Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Elitism, Illuminati, and the Secret Inner Circle of Puerh

***I think this is probably the most difficult post I have ever published.  I think I have written 3 different versions of this and even sat on this one for months.  The post below isn’t meant to hurt or single anyone out but rather advance public puerh discourse***

Soon after returning to the tea world a year or so ago I typed out a long and fairly detailed criticism that centered on the secret back channels of the tea (mainly puerh) world that I just could not bring myself to publish.  The article was just too critical of myself, other bloggers, vendors, group buy organizers and back channel buyers.  I spared no one in this post but also looked at the positives and the reasons why there is a secret society or inner circle of puerh buyers, the history of such things, and the purpose that these back channels serve to those who use them.

The post would have really upset some of my closest tea friends and Western vendors who I respect and sincerely care about.  As well, it probably would have ostracized me from the community which I helped build and who I now benefit from being a part of.  So there is no way that my initial article is getting publish but it was a very very cathartic activity for myself similar to journaling… a healing experience...hahaha  But as a result, my silence on this issue continues to perpetuate the continual ignoring of this elephant in the room.

I absolutely love James of TeaDB for engaging the readers in his brilliant articles, posts and videos- he is pure genius.  Often, great conversation emerges from his articles.  In this article in particular, James kind of mis-phrased a discussion about his tea sources and it lead to a rather interesting discussion of the back channels of puerh tea.  The commentary by Alex certainly outlinesmany of the thoughts I had in my unpublished article (but probably written much better than I could).  In an article on TeaDB this week the comments also add discussion to these ideas.  So, I now feel that it is at least time to make these general points contained in my unpublished article that he didn’t touch on.

Firstly it can be stated that, nowadays a chunk of puerh world has become elitist.  Certainly, it’s not ALL elitist but a notable proportion is.  Much has changed in the puerh world over the last 10-15 years.  Back then puerh tea was tea of the commoner, it was cheaper than most any other tea, even cheaper than cheap teabag tea.  You literally couldn’t find anything cheaper per gram than a cake of puerh.  Anyone could afford and strive to drink the best and there was a sense of close knit community in this.

At one point, years and years ago all Western puerh buyers were either buying from the handful of western puerh vendors at the time (Yunnan Sourcing, Awazon, Tuo Cha Tea, Puerhshop, and Houde) or were buying in person in Asia.  The puerh drinking community was much different in these early days as we strove to understand something with very little available information at the time.  We did this by openly sharing knowledge.  At this time everyone was on the same playing field as far as buying puerh went, the buying options were listed for all to see on the websites.

The start of some kind of exclusive things happening were with Houde’s limited releases which would often sell out before anyone had a chance to try them.  However, everyone had a fair crack at these.  What started to push things underground in the Western puerh world was the use of Taobao.

The introduction of Taobao to puerh buying was a game changer because it allowed the buyer to bypass the Western puerh vendor and buy more directly.  However, it also pushed puerh buying in the West underground where good sources of puerh were rarely shared publicly in fear of being over exploited by buyers and vendors alike.  To me this is the start of when things got a little exclusive in the puerh buying Western world, a trend that continues to today.

The lack of shared public info on puerh hurts the whole community.  Over the last few years, although much more people are drinking puerh tea.  Much less is shared publically.  Back in the early years you used to be excited and want to share publicly the source of a great puerh find-  now this excitement is pushed underground.  I think as the years go by there is less and less public information on the internet about great tea finds.  The information that is most publically shared is usually by “stamp collectors” those people who tend to by many single cake or those people who tend to only by single cake and not multiples or tongs.

Stamp collectors have no reason to hide sources because once they have one cake they will not likely order great qualities of it but rather go on to the next cake. Cwyn, Char, and Hobbes are not stamp collectors per say but tend to buy lots of cakes rather than focus on a few.  Some of the more common posters on Steepster are also stamp collectors.  It’s quite easy for these people to share their sources because they likely won’t go back to the same well twice.

On the other hand bulk collectors and speculators and buyers who like to “hit it hard with a hammer” are the lest likely to share sources and their favorite puerh publicly.  This is especially true for those who drink semi-aged puerh which is not well represented by Western vendors (this no doubt, further entrenches the issue of access).  Even for bloggers like Hobbes & Marshal’N it gets to a point where there is not much sense in posting reviews of teas because the sources are not publicly available.  They are not buying through the Western puerh vendors anyways so the blog content of such things is a bit of a charade.

It’s not just info about what cakes to buy that is lost.  More importantly it is useful storage issues, regional issues, info on specific factories and specific vendor opinions, and lots lots more which are lost in these back channels.  Marshall’N actually wrote a post about how we are not as better off because of this loss of public knowledge but yet it continues to be entrenched.

The Public Puerh Community Is Disappearing

Things have actually gotten a lot worst lately.  A few weeks ago Chris, a commentor on TeaDB, linked a great article about the current state of public tea communities.  It touched on something that some have mentioned over the last few months which is the dying off of one of the greatest public access to tea related information and record of puerh tasting notes, Steepster.  That post really resonated with me: is there soon to be no public record and discussion of puerh?  How will this impact especially those new to puerh?  Of course those in the know won’t be as effected as much and those who are just getting into puerh who will be disadvantaged the most.

Failures of an Instagram Tea Community

Where the public puerh community is most thriving is on Instagram.  Instagram is a photo sharing social media platform at its core is therefore very good at sharing tea pictures or as a place to write quick comments and opinions.  However, it is not good at diving into the deeper subjects and complexity that is puerh tea.  Snapchat and Twitter are other good examples of this.  It can transmit powerful content quickly and can encourage community and convey emotion but is much better at the superficial than getting down to the deep.

Access vs Going Underground

There are some out there that simply frame this issue as simply a problem with access.  Of course, limited access is probably the main causative factor but I disagree that it is the main issue at play.  I think the whole issue is bigger than just access.  The issue here is, do we really want puerh knowledge to go mainly underground and for it to benefit the few connected people or do we want it to be public to benefit the many?  This is how it should be framed.  I understand that drinking tea is a personal leisure activity or hobby and isn’t charity work or outreach but without a strong public presence puerh access gets worse thereby perpetuating the problem.

Old guard is weakening

I once heard Shah8 say that he will point you in the right direction but I won’t give you the exact address and hail a cab for you (something to this point).  Certainly he has opened the door a crack after revealing the links to and a little on how to use the Taiwanese Facebook auction groups.  Marco, Su, and others behind Teas We Like are brining things out in the open as well.  Taking their dearest tea sources and making their favorite personal tea finds public for all to enjoy.  After you personally have acquired a lifetime supply of a tea you enjoy what is the point of hiding such things anymore?  Besides these people have put in their time and want to further the puerh community they helped create and are an active part of.  After a while, it becomes clear that it is time to give back.

Emmitt Guzman has been doing this for years with group buys of Yang Qing Hao and the Dead Leaves Tea Club last year started Taobao group buys have opened a space where we can explore one of a kind finds together in a more public way.

Personally, I welcome this change in selfless direction and attitude.

Personal Resistance

Overall, though I personally have resisted joining the Illuminati of puerh drinkers although it’s an ongoing internal struggle.  This is partly, because I can be a bit of a recluse (look back to my early posts).  However, I am very very humbled and sincerely thank those who have reached out to me either by email conversation or to invite me to join private slack rooms and chats (I still hope to join if that’s where things go).  I don’t have a personal facebook account so all those options are out too.  On the other hand, I don’t blame those or hold it against those who use these private channels especially those fellow puerh bloggers who dump lots of their own time and energy into actually putting things on the public record.

Some probably could rightly state that I’m already a part of the boys club already, and I couldn’t completely refute that.  I’ve been around too long.  I am not perfectly transparent myself at times.  If someone asks me to not put something on my blog, I always respect that. Most definitely, having some free samples come across my desk helps too.  However, it should give readers hope and encouragement that I have posted or left a comment confirming every single purchase since coming back to puerh buying in 2017 here on the blog with the exception of one cake (of very low stock which I plan on buying out) and some pending purchase reviews which I hope to post over the next month and I’ve only purchased from Western vendors.  Also with the exception of one, I have not been tipped off as to what to purchase (I am very thankful for the tip… keep them coming… hahaha).

The take away here is you don’t need top secret sources or consulting the puerh illuminati to acquire amazing puerh that is underpriced or on for a good deal and reflects value.  However, what you do actually need is to gain lots and lots of experience to be able to do this…. And one of the best ways gain this experience is to actually read as much as you can and go back and read the past contributions of bloggers and other public sources… unfortunately, this option seems to be disappearing fast...

What I find particularly interesting is those in the know now had often benefited from the public record of past contributors to public chats, blogs, and Steepster to get to where they are now.  These same people now choose to push things underground…

Do we really want puerh drinking to go in the direction of an underground, well connected boys club who benefits a few or do we want it to be a more open, transparent, inclusive and public sharing of knowledge that benefits the many?  Maybe its not either or but striking some balance?

When I drink puerh even today, I drink it in the spirit of days when puerh was the drink of the commoner.  The days when I first fell in love with the mystery of it.  Something to be shared like among the many hours around the tea table in the teahouses of Asia.  My enjoyment of it, although mainly in solitary, is in the spirit of others and so follows this blog (which knowledge is yours just as much as it is mine).  If I’m not drinking puerh for the many, than I must be drinking it for selfish reasons?  The essence of tea or sprit of tea has never been this way…

I think we can do better…


***Next time I come to consult the puerh Illuminati, please, please don’t revoke my membership***

Double Peace


Nug said...

Hi there, Nug from Dead leaves here. I want to post some thoughts quickly that certainly can't address everything here - just to share how my opinion has been shaped through my interaction with Eastern vendors (through China for Alex, and primarily through Taiwan having lived and spending much more time interacting with folks there), and some of the more "hidden" experienced pu-drinkers around the community. I must apologize in advance, as my writing is nowhere nearly as eloquent as my partner-in-crime Alex, and some of it may appear poorly formed here, but at least I've given a disclaimer~

I admire and agree with your mentality of how to search for pu'er. It can be done in the Western market (though I would argue at the sacrifice of variety as well as storage options), but regardless of where you buy, as a consumer/hobbyist it is your "job" to collect as much information as possible before you buy. This may or may not mean reaching out to some folks when needed. Simply expressing passion without having the drive to learn and explore (often at a much slower pace than desired) will not get folks quite as far in the long run, imho. During this process, some people you meet may be hostile, ignore you, or be moderately reserved or even in some cases rude, but that is just part of the game. This is one thing that I highly respect Alex for. He doesn't care how much somebody berates him, as long as he is learning from them, he is willing to set aside any ego in order to achieve knowledge. I certainly struggle a bit more in that category...

To another point: There are so many delicate ropes to walk in "the back channels" that make directly handing the info to people very difficult. In my opinion, it would be incredibly irresponsible and possibly harmful to the folks that have managed their way in, and have "earned" those opportunities through time. Whether or not it is a good thing, there are some places that take much time and trust to create opportunities for yourself. That is why some projects such as TWL and others that you mentioned (again thank you for a mention!) are very nice. It protects these folks from losing that trust by being completely transparent with their sources, while still being able to provide access to products people may otherwise not know how to find, or not know about.

It takes time and no level of "desire" will be satiated without an equal level of "determination" and willingness to learn. In some communities such as the auction, while folks can certainly learn to use the system and tools in place, the language barrier and cultural differences can in some cases create issues. I'm not sure again how I can make this sound better - but the "mentality" of a Western consumer in many ways does not make sense to the Chinese/Taiwanese market. The things we want or inquire about...or even discuss are not the things these folks want to answer/think about/talk about. Much of the Western tea content/posts around social media platforms are things you would never see in other circles. The dialogues being had in these groups are worlds apart, as corny as it sounds. There is a goldmine of information in these circles that people have already been reading and posting about on their own forums for nearly two decades now. Unfortunately, it is hard to get all of it translated over...In general, the average pu consumer in the West has a lot of catching up to do to get up to speed...this is certainly a hard one to tackle.

Nug said...

my apologies, I typed to much so I had to split my comment into two parts, so here is the continued part:

On the point of Elitism: There's a shitty fine-line to walk because nobody wants to be gatekeep-y, but there is an understanding once you've slogged through it yourself, that if others haven't through the process, and want info or access immediately (or in some cases are not interested in doing so), it can leave the people with the knowledge and time invested in an uncomfortable spot. You don't want to give people the launch codes until they understand all of the responsibilities and hazards that come along with having them. That said, on the other hand, the folks out there that like to wave their fancy teas out there, or say that people are not at a level to understand tea...and not willing to or interested in sharing knowledge...that sucks, but that element will always exist in any hobby group, and they are certainly entitled to their opinions as well. Just smile and walk right past it.

As for James from TeaDB: While I understand it can be frustrating that he discusses teas that some of his readers don't know how to access or potentially have never heard about - James has put in the work to interact with many circles, gathering lots of information to share for folks out there. the "Tea Database" truly contains a wealth of knowledge for learners, though it is my personal belief that it isn't the job of the Database to explain to everybody every source he encounters. I find that overall he is quite willing to show sources where he can. In other cases, revealing sources may jeopardize agreements or trust between folks he has interacted. Another possibility is that he just tagged along with friends on a casual buy, and may not always be directly involved in the direct buying process. I certainly can't speak for James of course. I would be confident, however, that he would be willing to point people in helpful directions to begin learning for themselves, and (hopefully) eventually finding these teas for themselves.

I am sure there are plenty of points I have mentioned above that can be countered with very compelling arguments. I, as many others, still have much to learn myself. I definitely don't have great answers, but I did want to share how I fall on this topic based on my personal experience in the game. This was a wonderful post, and I suspect much great conversation will be generated in its wake. Thank you for the interesting read, as usual!

Alex said...

Hi Matt,

I'm curious to (utterly confidentially) know what got excised from the bare-all edit, though I won't hold my breath there. If I may offer a handful of disorganised thoughts as someone who's to some extent 'within but without'.

I wish that I could distance myself from my position last year, but re-reading it, from my perspective little has changed (the exception being the birth of the co-op/community-focused vendor, which I think is a precious if fragile endeavour. The founders of TWL in particular have done an incredible service in bringing some very special teas to the masses at fair prices).

I think there is a natural filtering 'upward' (or inward?) of those who show sufficient seriousness of interest in tea, and I'm still (lacking a feasible alternative) happy setting a sufficiency of enthusiasm and willingness to learn as the bar to clear. It's accessible, non-discriminatory in the manners in which it should be (or at least, no more discriminatory than the consumption-based nature of the hobby itself), and dare I say it, it generates spaces where people of compatible interest-levels and approaches can congregate.

Basically everything of worth that I've gained in the pu'er (be it understanding or tea) has been the direct result of engaging with people above me (often unarguably so) and building relationships. The fact of the matter is that if I'd continued drinking alone, my appreciation of pu'er would still be very skewed, and not at all for the better. It's worth noting that of the better stuff that I'm drinking, it's often offered through friends, and in a sufficiently-small quantity that even if it were opened up to everyone, it wouldn't do anyone any good.

I think that all this is somewhat-naturally flows from the nature of pu'er appreciation itself. No matter how much you read or talk remotely about the finer points of tea, a large part of the fundamental appreciation is something that (imo) requires thoughtful drinking progressively-better tea, and if you can swing sharing the session with someone who knows more than you, all the better. As they say, "if you're the smartest person in the room, you're in the wrong room".

Regarding the demise of public pu'er discussion, I'm far more inclined to mourn TeaChat than Steepster - the more tea I drink, the less use I seem to get out of tasting notes (especially from randoms whose experience, tastes and reliability are unknown). As it stands, there are a small number (<10) of personal friends whose comments I trust implicitly when it comes to recommendations. TeaChat on the other hand is an Aladdin's cave of valuable discussion (imho).

I know that the folks over at teaforum.org are attempting to fill the void, and I know they'd love to have more members and activity.

shah8 said...

I will merely say that this issue vis a vis the Mainland is far more pernicious than anything that goes on here. Everything that the West really understand, was from the benefit of Taiwanese discussions, and to a lesser extent Hong Kongers.

There are few real teablogs, by hobbyists who knows much, in the Mainland. Everything that goes on in the Mainland is surrounded by a thousand lies and chicanery in the aid of cartel practices. As the Taiwanese became less prominent past about 2008-10, the broader issues with the total anything goes Mainland attitude came to the fore, and everyone is affected by this.

If there was a real Mainland blogging scene, and a real evaluation of various brands in contexts that aren't totally dominated by vested interests and marketers, that would mean that access to good teas is far more democratic, and more people in the West would try their hands at sourcing teas, and the insiders club here would be more marginal. By the way, the US tea market/info is far better than what goes in Europe.

Lastly, I think the "insider club" is relatively porous--the main factor is whether you want to spend gobs on money on tea. Also, to my knowledge, what the insider clubs deal with don't really involve absolute qualities--to me, the best teas are relatively public knowledge (for puerh, for yancha, this is an issue). Insiders fall for the hot things, the different things, the new things, and typically, these aren't all that. What truly cool stuff that comes down the pipeline, that stuff was never going to be very public, not in 2008 and not 2019. You still gotta be known and respectful of privacy.

Cwyn said...

I think there is some confusion about when blogging is a diary exercise of real life, or a deliberate construction for entertainment or professional reasons. I would suggest that Hobbes, OolongOwl and myself amongst others (perhaps you and Teadb also) construct our blogs deliberately and are not purely "diarists." Poems, stories, purchasing tea expressly for a blog post are examples of construction, not journaling. Blogs may somewhat read as "journal-like," but are probably more planned that way rather than as realism. This is perhaps why journal-type blogs fade quickly, people start them and run out of material other than "I drank T8653 today, it’s coming along fine." Not much to say. Perhaps this notion of "elitism" comes from a particular type of writing on tea forums rather than any reality.

Matt said...


Thanks for the added perspective on the cultural nuances. Having learned what I know around the tea tables in Korea for years before purchasing my first cakes, I understand where you are going with this. Great work on translating even a small amount of this body of knowledge- it helps.


Matt said...


James stated pretty clearly in that last post how far he will go as far as transparency goes. He has put more time and energy into putting out content than anyone as ever in the English speaking world.ever. So he has at least stated his policy on this.

On Elitism- we are not talking nuclear codes we are talking tea access. What is the worst that could happen if a rookie has the codes?

I know that it will not be the end of the tea word as we know it because there is lots of great tea out there and part of it is simply the perception of Value, scarcity, or acquired tastes or concept of what constitutes great tea.

Great conversation points.


Matt said...


I agree with Nug’s assessment of your stellar linguistic ability... hahaha

I think I edited out just a lot of raw emotion and specific finger pointing of hypocrisy that was a bit mean and picky and counterproductive really.

Such as the first link in the last TeaDB article here:


Among others...

The one thing about your comments from a year ago that I don’t completely agree with is your Boogeyman argument that you present about revealing sources.

Your comment states that sources can’t be revealed because then these teas will be bought up by a single buyer or collector and it will make then them more scarce and drive up prices.

The history of such things in the tea world actually show the opposite. The most famous and first example was Hobbes revealing the Taobao source of the famous 2001 Ding Xiang Yi Bang cake and specific instructions that walked you through how to use Taobao to buy those cakes. Even a year after that post they were still available.

Scott Wilson recently commented on TeaDB to the accusation that one or a few people just buy out a whole production. He said that it is false and that it is usually a sustained effort of a wider group of people who buy it out (Illuminati of course).

I agree that TeaChat is a treasure trove. I have been spying on teaforum a lot more these days... thanks for mentioning that.


Matt said...


In the West we have the puerh Illuminati, in China the puerh triad, ok, got it... hahaha

Joking aside there is much cultural baggage to weigh through when learning about puerh and the way of tea in Asia. Korea was probably not the best place to learn about puerh but during the period before the bubble popped a few puerh tea houses popped up on my block, so the convenience of it was nice.

I agree with your assessment of the best stuff vs what insiders fall for really. Why is one tea very hot when there is another better tea sitting right beside it but nobody is writing about that one? It’s fad driven a lot of the time.


Matt said...

Cwyn N,

Thanks for presenting this concept to the conversation which is totally true. I think Shah8’s Badger and Blade Sheng of the Day is the most true to a long running diary format but even that has a lot of theatrical narrative in it.

It’s similar to “in real life” vs “online” or The way a person really is vs their online teablogger identity. In this way “actual puerh buying and drinking” vs “what teas are reviewed or what source or knowledge is actually revealed” are not, in reality, the same.


TeaMasters said...

I'd say the secret is that there's not much secrecy, just a very quickly shifting reality! I pretty much agree with what Shah8 wrote. I recently posted some of my own reflections on the subject in this article: https://teamasters.blogspot.com/2019/07/le-tout-proche-avenir-du-haut-de-gamme.html
It's in French, but should translate well with Google translate.
In a nutshell, top puerhs used to be exported (Hong Kong, Taiwan) until 2006/8, but now they stay in China where they can achieve the best prices. The market there is going elitist with the best stuff (which necessarily is very limited). Foreigners (even Taiwanese) don't have much influence on puerh anymore. I'm very impressed by those Western vendors who focus on fresh puerh and how they are able to adapt to such quickly shifting conditions.
Also, fewer people seem to have time to explore the world of tea as deeply as 15 years ago. There are few shortcuts in tea. Even pointing someone in the right direction isn't enough if he hasn't had the experience of tea excellence. (And most of the people who have asked me for sources turned out to be tea sellers or about to become one!)
But it's nice to see some discussion on a blog. It reminds me of the good old times! I raise my cup to you and those times!

Matt said...


The conversation in these comments has shifted to talk of those who try to attain the very best Puerh. If you have enough money, we all know what those are and how to get them. As you state, it’s no secret.

I think the Western puerh Illuminati focus more on puerh that is very good quality AND also very very good value.

This speaks to a kind of division in those who buy puerh.

There are those who try to attain the best of the best or the best they can buy but really we all know how to get there. There is no bragging rights here just flashy showmanship.

Most however are trying to attain very high (perceived) quality while paying the least for it. That is the real trick that is hard to pull off and this is mainly the focus of these secret sources. Everyone wants cheap and good and know that they got a steal. On the other hand no one wants to admit they overpaid- this is human nature.

As you are getting at: If you don’t know how to appreciate something than how will you even know if what is right in front of you is valuable?

Thanks for these thoughts and comments.


Alex said...

Hi Matt,

With respect to your comment about greedy deep-pocketed collectors being an unlikely concern, this is something that JScherg has mentioned to me recently as well, and I'll defer to your collective judgement on that issue since the only basis for that belief on my part is conversation I read around the traps leading up to the comment.

If I might jump in on the following:

>we are not talking nuclear codes we are talking tea access. What is the worst that could happen if a rookie has the codes?

Specifically with respect to the TW auction groups, there are a number of potential concerns. We (as westerners who generally don't speak Chinese) are guests in a group composed of serious people. As such, there are a customs to observe that aren't necessarily intuitive to Western consumers.

For example, there is generally a minimum of discussion/Q&A in those groups, and for vendors there, it is more onerous to communicate with English-speakers. If a rookie jumps in asking questions and bothering vendors in a way that would be normal in the context of Western pu'er vendors, it looks bad on us all as a visible minority.

Likewise, bidders are expected to understand the various auction formats, adhere to the rules of the group, and (this is a big one) have a contingency in place getting tea from Taiwan to wherever they live (ie already be set up with EZStar and be comfortable with the process of engaging their services).

Sniping auctions last-second, out of the blue (ie without having already expressed an interest by placing an earlier serious bid) is normal in many auction settings, but is likely to be looked upon as gauche and aggressive behaviour in the TW groups.

Our continued presence in the TW groups is plausibly contingent upon us fitting in and not making arses of ourselves (as a visible outside group), and for that reason it may be viewed by some as 'safest' for veterans to induct serious rookies into the auction groups, rather than broadcast the information 'passively' to a broad audience. Certainly, the smoothness of my first forays into TW auctions were the result of guidance by generous, more-knowledgeable teafriends who saved me from myself.

The validity of the issues I've raised are, of course, up for debate, and could reasonably be seen as pretentious gatekeeping in and of themselves.

Matt said...


Thanks for giving us a little tutorial on some of the finer points of using the Taiwanese Facebook Tea auctions.

More importantly thanks for volunteering to help any rookies out there who are interested in using this service. Paying it forward just like the person who first helped you.... very admirable on your behalf!



Alex said...

Hi Matt,

Just to make sure I haven't misinterpreted your tone, is there an implication that my comments obligate me to step up, that I haven't, or that I wouldn't?

In any case, I'd suggest anyone seeking to get in touch try OolongOwl's slack server first - DLC doesn't get enough traffic that I check it with much regularity.

Alex said...


I apologise - my brain managed to repeatedly miss the sincere interpretation of your comment. Play on, and pay the fool no mind -_-

Matt said...

TeaMasters (Stephane),

I agree that the Western puerh vendors do a good job of presenting a passionate puerh product year after year.

For example the 2019 white2tea Is A Gift is truly something that I had not experienced in such small leaf variety. I agree with Twodogs assessment that it is something that rarely makes it to the Western market. Your comment make me think of this one.

I’m not sure if people don’t have the time they do compared to 15 years ago or just people (and society as a whole) nowadays don’t have the patience and attention that is required to dive deeply and emerse slowly into puerh.

I raise a cup to you and all of those who join us in this slow deep discussion of tea!


marco said...

Excellent critique you offer in your post, Matt. Reasoned criticism is a huge service. I wanted to add a few comments and my voice to the chorus.

First re. elitism: the most disappointing thing to me is that so much discussion today occurs on private servers, and that includes Facebook, Slack etc. It's not so much elitism as part of the general trend of the privatization of the web, and I think that people with vested interests and conflicts of interest tend to flourish in such private channels, since their claims are not available for the scrutiny of the wider audience. Besides independent blogs like ours or especially TeaDB, the other alternative we have now is https://www.teaforum.org/. I think it would be great if Teaforum.org could reach critical mass, becoming a major resource going forward. It's already pretty much there, IMO.

One of the reasons, I think, for the success of private tea channels, has to do with moderation. Few have the time to actively moderate an online forum, and just as in the rest of the www, trolls, over-sharers, bullies tend to dominate. So, we flee to private channels. Is this elitism? To someone who feels they are excluded, it certainly would seem like it. But as I said before, while the private channel may seem like a safe refuge, it is probably an illusion. It simply gives more subtle manipulators access to an inner circle. It is in many ways easier to be led astray in a small isolated community -- I see this happening all the time nowadays and try to remain vigilant that it isn't happening to me...

Second re. sharing information about finds: there are some people around who feel they are entitled to this kind of information. This sense of entitlement is pervasive and it's definitely not concentrated in the young, the poor, or in the left-wing (what up, rich right-wing narcissists!). What I'm trying to say is two things: first I am more inclined to share with people who I trust (because of the obvious risks involved: relationships with sources, prices, availability) and second, sharing is a 2-way street.

I also wanted to say a few words about Teas We Like. It's still very much a work in progress, and so far is going well. The way it works now is that we have a small group of organizers (hovering around 3-5 depending on personal circumstance) who work only in their spare time, and we seek out teas usually from collectors in Taiwan or Malaysia, with more tba. We bring in more tasters for a larger tasting panel (6-10, depending) to help us decide which teas make the cut. We have two main criteria and it's difficult to balance them: the tea has to be an _outstandingly_ good example of its genre, and the price has to be such that we can beat the market pretty easily. We can only ensure good prices if we buy in bulk, usually multiple tongs or jian, and we keep profit margin silly low (just take a look at our $/g and you will see what I mean). We are small-scale and we are not trying to compete against the major vendors with a broad slate of teas -- instead we just want to make a small amount of really top stuff available for our most dedicated (but not necessarily rich) tea head friends.

By the way, we initially planned to make all group buy organizers, curators, and tasting panel members public on our site, but many of the people involved in our project were already getting hassled (it happens a lot) and so that's why we keep personal info to a minimum, for now.

Anonymous said...

As a newcomer, I must acknowledge the strange elitism and mystique cultivated by much of the community. Clearly the non-Western pu scene is full of bravado and secrecy (no doubt influenced by those with profit motives), but why choose to mimick that here? Most of us are here simply to learn about, drink and enjoy tea, not to build wealth from our collections. I applaud you for pushing for greater transparency and keeping the community in check!

Matt said...


Haha haha... you got me laughing out loud when I read that rich right wing comment... it made me realize that i incidentally published some kind of leftist puerh tea manifesto here... didn’t realize it was that but re-reading it with that filter sure makes it sound that way... haha

I like how you put that about the privatization of puerh knowledge....I agree. I would go even farther and say the freedom and independence of puerh knowledge is actually threatened.

For instance, why was it so hard for me to even bring this topic up in the first place? Why haven’t these issues been debated more vigorously when they were brought up on previous two comments threads on TeaDB by commentor TL (thanks for pushing the issue by the way)? Why is it that the brave newbie comment below has to be anonymous?

I will tell you this: if I was so involved with all these Facebook groups, private servers, slacks, tea Illuminati, etc. I don’t think I could have published this post.

Academic researchers, and those who work in the press can probably speak to the dangers of going in the direction things are going much better than I can.

Thanks for speaking more transparently about Teas We Like just like I thanked Alex about talking in more detail about what is involved with the Taiwanese Facebook auctions.

I also wondered how all of this pressure to keep sources quiet, and the inter-connectivity to these insider groups would threaten the independence and quality of Dead Leaves Tea Club group buys, and Teas We Like offerings. You touched on this a bit.

Keep up the good fight and many thanks to your contribution through your comment above, and in a wider sense with your blog and Teas We Like.


Matt said...


I would really like to thank you for speaking on behalf of the new comers out there. It seems way too far fetched to imagine that any newcomer would think of it differently than elitist.

Even the commentors above can’t say that it isn’t without qualifying that it could be seen this way.

Much peace

Matt said...

*freedom, objectivity, and independence of puerh knowledge is threatened*

Matt said...

A further response and some tea wisdom by someone who was once very very active on social media but has recently been less...



Thomas B. said...

I'm also a newcomer, having only started drinking raw puer about a year ago. I don't know what "the scene" was like 10 years ago, but I have observed similar trends in other areas - with communities moving to more proprietary platforms instead of public newsgroups, forums, and blogs. I think Marco has it right.

I have come across a bit of elitism, but I'm not that bothered by it. Sure, there are people who say effectively "this tea would be wasted on you", but 1) they're probably right, and 2) I couldn't afford the tea anyway.

Maybe in 5 or 10 years, I will have enough experience to appreciate the really great tea, but by then, a cake of reasonable quality will probably cost more than my car... Still, I'll continue to learn as much as I can. This blog, and the others in your sidebar, have been a great resource so far.

Sigi said...

Hey Matt,

This was a good post and it's something I do think people should be made aware of. When it comes to publicly sharing sources and discussing Puer, I've really been enjoying the Tea Discord server. I myself do a lot of tmall/taobao trawling for interesting young sheng, and I always share my sources. Not only does it help everyone get a better picture of what's out there, I also benefit from getting everyone's impressions of the things I post. I consider it a good way of keeping this sort of discussion in a public space while also having it in a place that's easier to reference than, say, Instagram. I'd recommend anyone - newcomers and long-time Puer enthusiasts alike - to come check it out sometime. Here's an invite link: https://discord.gg/tea

Matt said...

Thomas B.,

I also totally agree with you and marco that the privatization of the internet is more of a societal shift.

When I first started drinking puerh I was fortunate to sit around tea tables drinking some decent stuff early on and I don’t think it was a waste on me but rather gave me an immediate advantage. The difference here is, as Alex stated above, I was drinking with others much wiser and more experienced. Drinking it alone would not be as advantageous..... it was their sample so essentially free... affording to buy this stuff by yourself is another thing all together....

Thanks for offering another different newcomer perspective on this issue... I raise a cup to you and invite you to sit around this cyberspace tea table anytime.


Matt said...


Thanks for presenting the option of this tea discord server to us all!

I also forgot to mention reddit that is also something that’s going on as well . It’s amusing at times but not as suited for deeper discussion I think.