Saturday, October 24, 2020

white2tea “Small Batch” Shu Marketing & Selling Dreams

 

 

I have a good friend who is actually dying of terminal cancer.  He is one of the only people I have actually turned onto puerh tea who is native to Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada.  He is also one of the top new car sales people in Western Canada.  One of the first questions I ever asked him was how exactly he sells so many new cars every year when most people already have perfectly drivable cars at home and they really don’t need a new car.  His answer…

 “Matt, I don’t sell cars, I sell dreams.”

Isn’t All Puerh “Small Batch”?

Oxford dictionary defines “small batch” as Designed or relating to a type of small-scale production in which goods are made in limited quantities, often by means of traditional or artisanal methods.

Wait a minute… every Western puerh vendor’s raw puerh would meet this definition of “small batch”…. Every one… yes all Western puerh facing puerh vendors would then be considered “small batch”.  Look at this last post… David stated that his 2020 Tian Men Shan and Lao Jie Zi were around 10KG productions.  And look Tiago is producing a 4Kg production of Autumnal puerh… look at the puerh Yunnan Sourcing is producing most of it is 10KG, 50KG of puerh… all of that, meets the definition of small scale production compared to Big Factory productions or even larger boutique puerh vendors in mainland China and a lot of these other Western puerh Vendor’s puerh productions will actually be smaller than many white2tea productions.  So even though most sheng puerh productions from Western puerh vendors can be called “small batch” they simply choose not to use this marketing language.  However, we are talking about sheng puerh here and not shu…

Paul decided to come out in front by creating his own definition and marketing terminology catch phrases long before “small batch shu” was released to the customer.  For many months now Paul has been repeating the marketing key word over and over and over again on his social media.  Basically, the definition of “small batch shu” was a complete fabrication of white2tea and was created to be inclusive of his product while excluding the competitors’ shu productions.  No doubt he did this to differentiate the shu puerh white2tea sells from the shu puerh the competition sells.  It’s actually pretty brilliant.  One thing it most definitely does is put a wedge between white2tea and the pretty successful shu puerh productions of Yunnan Sourcing.

Over the last few years Yunnan Sourcing has been way in front of white2tea as far as developing their own popular shu puerh productions which are all agrochemical free.  Some are blends and others single origin shu - some are even gushu productions.  However, It is my understanding that Yunnan Sourcing usually buys plied material.  Yunnan Sourcing leaves the overseeing of these piles to artisans who have been doing it for many years/ decades as opposed to overseeing the piling work themselves.  This is mainly where the differentiation of the product lies with white2tea vs Yunnan Sourcing shu puerh.  Does Yunnan Sourcing shu puerh productions still qualify as “small batch shu”?  Maybe/Probably.  I guess it depends on how you define “small batch shu” .  Is it a wiser decision to let artisans who have been making a shu puerh productions and piling them for decades to tend to the quality of such things vs learn the skill in a few years and go at it alone?  Maybe?  Or maybe not?  Who really knows… the only way to know for sure is to the cut the marketing crap and try the actual puerh.

Is batch size more relevant than location?

I also find it hypocritical or at the very least unusual that Paul of white2tea is adamant that the location/ terroir of the material is irrelevant to the end product yet he finds it very important to educate us about the size of the production.  Personally, I would rather know where the raw material is coming from and whether it is gushu, zhong shu, or xiao shu, or terrace, the town, village and mountain of such material rather than getting the fluffy “small batch shu” marketing that really tells me nothing of the actual material itself.  Wouldn’t you? 

Or maybe you find it more relevant to know how much Paul is caring for his shu piles?  I am not consuming the batch size (or the wrapper) but rather the tea itself.  So I would much rather know about the material.  Whether something is “small batch” or not matters much less than whether it actually tastes good.  In the end it’s about the end product and lucky for white2tea their shu has been really gaining popularity over the last year or so mainly because some of it is quite good others not as much... but apparently this is not “small batch shu” anyways.

Overall, I think that what white2tea is doing with shu “high end material” blends and “light/varied fermentation” is interesting and experimental and very forward thinking.  No doubt, to invent your own definition of something that is specific to what you are doing will save you from trying to continually describe it in longer terms.  I suppose that is part of what Paul is doing with his whole making up a definition thing.  Not too many people out there in the puerh world are doing much of this and Paul makes a really compelling argument for us to at least take notice of his direction of shu puerh production.  He has also dove head first into tackling some of the misconceptions about shu puerh and educating those new to shu puerh about some of the basics.  He is both educating the consumer about why they should buy and age shu while driving traffic to his site/products.  These are really well done articles as a whole.  He has aggressively sought to take back more market share from Yunnan Sourcing.  I hope it works out well for him.  And this is all coming from someone who really feels that shu puerh is not even really “original puerh” but rather an accepted evolution in the marketing of “puerh” throughout the years. 

The thing that I really can’t stomach is all the silly marketing that he has decided to attach to the whole thing.  Heck, he has even created an annual holiday to market his shu and to cue his followers to buy his shu.  It is actually quickly approaching called “Shulloween”…. Hahahhaha… good work.  That one always makes me laugh… its memorable and I think that’s the point… This year with all the “small batch shu” brew-ha-ha it should be extra festive.. 

It’s Just Shallow Marketing Language

If you Google “small batch marketing” you are quickly inundated by articles about car company Mitsubishi.  In 2019 Mitsubishi decided to start referring to its cars as “small batch” and market it as such.  Really they are just selling the same cars with the same features and made of the same materials but they simply re-framed the marketing on them and went with a trendy marketing phrase that really means very little.  To people who can see through the marketing it’s actually a bit sad.  In the end it’s just as if people aren’t actually selling product but are instead shilling marketing catch phrases …

…Or dreams…

Peace

 

 

19 comments:

shah8 said...

Diancha was the first to promote anything like "small batch" shu, like this tea: https://steepster.com/teas/jk-tea-shop/48038-2010-shang-pin-bulang-old-tree-ripe-pu-erh

When Sanhetang did their first shu in 2008, what they promoted was how high quality the water used was, from a particularly good spring/water source.

but these days, it's all about them basket fermentation deals, like what you see with Denong: https://www.denongtea.com/collections/denong-collection-ripe/products/2018-new-factory-edition-ripe

David (The Essence of Tea) said...

It's been around for a while. We fermented a small batch in 2011, made by the same person that Diancha were also using. He was one of the first people we heard of in Menghai fermenting in this manner.

Whether you like the marketing or not, there's nothing wrong with fermenting puerh in smaller batches. It allows you to use higher quality material rather than the tons needed for the big factory fermentation batches.

To have some way to distinguish teas that a vendor produces, from selecting the raw material and commissioning the fermentation isn't a bad thing. Most vendors just go to some of the wholesalers in Menghai, pick a few teas from huge batches that have already been fermented, blend them together and press cakes with their wrappers - this allows no way to have control over or trace the raw material.

We're just about to start fermentation of some teas we've been collecting since the Spring. There's about 400kg of raw materials. I'll make sure to include some extra "small batch" marketing in the description especially for you Matt :)

Matt said...

Shah8,

Thanks for giving us a bit of a history lesson on shu puerh marketing and it’s evolution towards “small batch” from someone who drinks a fair bit of shu!

I certainly remember in the mid 2000s when the focus/ marketing/ production shifted to a focus on the quality of spring water used in production. This was likely a response to some of the more dank / unsanitary conditions of some of the older shu puerh piling.

I think what Paul is doing is super exciting and interesting and look forward to reading your thoughts on them.

Peace

Matt said...

David,

When I was researching for this post I could not determine an accepted industry standard for “small batch” in the puerh world. It sounds like there is actually some kind of agreed upon definition of what small batch shu is out there among vendors and that this all started with Diancha?

I also could not determine what the history is with using bamboo baskets and weather it is a completely new invention/trend/ marketing phenomenon or whether it is simply going back to a more traditional way of fermenting shu or whether it is using some inference from the way Liu Bao is fermented?

One thing that my research did tell me is that you will be fermenting some small batch shu! And this is from someone who said they were firm on not producing more shu... Hahahaha

http://mattchasblog.blogspot.com/2019/02/2019-puerh-tea-predictions-checking.html?m=1

I will excitedly wait for you to roll out your “small batch shu” marketing pitch.

I’m getting into my small batch car right now....

Hahaha

Peace

David (The Essence of Tea) said...

It didn't start with Diancha by any means... just that they were commissioning the same person to ferment their tea that we were also using.

With shu puerh, generally either you're fermenting in baskets in quantities of >200kg generally, or with bigger batches in tonnes. I think that is the difference

Matt said...

David,

Okay.... so.... This is my understanding from what you ( and Shah8) are saying about small batch shu puerh:

1- Small batch shu productions are not a new thing and started in some form even before Diancha started doing them (before 2011).

2- Diancha was one of the first to really start properly marketing the concept of producing shu in small batches. They also commissioned the same small batch shu “pile master” as your small batch shu production in 2011.

3- sometime recently it has been trendy to use the marketing term “small batch shu” to describe this process

4- the determining factor as to whether the shu is considered small batch is that it is fermented in bamboo baskets in quantities of less than 200g vs larger batches that are fermented (usually on the floor) with batches in tonnes.

I guess the one thing that is confusing to me is that it is my understanding that Paul of white2tea doesn’t always use those large bamboo baskets to ferment his small batch shu and (at least some of it) is done the common way on the floor but at batches that are not by the tonne. Of course, you can’t really speak to what he is doing.

Thanks for trying to give us a better understanding or at least your understanding on the history and definition of this crazy thing called “small batch shu”!

Peace

twt_reddit said...

I love the idea of small batch shu!
It allows you to take high quality material that doesn't quite make the cut for sheng, and push it forward in "aging"..

I've also loved the implementations of it I've encountered so far..
A good example is the small batch shu of Tea-Side - his young Thai sheng is generally really nice, but not my preferred taste profile for young sheng (some have a strong fruit taste). But his *aged* HTC that are of similar material I like, so for him to do small batch shu is a perfect match with my tastes.. and I think his house shu is great!(the young, unpressed stuff)

Honestly, many of the strong tasting puer I tried I would probably prefer fermented (or aged, but who has the time*space..), so I really wish it became more common!

Tom S said...

I haven't sampled the small batch from White2tea yet.

But I have tried them from William at Farmerleaf. These maybe can truly be described as small batch as they are less than 10kg fermented.

They are really very good. Whether because of the material or processing or both is hard to say. Similar in some ways to semi-fermented cakes I have had.

Some are very aromatic. I'm not sure if they will age well but for drinking now they are brilliant

Matt said...

twt_reddit,

You present many benefits of fermenting shu in this manner!

http://teaintheancientworld.blogspot.com/2019/01/2016-and-2018-small-batch-produced-thai.html?m=1

Peace

Matt said...

Tom S,

Material vs Processing... certainly a nicely processed shu can take a weaker or impalpable maocha and make it much more approachable than raw processing.

Seems like there is a lot more small batch shu out there than I realized.

Good tip on the Farmerleaf!

Peace

Gemimah said...

I think white2tea are pretty clear about what they are doing:

https://white2tea.com/blogs/blog/what-is-small-batch-shou-puerh-tea

‘Trendy’ or not I think it’s a pretty cool direction, and a natural one for a Westerner with the know how and determination to advance the quality of their product.

Downtown Adam Brown said...

Paul does 2 things really well. 1. Make tea. 2. Market. I'm sure these shou will be delicious and interesting, and his marketing of them has clearly already worked (see: your post).

Both of these things are well known. Why does this irk you all of a sudden?

Matt said...

Gemimah,

Yeah, I agree with you. It’s awesome! I think I linked it a few times in the body of this post.

There is a clear proclamation on what small batch shu means for white2tea. Probably tree age/ region/ mountain will never be fully transparent. It’s the unique dichotomy which makes up white2tea’s small batch shu! We will over infirm you about process but never about material.

Peace

Matt said...

Downtown Adam Brown,

No way! Paul does MANY things really well and he rocks it hard! That’s why white2tea is so awesome.

I have been irked by the marketing for a long time and have written about it extensively here on the blog for years now. It’s not all of a sudden.

Paul’s lack of transparency has done harm to the informed puerh buyer and has left them in a weaker position to understand the intricacies of puerh leaving them more susceptible to marketing.

This has to be weighed with the awesomeness that comes with his approach for better or worst.

Peace

Downtown Adam Brown said...

I understand. In my experience and I'm sure many others, you have done an extremely informative and entertaining job of translating and revealing to relative n00bs like myself what makes tea good and why. For that I thank you and hope you never tire.

Natethesnake said...

Were it not for the 2017 article about w2t in Saveur id still be a second flush Darjeeling aficionado buying from vendors whose only puerh is cheap factory mini tuos of shou that they instruct you to brew western style (which tastes like rotten mushrooms). My only experience with chaqi came from an occasional hongcha, The w2t blends are quite interesting and through this company I was introduced to a style of tea that has enhanced my life and dented my savings. I thought being a Belgian beer nerd was expensive...However, as I’ve explored this hobby I’ve learned that his teas are often way too expensive and you have no clue what you’re drinking but there’s a snarky name and cool wrapper. Also being a hobbyist in the vintage guitar trade I have trust issues. Even when we’re told what we’re getting like the infamous 2005 Naka (which is a very respectable tea) I’ve learned that better tea can be had for half the money. I’m not so put off by the use of the term small batch shou as I am of paying $1.50 a gram for a secret blend of teas adorned with a wrapper with a drawing of copulating skeletons or something. Of course I ate this up before I did my homework.

Matt said...

Downtown Adam Brown,

Thanks for chiming in as a newbie and giving your fresh perspective on the issue of shu. For sure shu puerh is much more approachable for the beginner (vs semi aged and aged Sheng) which is another reason that it is great that it’s popularity is excelling and awesome that it is being marketed and promoted so aggressively! It will likely serve as a “gateway puerh” to Sheng puerh years down the road.

Thanks also for giving Paul some well deserved props!

I hope both Paul and you also never tire...

I raise a cup to you!

Peace

Matt said...

Natethesnake,

Still love a good cup of second flush myself but so rarely these days! Hahaha... it was definitely a phase for me as well. Thanks for sharing your journey with tea.

Value is always an issue with pressing fresh Sheng among Western puerh vendors. Of course they need to make a living too. If you look to older stuff it’s always a better value. So I think it’s a good idea that white2tea has widely diversified their offerings to black, white, shu, etc. That can also be aged.

Peace

Matt said...

I’d like to wish all commenters and readers a Happy Shulloween!

https://white2tea.com/blogs/blog/shulloween-sale

Hahaha

Peace