Investment: The action of process of investing money for profit or material result. (dictionary.com)
As a boy, I would go to book collector events with my grandfather and marvel at the thousands of books on display and for sale. Being around a group of collectors takes an amateur into a new world, even a new part of their own brain. For most of us, a book is a basic item we use to enjoy or gather information; however, for some, a book is an investment. At the San Francisco Book Collectors meeting, the first stall we visited was of a man selling a very old-looking copy of A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens. I had to read this book in elementary school and, to me, it was worth about four dollars. This book in particular, I would have maybe paid 25 cents for if I saw it at a garage sale. I am clearly not a book collector, and if I had purchased that book for a quarter at a garage sale, I would have been able to sell it for the same $650,000 price tag this gentleman was offering.
With the global marketplace what it is today, we can purchase a rare olive oil from Tuscany or a first edition Dickens novel with the click of a button which makes it an incredible market for buyers as well as sellers. The investments we all so often think of are many times items we cannot even get a chance to enjoy. Sure you can read the old dusty book or maybe carve a piece of gold off your gold bar and make a necklace, but what is the return and risk on these items?
Enter Pu’er Tea. The only tea that gets better with time!
Even some of the priciest teas on the market are still barely as much, per cup, as a can of Pepsi. At Misty Peak Teas, our 2012 cake of Autumn Pu’er that we sold for $49 three years ago is now for sale for $300. The cake is 357 grams, that is about a dollar per gram. Sound expensive? Well, a standard 5-gram pot of tea that makes about 10 cups of tea is still not even 50 cents per cup! We are also now tripling our investment in just three years. Says who? Say the buyers…says the marketplace.
Ahh, how I love the second part of the dictionary definition of investment, “…or material result.” Is improved taste or appearance a material result? Absolutely.
How much enjoyment is in a block of silver or a stock figure on a computer monitor? How much in a delicious cup of tea shared with a dear friend?
Not only is our monetary investment paying off with Pu’er, but our flavor is evolving and maturing over time too. This is what makes Pu’er such a fascinating tea. This is what makes Pu’er a culture. This is what makes Pu’er tea, literally, an asset! It is a tea that can be stored for decades without losing flavor. Ever try an old Darjeeling or a Longjing you left in the cupboard for a couple years? It is barely a tea anymore and is certainly a ghost of what it was at one point. Pu’er tea, however, improves with age and changes over time.
Pu’er tea is alive like an animal or yourself. It is a tea that is home to microflora that are, if stored correctly, maturing that tea.
How do you know which tea will age best and be a good investment?
First, the raw material must be great. If it is not good on day one it will probably not age well. Seldom do raw (Sheng) Pu’er teas get better with time if they were not good in the first place, and I would venture to say that only raw Pu’er and aged raw pu’er are worth investing in; however, some may say that the ripe (Shou) version is good for aging as well. Second, you must store it correctly. Treat it as a living thing: give it light moisture and fresh circulating air. Third, consider the season and location the tea is coming from. People who bought Yiwu or Lao Ban Zhang teas 10 years ago and still have some are very happy, and perhaps incredibly wealthy. Pu’er tea has been a tremendous investment for many people, making many Chinese businesspeople very wealthy. Location is important as the name of that mountain or town is often synonymous with quality, taste, etc…
Is it risky? Sure. Is it rewarding? You bet! If you buy a tea you like and take care of it, the worst case is you end up with a tea you still like. This is why I tell people, when you find a tea that you like, BUY IT. It will never be the same again and, next year, it may be double the price or unavailable. Or, the farmer may no longer be in business or the weather was different at the mountain so the tea tastes completely different. When you drink a tea you like, ask “How much?” and stock up!
Now, of course, one point of any investment is where and when to sell? Ahhh, this is when experience and luck helps! When investing in anything, it is best to not bite off more than one can chew. Selling Pu’er in America is difficult. Our tea, for example, is literally worth more and costs more in China than it does in America. The Chinese know what it is worth, they know what it is, and it doesn’t require a tremendous amount of education to get them involved. We have a tea from our farm from the 1980’s that was once a few dollars for 1,000 grams. At Auction two years ago, we sold it for $30 PER Gram and there are stories like this all the time with Pu’er. The most expensive tea ever sold was a small brick of Pu’er tea and it sold for over one million dollars. Would it have sold for even half of that if it was sold in New York?
To sum it up:
Point #1: Buy low and sell high. When you find a great Pu’er tea, whether you plan to invest in it or drink it, buy as much as you can afford so you don’t regret it later. The farm our tea comes from has tripled the cost per kilo of its tea in the past 5 years. Its picked-this-morning tea is three times more valuable (and pricey) than it was five years ago. What do you think that did to their older teas?
Point #2: If you own it, drink it. Yes, it is fantastic to have a cupboard or cave full of fine teas, but if you are not enjoying them, it is a shame. If you find a great tea, buy it; if you have a great tea, drink it! This is the beauty of life. We have such a set amount of time and money to spend, and if we spend one, we better enjoy the other. Spend your money on a great tea today, and spend your time with a pot of that tea and a friend, or grandfather, tomorrow.