades.
Left – grade 1 , Right – grade 2 , price difference 120CNY per kilo.
120ml gai wan, 4g tea leafs. Spring harvest Feng Qing – yun kang shi hao (No.10)

Left – grade 1 , Right – grade 2

1) The intensive scent of charcoal will hit your nose when u stick it into the hot gai wan before pour first washing infusion on dry leafs.Same scent is inevitable on the lid as well and it will follow down the cup. Said that, the dark yellow-red tea soup will pop out very nice woody notes while you sip in the first cup.
Noticeable “cha qi” with following sweet notes on sides of your tongue after. You need to play around with steeeping time to get the right contrast / ration of sweet and wood-charcoal . In certain stage sweetness is killed by very intensive smokey front and can ruin your overall drinking experience of this tea.

2) This could be probably classified as light version of the previous one. Along with woody scent , which are much lighter, the fruity notes are coming out. But again, it does have very slight potato “thing”. Must say, that it’s not that unpleasant and there are some flowery notes along with it as well, which makes this tea interesting and more complex. Not simple and straight as the first one.
With increasing infusions and time the potato comes out more and more ( or may be I just focus on it too much ) , but sweetness follows the same path, which is very positive.

Overall judgment : Speak of the taste , the price difference wouldn’t have to be that big, since both teas are enjoyable. The fact is , there are different grades of leafs and buds used and processing is just followed by standards of tea factory.