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Posted by: Michael Mandel on January 19
Just a short break in topic. I’m a big tea drinker. I drink 3 or 4 cups a day, some from bags and some brewed (including some strong varieties like Genghis Khan tea, which is so aromatic that it can jolt you awake from across the room).
So I was very interested in a recent NYT article called “A County in China Sees Its Fortunes in Tea Leaves Until a Bubble Bursts:”
Over the past decade, as the nation went wild for the region’s brand of tea, known as Pu’er, farmers bought minivans, manufacturers became millionaires and Chinese citizens plowed their savings into black bricks of compacted Pu’er.
But that was before the collapse of the tea market turned thousands of farmers and dealers into paupers and provided the nation with a very pungent lesson about gullibility, greed and the perils of the speculative bubble. “Most of us are ruined,” said Fu Wei, 43, one of the few tea traders to survive the implosion of the Pu’er market. “A lot of people behaved like idiots.”
A pleasantly aromatic beverage that promoters claim reduces cholesterol and cures hangovers, Pu’er became the darling of the sipping classes in recent years as this nation’s nouveaux riches embraced a distinctly Chinese way to display their wealth, and invest their savings. From 1999 to 2007, the price of Pu’er, a fermented brew invented by Tang Dynasty traders, increased tenfold, to a high of $150 a pound for the finest aged Pu’er, before tumbling far below its preboom levels.
For tens of thousands of wholesalers, farmers and other Chinese citizens who poured their money into compressed disks of tea leaves, the crash of the Pu’er market has been nothing short of disastrous. Many investors were led to believe that Pu’er prices could only go up.
“The saying around here was ‘It’s better to save Pu’er than to save money,’ ” said Wang Ruoyu, a longtime dealer in Xishuangbanna, the lush, tea-growing region of Yunnan Province that abuts the Burmese border. “Everyone thought they were going to get rich.”
Alas. I had Pu’er tea for the first time a year ago…it must have been the peak of the bubble, but I didn’t realize it. Luckily that was not one of my investments.
Michael Mandel, BW's award-winning chief economist, provides his unique perspective on the hot economic issues of the day. From globalization to the future of work to the ups and downs of the financial markets, Mandel-named 2006 economic journalist of the year by the World Leadership Forum-offers cutting edge analysis and commentary.