One of the things that has really changed since 2011 is the overabundance of xiao bings (“small cakes”). I am really unsure which vendors or factories started pressing all their cakes into xiao bings but it seems like all of them pretty much followed suite shortly thereafter. When did this happen? Why?
I was first exposed to xiao bings last year when I picked up 2 different xiao bings from O5Tea (this and this). I have drank a lot of puerh in my life but never did I ever drink from a xiao bing- that is how rare they were about 10 years ago. In fact, they were almost completely non-existent, novelty items. The fact they are everywhere right now is actually quite shocking.
Why did this happen? I guess that as the price of raw maocha increased exponentially over the last little while it got to the point that the price point for a regular 357g was hundreds and hundreds of dollars for the same quality of leaf. To prevent sticker shock the vendors pressed a xiao bing instead of a full. That seems like a logical explanation. Essentially, the vendors are either 1- doing this for the benefit of the customer to make it easier/ or possible to purchase within their budget or 2- they are doing it to hide the actual cost per gram. Due to the current popularity of the xiao bing, the customer must be happy with the move towards the xiao bing?
The xiao bing also offers something between a sample size and a full 357g bing which makes it possible (but not really that feasible) to age long term. There is really no point to age samples because they are so small, really. So the xiao bing offers an aging option. This can also be played both ways to benefit the customer and the vendor. Vendors sometimes complain about the nuisance of preparing samples and sometimes offer a much higher price per gram for the time of preparing them. So selling a xiao bing can really benefit both.
Also something else needs to be said about the xiao bing. There seems to be 2 sizes of xiao bing out there. If you asked me how many grams are in a xiao bing I would say 200g of course. Today there seems to be many 100g xiao bings (xiao xiao bings) out there as well- this is also new. I don’t think I even remember ever seeing a 100g xiao bing online until recently. Maybe things will continue to shrink?
Personally, I am not a fan of the xiao bing. The popularity somehow bugs me but I don’t really know why. Maybe it’s just me struggling to come to terms with the fact that you can’t get as much as you used to get for the same amount of money… or maybe its symbolism for the puerh world being increasingly micro-managed… I don’t really know… or maybe it’s because it does kind of hide the price per gram a little… I don’t know (must meditate on this more).
To me the xiao bing is really just a sample. I even prefer to get a full size cake as a sample. In that way you can choose to age it, drink it now, or banish it forever. If you get a full cake as a sample and its good but the cake has sold out then at least you still have lots to enjoy. If it’s not your favorite cake then maybe at least you might drink it years later if your puerh stash is ever dwindling (never again I keep telling myself). It’s very easy for me to go for a full cake as a sample now because I am trying to restock. It might be a completely different story when I’m up to my neck in puerh a few years from now.
I even despise the xiao bing so much I considered an all-out boycott of any and all vendors which press them. Then I realized that I would probably be left with no vendors to order from! So maybe I’ll just boycott the actual buying of xiao bings. Using the power of the wallet can impact change.
In fact, most of the cakes in my stash and that are currently on their way are 400g or larger. I like the big, chunky, beefy, robust, old school feeling of these cakes and the industry that they represent. The larger, the better! 1Kg, even 2Kg, cakes and bricks- "bring'em on" I say. In fact, I challenge vendors to release one of these big guys in response to the xiao binging of the puerh industry. People will buy- I’ll be the first one.