Thursday, February 3, 2022

The Fu Brick Economy

 Have you ever heard of “the hemline index”?  It is the economic theory that hemlines (or skirt lengths) rise and fall along with stock markets.  For Western drinkers of Chinese Fermented Tea or Heicha- it seems, to me, like interest and popularity of Fu Bricks rise and fall with inflation!  We can call it the “Fu Brick index”… hahaha

The first time I noticed a rise in Fu Brick popularity was all the way back during the Great Recession (2007-2009).  I was in Korea and one of the people I consider my tea master or teacher, Mr. Kim, travelled to Hunan for a period to study and learn deeply and source Hei Cha made famous in Hunan province, the home of Fu Bricks.

He owned a tea shop that sold puerh and Korean tea which had seen slowly increasing prices over the last few years.  When the Great Recession hit he was concerned that Koreans wouldn’t spend their money on luxury items like the tea he sold and he had a family to support.  His solution was to learn about and source a traditional type of tea that was affordable yet still delicious and could be appreciated at a connoisseur level.  He came back to Korea and transmitted his knowledge to me.

I ended up writing this very early English article on Three Famous Teas of Hunan Province (which Fu Brick is one of the three) based on his teachings. There was not any English articles to reference before this article or hyperlink to.  I had to translate from Korean and you can see in the comment section that the big wigs of English puerh translation, Lew Perin of Bablecarp and Corax of Chadao blog helped get the Chinese Pinyin from the translations.  I got a lot of interest on that post with some people reaching out to me.  Anyways, this was one of the first times there seemed to be some interest in Fu Zhuan in the West at a time of economic uncertainty and less spending on luxury items.

The next time I noticed a burst of interest in Fu Zhuan was in 2012.  2012 was an interesting time in Western puerh circles.  Tea Urchin came on the scene and released a bunch of higher quality Gushu single estate puerh cakes many of which were above 100$ a cake.  Psychologically, it shook some of the old time puerh buyers that the price of puerh had reached such high prices.  Many people grumbled and moaned about the increase and you can see some of this on The Half Dipper and A Tea Addicts Journal.  This also happened to be a time of high/peak inflation in most Western economies, undoubtedly an effect from the stimulus of the Great Recession a few years earlier.

Interestingly, there was a burst of articles and blogs about Fu Bricks in 2012.  This includes blog posts by Jakub and this article by me further elaborating on my teaching by Mr. Kim and my own experience and relevant research articles on Fu Zhuan.  As a result of this mini explosion of articles Tea Chat started a Fu Brick thread to accommodate the recent interest at this time.  Again the attention to the Fu Brick seemed to coincide with the economy.

Bloggers Cwyn of Death By Tea and Char of OolongOwl started on the tea scene around this time and being at the right place at the right time, looking for original content for their blogs, and simply out of enjoyment and appreciation of Fu Bricks started posting semi regularly about them throughout the years.  Cwyn recently credits Char for doing much to advance interest in Fu bricks in the Western English tea scene but I really think that she is not giving herself enough credit.  Cwyn has been just as much of an influence in my mind.   

I also enjoy a good Fu Brick and ever since learning about them from Mr.Kim I have been drinking them.  However my consumption of Fu Zhuan is so small.  I usually only have a few pots of Fu Brick every year and usually it’s enjoyed best in the late summer or early fall.  Due to my minimal consumption, I haven’t ever purchased a brick but rather have been fortunate to have been gifted enough samples to last me through.  The past few years I have consumed the free samples from The Chinese Tea Shop, 05Tea, and Yunnan Sourcing.  It would be interesting to read more reviews on Fu Bricks or informational post on Fu Bricks.  OolongOwl’s posts on Fu Bricks are among my favourites. Recently Cwyn has been posting economically minded posts on drinking up a 1 KG Fu Brick.  She recently finished the brick and points out, 

My doubled heating bill for January says to me everything is going to skyrocket in price soon.

…Just in time for Paul of white2tea to launch his first Fu Bricks

With inflation once again at highs not seen since 2012 interest in Fu Bricks seem to be on our radar again.  Alas the “Fu Brick Index” is at a high once again!


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