The Western Pu’er market, small as it is, has seen some growth over the past few years. Here I am, a neophyte myself, within the growing ranks of pu drinkers. With these changes came vendors with branding appealing to said Western market. White2tea’s marketing is an unmistakable symbol of the answer to many frustrations seen by Western consumers of pu’er. The marketing shtick is simple: If the tea is good, drink it. Fuck what you’ve heard, fuck what you know, fuck all the fancy labels and fluff.
If the tea is good, drink it.
For those accustomed to traditional pu’er marketing and offerings, White2tea’s message and style is somewhat off-putting – Good luck trying to get a Chinese grandpa to drink Pussy. For those eager for a fresh look at pu’er, W2T may have been the perfect answer to grievances about by a market plagued with fakes, embellishments, and vicious marketing tactics. The two markets I plan to touch on today: one being a large beast: East/South-East Asian market, and the much smaller boutique Western market certainly can coexist for Westerners. It is possible that both can still interest the same consumer – While both continuing to follow different ideologies.
W2T is certainly all the rage for pu’er enthusiasts around reddit, blogs, and some forums. The wrapper design, and message W2T offers resonates perfectly with many Western pu’er drinkers. For those tired of factory teas, or sifting through fakes, or those that simply aren’t interested in traditionally marketed Chinese pu’er, W2T is a quirky godsend. It is probably confounding to Chinese vendors/sellers that some random Americans could come to Yunnan, buy tea, and somehow leave with a profit. They keep coming back each year! How could they possibly understand pu’er or it’s market? Who might they be selling to? Some buy in such “small” quantities, what could they be doing with that tea? Western-facing boutiques unmistakably hold one advantage: they aren’t bound by the same expectations and demands of the broader Asian market. I’m sure that as far as sourcing for these companies is concerned, this fact has its pros and cons.
To include a shitty metaphor, I like to think of red wine. When I talk to Asian tea sellers, the general sentiment (although I am saying it much more bluntly than they generally would put it) is that Westerners don’t know shit about tea, and can’t truly push their way into the genuine market, let alone understand it in the first place. For a Chinese buyer to buy from an American vendor, I would loosely compare it to French wine connoisseur buying red wine from China. How could Chinese red wines possibly compare to European or any other Western vineyards? At best, it must be a quick alternative to satisfy a local market, but is nothing to stand against the Western wine industry.
Interestingly enough, when talking to several Taiwanese/Chinese tea vendors who also sell pu’er, their verification for why their product is worth buying is a familiar tune. This vendor advertises that his shengs are 100% authentic as sold because:
“我是親自過去看完生態後才製作的” They personally scopes out the area/environment before actually deciding to make any tea, and
“親自監工到完成” Survey the entire job from start to completion.
Does any of this seem familiar? Why would they be any more trust worthy to be able to navigate the Yunnan cutthroat market of pu’er? Should we accept it at face value just because they too are a Chinese speaker? A real question I’m curious about that I have yet to find the answer to is this: While I’m sure their presence in rural Yunnan is less surprising than a Westerner, does this make them any less foreign to the market?
So I ask back: “How can we as western pu’er drinkers know that the companies we buy from really know the in’s and outs, and can 100% guarantee that their teas are pure and correctly labeled?”
The answer seems to be similar in most cases…and pretty much boils down to:
“找我比較可靠” “可信度不高” Well buying from me is most reliable – it’s hard to trust much in this market.
I don’t know that this is convincing enough. It makes W2T’s message resonate with me just that little bit more: Doesn’t matter, just enjoy the tea.
Fuck what you’ve heard.
Of course, take that same Western boutique cake to a Chinese buyer, and they’ll probably scoff at it and think it’s a silly Westerner’s idea of an adventure, but not a real tea.
After all, this is what tea looks like. Some cartoon on the front? Flashy bright colors? 100% ENGLISH? Can’t be real, what could that person be thinking? Can it even age right?How could their tasting skills be up to par with the folks who’ve been in the game for generations? You could put 100% Gushu LaoBanZhang into that wrapper, and they still might find a problem with it.
I guess it’s just to say that trust, biases, and market influences all make the whole thing pretty wonky. At some point you will do something that somebody else will call you a complete fool for trying. All you can do is keep learning.
The same thing can be said for Westerners that are uncomfortable with Chinese produced teas. For those who weren’t aware, tea is from China. There are very valid critiques of the Chinese tea market. There is also lots of absolute shit to wade through, sprinkled in scams – but that’s just part of the adventure! It is equally detrimental to the discovery of great teas to only stick with the companies within your niche. There is tea out there that is reasonably priced, well crafted, and sold by honest vendors. There is tea in the volatile Chinese market that through generations has been meticulously improved upon and painstakingly adjusted to attempt perfection. Bump out of the comfort zone every once in a while. There are some pretty safe ways to take risks.
Ask as many people as you can about teas you might be interested in trying. Keep in mind: Opinions are like chrysanthemum, explode as many as you can. That’s how that quote goes, right…?
It’s certainly not news. Ask questions. Learn from all sides. Slowly figure out your taste, and appreciate the new phenomenon that is Western tailored pu’er, as well as the recipes of people that have been doing this for ages…There is a well-established and lovely community of drinkers that have much knowledge of these teas they’ve accumulated drinking through the years. Seek them out, and be curious!