Thursday, November 2, 2006

How Much Is That Pu'er in The Window?

MarshalN, who is perpetually soaked in tea in Beijing, posted an interesting article about a tea tasting session that he attended at a teashop in Maliandao (a section of Beijing that is dominated solely by tea merchants). You can read all about it here. One of the things he wrote that strike me as interesting is about the 1930’s Song Pin pu’er, which according to him tasted a bit underwhelming. In his article, he held for us an entire cake of this tea, which can be bought for merely USD $17,000. I’m just kidding there, of course, when I said “merely”.

Then I wondered: I know of no wine that costs $17,000 per 750ml bottle. However, if a beeng of pu’er is selling for such a stellar price, how does it compare with the price of wine, milliliter by milliliter? So I did a quick computation based on many assumptions, please bear with me.

The assumptions are:

  • A beeng weighs 357gr
  • 7 grams of dried leaves per session
  • In a vessel that yields 100ml of liquor per infusion, and
  • 10 infusions per session

  • These assumptions are based on, more or less, the parameter I often use for brewing my pu’er.

    Computation: the 357gr beeng can last for 51 brewing sessions, with each session yielding 1,000ml of tea. The cost per milliliter, then, is $0.33 ($17,000 / 51,000ml). Therefore, the cost per 750ml of this tea is $250. In other words, 750ml of this tea is as costly as a $250 bottle of wine. Or, buying a beeng of this tea is equivalent to buying 68 bottles of $250 wine!

    Nowadays, you can buy a bottle of Krug Rose Champagne for $250. For the same amount of money, you can get top tier wines from excellent years, too! Truly, $250 can get you a stellar wine from a great producer from any region in the world. Of course, you can also bust $17,000 on just 17 bottles of Screaming Eagle from Napa or 5.5 bottles of 1975 Ch. Petrus from Pomerol.

  • This 1930’s Song Pin beeng is about the same price as any top-tier wines, milliliter by milliliter
  • Though it is a very expensive cake by any standard, milliliter by milliliter this tea is still relatively cheaper than the most expensive of wines that can cost $1, $2, or even $4 per milliliter

    My personal opinion: Not that I can afford to spend $17,000 on a beeng of tea (yet). If given the options, however, I would rather buy 68 bottles of different VERY VERY GOOD premium wines for my cellar than be stuck with a 357gr disc of this tea. Hey, it’s just me.
  • Edit 11/3/2006: Since the Peoples Republic of China has re-blocked Blogger, I e-mailed this post to MarshalN for his opinion. He responded by saying that the Song Pin can be brewed for "more like 30" (!) infusions per session. In that case, the price per 750ml of this tea is $83.33. Hmmm....that is quite a good deal if you see it this way.


    davelcorp said...

    When you reach the point when you CAN afford the $17,000 beeng, well then you'll probably be able to afford two. Please buy me one, and you can have the 68 bottles of wine.

    Actually, your math points out the cost effectiveness of much cheaper beengs. At $65 for a premium beeng, I'm getting a lot of good tea. Of course I need to wait a few decades to get my money's worth.

    ~ Phyll said...

    Davelcorp, using the above assumptions, 750ml from a $65-dollar beeng is worth $0.96. Go ahead buy more of that Xi Zhi Hao or Yan Ching Hao! :)

    Of course, my assumptions do not take into account price appreciation factor. In a few decades, that $65 beeng is probably worth exponentially higher (or not).