Where Can I Buy Aged Puerh?
One of the most commonly repeated questions in the world of tea is, “where can I buy aged puerh?” If you check the Reddit puerh board or puerh Facebook group - even irregularly - you will see this question asked. Usually the person is asking for raw puerh from the 90’s or earlier - about twenty years at least.
Aged puerh is very special tea. It is tea that comes with a high price, high chance of forgery, and low supply. It can seem like the holy grail of the tea world, boosted by online discussion of its positive qualities and enigmatic characteristics.
The answer is to this question is no - with some restrictive exceptions. Every Reddit thread will list the same few vendors each time. Unfortunately, some of these options are fake, and the few options for what is most likely real stuff is very expensive. At worst, you end up buying both falsely labeled and extremely expensive puerh.
Your options do open up if you are looking to buy ripe puerh. Aged ripe puerh is great but the effect of aging is much more minimal. The flavor is more static year to year and the energy will not change as much. There are more pre 2000 options in the ripe puerh category to be found - like at Yunnan Sourcing - but for the most part when someone asks for aged puerh they are asking for raw due to its drastic changes.
What is fake aged tea? Puerh can easily be faked from village to village but quality can still shine through despite being falsely labeled. Whereas with age it is extremely easy to add on a couple more years to the teas life. Just like with faking an area, exaggerating age can yield a higher price tag. Quality may suffer too: I have heard of vendors who rub their puerh against concrete and the like to give the appearance of a bug bitten wrapper and ‘dirtier’ tea. Bad aged puerh can also be moldy or - on the opposite end - stored so dry that there is no life nor character left.
So, where are these alleged real options? First place: Essence of Tea. Open their puerh page and there are five options. Two options are from 2000 and the rest from the 80’s - 80’s because Essence of Tea does not have the information to be more specific. Prices range. One of the 2000 options - a 400 gram cake of Yiwu tea is $298 - a steal in today’s market. On the other end, is $360 for a whopping 10 gram sample. That option, the 8582, is one of the most famous puerh recipes, driven up in price by collectors that any rich westerner should be incredibly thankful they can try. But for most people, $360 can buy a lot of good tea.
Another option is Tea Masters. There is less information about the puerh here - the site is mainly for Taiwanese oolongs - but Taiwan does have a rich history of puerh knowledge, trading, and collecting. There are four options here. Loose puerh is a good option for cheaper aged puerh but even it has risen significantly in price and lowered in supply in the past few years. There are also very pricey samples of broken-up cakes.
Tea Urchin has a single option. Zhongcha puerh makes an affordable and tasty option. Zhongcha is a more generic label of state owned factories. Zhongcha is similar to other state owned factories or even a combination of them (information on the specifics is scant) but does not have a famous name like Menghai. The Zhongcha label could also still have recipes attached like the Tea Urchin option. This lends legitimacy to the puerh without raising the price as much.
Lastly, there is Bana Tea with a few options. Cakes from the later 90’s cost upwards of $2,000. Like Essence of Tea’s, these are extremely special puerh cakes that anyone would be lucky to even try a taste of.
And that is really it. Everything else is dubious at best. Places like SampleTea have been alleged multiple times of having fake tea. Most of its stock has also been bought leaving behind lesser options.
You can turn up a lot of results on Ebay. Almost none of that is going to be real nor tasty. Digging through all the fake, extremely bad tea will not be worth finding one treasure if it does actually exist. Taobao and the large Chinese FB auction page might have options but will be hard to dig through for a non-Mandarin speaker. Additionally, for the linked Facebook page, in my personal experience, the amount of last centuries teas went down nearly 100% since I joined in early 2017.
There are smaller shops that I have never tried and could not find much information on that purportedly sell aged puerh. Hard to say either way if some of these are fake or not but I will say a good legitimate site with stocks of aged puerh would have risen in visibility by now. By continually poising the question of where one can buy aged tea, we ignore good options already in front of us. Simply: if there were shops where good aged puerh was stocked with abundance and decent prices, we would not be seeing this question pop up repeatedly.
Despite all this I do not see this as necessarily a negative. As someone lucky enough to have had some legitimate 80’s and 90’s puerh examples a few years ago I can say they are really special. But equally special is similar tea on the market: aged oolong, aged white tea and the abundance of excellent aged 00’s puerh that has proliferated by smaller shops and instagrammers as well as the usual suspects like Yunnan Sourcing, White2Tea, and the legitimate vendors mentioned above.
It is just plain tempting to go after the oldest puerh you can find. In a very short period, the western market has gone from a small amount of pre 2000s puerh to nearly none. That leads me to believe that people who are drinking more and more puerh as of recently are reading blogs and hearing older tea drinkers talk about pre 2000s raw puerh and end up wanting to have the same experiences. I want to encourage readers of this disposition to move into more accessible ventures. Additionally, it is still possible to start stocking up on really great puerh right now and end up sitting on old puerh in a decade or two granted your storage works out.