Wednesday, May 24, 2017

The Xiao Binging of the Puerh Industry

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.

Peace

14 comments:

Unknown said...

I'm with you Matt. Despite having pressed more than my fair share of xiao bing over the part few years, personally i also dislike them. In fact, now that we're discussing it, I also dislike 357g. 400g or more is a nice chunky cake.that you can break into and drink without feeling like you're going to run out after a few brews. Sadly I think the days of 500g or more cakes are mostly gone.

Aardvark Cheeselog said...

I think you've probably guessed the reasons. Maybe one additional factor is that 357g of tea is a lot of tea, if you're not sure you'll like the style, and the burst in popularity of puer created a market for 100g samples. I think the 200g ones are more about sticker shock/making popular origins more affordable. The 100g ones are not really candidates for aging IMO, unless you get a stack of them.

Your blog would be a whole lot better if you would just change the theme so that the contrast is better. The attribute you're currently using for visited links, in particular, makes them basically invisible against the background.

Lew Perin said...

I have a 2005 (5-bing!) tong of 100g Chang Tai xiaobing, so I think you’re exaggerating the novelty of this a bit.

I also used to have a 1999 Simao xiaofang weighing 100g.

Matt said...

Unknown,

I forgive you for pressing Xiao Beings... let's press a qing bing together!

Aardvark Cheeselog,

Thanks for the advice on making the blog more usable... I should use a black front instead. I will change that soon. I'm open to any other advice on how to improve the blog as well.

Lew Perin,

You are so right about that. After writing this post I was haunted by dreams of Chang Tai (weird eh?). I think if we can blame anyone on the popularity of the Xiao bing we should blame Chang Tai (haha). Their early 2000s selection of puerh is virtually filled with xiao bings. Houde must have been filled with them 10 years ago I imagine.

I spent most of this time in Korea where the Xiao bing was an unusual sight there. So my perspective speaks to more of my experience there than what was available to the Western audience at that time.

Peace

Anonymous said...

One additional reason is puerh is getting more and more press. Tea shop vendors have told me a lot of new people want to buy a puerh cake without a big commitment to it storage-wise. People seem to want experiences but also to walk away after the experience. Small cakes often are teas with no other sample option. But for sure the prices are the biggest factor too.

Nicole Martin said...

It is an interesting phenomenon. I think part of it has to do with an increase in "western" vendors doing custom pressings. 100g cakes offer a smaller price point for the customer with a bit less of a commitment if they are just starting out.

Matt said...

Anonymous,

All of your points are valid. I think this was what Aardvark Cheeselog was alluding to his above comment as well. To people new to puerh even 357g can be quite intimidating.

I think another point that could be added to this discussion is that in Asia you can simply try the bing out in person before commiting to it but in the West most puerh is purchased online so committing to less can be advantageous to some.

Does anybody know if xiao bings are as popular in China as they seem to be in the west?

Nicole Martin,

Yes, I also noticed that the popularity seemed to co-inside with western vendors doing pressing. However, it should be noted that there was also an increase of small vendors doing their own pressing in Korea and China.

Good observation.

Peace

Scott Wilson said...

I am not a big fan of mini cakes either. I have pressed some and sell some because so many of my wholesale customers are begging for them. I think it's hard for people to commit to a 400 gram cake as a beginner. For nice raw gu shu material pressing into a 100 gram cake really seems like a waste. The scale of things just looks weird to me. The reason they are not common in China is that pu-erh is a heavily gifted tea. To give someone a gift of a 100 or 200 gram cake could actually be construed by the recipient as an insult. So producers have largely avoided making 100 gram cakes, instead opting for tuo or mini bricks which are rarely gifted and overwhelmingly consumed.

Matt said...

Scott Wilson,

Thanks for adding your opinion, the vendors perspective, and the Chinese perspective to this issue. Much appreciated.

I think there are really very few people who were drinking puerh over 9 years ago that prefer the xiao bing. I really think its something the people new to puerh like but not old school drinkers.

Thanks for offering still a decent selection of beefier selections (some of which are currently on there way).

Maybe you will be the first to press the 1KG brick or Qing bing?

Peace

Scott Wilson said...

Matt,

Welcome... I was really anti-mini cakes for awhile... but softened a little bit. I think it's a millenials air-bnb, zipcar, no commitment type phenomenon coming into play here too. Alot of people would love to be able to buy 10 grams of everything that catches their eye, post an IG review and never look back.

I should start pressing 3kg cakes only with no samples... LOL.

Matt said...

Scott Wilson,

Guess it will have to compete with this one:

https://store.thechineseteashop.com/Pu_Erh_Tea_Yiwu_Mountain_Cake_Wild_Leaves_p/pugc-03-392.htm

Hahaha

Peace

Scott Wilson said...

Matt,

Wow... that's incredibly cheap for being from 2003... alot of new 100 gram cakes are more than $20 now!

Matt said...

Scott,

The small leaves over the larger ones doesn't scream quality to me but at least they have a sample. I'm finding these bigger pressings also are very affordable if you actually calculate the price per gram.

... we are really sounding like a bunch of crusty, old, complaining about change puerh drinkers...

Peace

Scott Wilson said...

Matt,

Yeah... kids these days... millenials... blah blah blah (crust nuggets falling out of my ears)...