For the causal puerh drinker, no find is better than a puerh which you enjoy to drink which has been discounted due to some wrapper or other cosmetic issue. Marshal’N beamed about this in one of his comments about 7542 earlier this year. I too have somewhat recently took advantage of this discount. I ended up saving about $15/$20 per cake on these 2015 Zheng Si Long Wa Long when it was advertised that the batch had excessive tearing to the wrapper. This was nice considering it was on my list of puerh to buy anyway! I suppose the decision to offer a discount for cosmetic reasons can also be used as a bit of a marketing technique because it is a bit of a call to action.
The reality of it is that it is just the vendors being as transparent as possible about what they are selling so to ensure there are no surprises. Vendors like white2tea and Yunnan Sourcing don’t explicitly discount cakes with cosmetic damage such as tears or bug bites or staining or excessive dust. However, you can almost be sure that they acquired these cakes for a cheaper price and that price is being passed on to the customer. They will state the issues of concern as a matter of transparency on the product page such as in the description of white2tea’s Very Old Huangpian or recently in Yunnan Sourcing's 2006 Changtai “65th Anniversary of Tong An Teahouse”.
Interestingly, I had received a different puerh order this year from a Western vendor that I will not mention. The wrappers from this order were actually much more ripped up than the 2015 Zheng Si Long Wa Long wrappers but were not advertised as such! The puerh was around the same age. I didn’t see the reason to complain and felt silly asking for a discount because, really, I don’t care. The one thing that both of these puerh had was that they were not double wrapped and that they had a very thin type of paper wrapper.
The type of wrapper, thickness, and weather it is double wrapped makes a real difference. It also influences how the puerh will actually age and because each type of wrapping offers different benefits to aging, something that isn’t discussed much in the West but is a discussion point in Asia among teamasters. It also offers the puerh cakes protection from extreme humidity/dryness, pests, light, ect. That could damage the puerh. The type of wrapper isn’t just a marketing thing, it’s something that can be considered on a practical level ... but it’s never the primary consideration when buying puerh… usually just a bonus.
In my experience drinking puerh from the 80s and 90s, there was almost always some damage or cosmetic thing with these cakes. This is just natural and historically it was completely normal wear and tear. Remember that donkeys traveling the Tea Horse Road used to haul this stuff! Historically, it wasn’t kept in mint condition so why should we expect that now? I understand that for a collector of puerh, this thing might matter for resale, but for the drinker it’s all superficial anyways…