Help navigating the world of buying tea in China (as a consumer)
I live in China and speak/read/write decent enough Chinese but I’m really at a loss when it comes to buying tea here.
There are physical stores in my city, but I know they have a significant markup. I can find the same kind of stuff online for about 2/3rds of the price or so. It’s also usually not easy to get to these stores as they tend to be quite far away, so I have to spend $10+ USD in travel to get there.
I need your guys help with navigating the world of buying consumer-level teas online in China. Taobao has a bazillion and some are from the big guys (Dayi and Xiaguan) while most are from brands I’ve never heard of.
So here’s my specific request: can you provide some brands for greens, oolongs and puers that are sold at the consumer level within mainland China? I’d like to know what reputable brands there are that I can look out for. I know Dayi and Xiaguan and they have some decent options for Puer, but after reading TwoDogTeaBlog I also know that they are very marked up.
Thanks for your help! I’m relatively new to trying to really understand tea, so your help is much appreciated!
Dayi and Xiaguan are quite decent for what they are. If you’re looking for decent consumer level puerh without actually knowing anything about puerh you can’t go wrong with Dayi or Xiaguan.
Spending more time in the markets will help you I feel. Stop in random shops and challenge them. Tell them you’re looking for a sheng puerh you like that’s under 100rmb a cake. See what they brew for you. Worst case you spend an hour learning and chatting and are out 100rmb.
If you go into a shop and can’t be bothered to brew tea for you then just go to the next shop. You’ll find friendly people who want to share their knowledge.
I’d also really like to find a good oolong. Are there are any particularly well known brands that are sold in mainland China? What is usually sourced for sale in the states?
I know almost nothing about buying oolong in China. Puerh is my cup of tea.
Oolong is my bag. Where in China are you? Try Sea Dyke or Wuyi Star. Both companies produce teas at different price levels for different consumers, and both produce quite good oolong for the money. You have access to premium Sea Dyke offerings that American consumers don’t have access to. :) Both companies also maintain presences on TMall.
@CrimsonLotus Thanks for the help with Puers. I’m only recently getting into them. I got a sample pack from Dayi that I’m slowly making my way through. Also got a very reasonably priced cake today on Taobao (on sale) so I can try another company that seems to sell really well on that platform. Any other brand recommendations or would you just recommend going to storefronts? If I could find a brand that’s small enough to where I don’t need to worry about excessive markup or fakes and can buy it online here that’d be awesome!
@JayinHK I’m in Jilin province (thus the username). You’re talking about 海堤 and 武夷星 right? Any specific ones of theirs you recommend? I’m more into 浓香 oolongs. I’m not into the super green, flowery/vegetal ones.
I may have been born in Hong Kong (and still live here, aside from a stint in the US), but I don’t read Chinese. lol. I had to Google 海堤 and I came up with pictures of sea dykes, so yes, 海堤. 武夷星 is right too. 浓香 comes up as nong xiang, so I guess you’re into roasty stuff. Sea Dyke and Wuyi Star are definitely your bag then. I believe Wuyi Star is a little higher roasted than Sea Dyke. I personally buy HK-roasted oolongs for the most part, most of which aren’t readily available to the rest of the world!
Now I’m off to look up Jilin Province, which I’ve only heard of. I know nothing at all about it! ;)
@DongBei Dayi and Xiaguan are the only consumer level puerh that I have any familiarity with. In my experience the smaller brands are the ones that will have more markup. They have to make a profit from markup because they don’t have the volume. The larger the shop the more volume they sell. Your average quality, current year Dayi or Xiaguan puerh are a decent value for what you get. Xiaguan is probably a better deal ounce for ounce than Dayi; in my experience.
Haiwan and Boyou offer decent ripes as well. The Haiwan will be less fermented than the Dayi line and the Boyou more fermented.
If you want some good real tea there are people in your area for sure. The one above already chatting, Crimson Lotus tea. Check out White2Tea as well and also Yunnan Sourcing and TeaUrchin. Chawang Shop and Essence Of Tea are also in your backyard. These guys are transparent with anything they sell. These are mainly puerh cha sellers. For Oolong try White 2Tea, Taiwan Sourcing and TeaUrchin.
Welcome to Steepster btw.
Some smaller brands are cheap, but also sell utter crap, and then there are pesticide concerns with smaller brands too. There are also higher priced smaller brands that focus on the mainland market and still sell crap, so it literally is a crap shoot. The pu erh game is tricky as there is only so much really good tea and lots of demand, and lots of people willing to play games to extract the money from your wallet (or Alipay, in this case).
Then you have the high end retailers who focus on the foreign market and some even test for pesticides. Yunnan Sourcing are based in China and will ship to you. Crimson Lotus sounds like he has some interesting teas and might be worth a shot, and he’s still in China for a little bit. If you want some exceptional pu erh, the Western retailers who are based in China can ship to you too and maybe you can work out some kind of deal, and you can read reviews on their teas a lot more easily (at least I can).
Both Dayi and Xiaguan have ISO-certified tea production facilities. I pretty much only buy Dayi when it comes to factory cakes, as that is what we drink in HK—once upon a time pretty much all the pu erh consumed outside China went through HK and the old school dealers will still pretty much only deal with Dayi tea when it comes to pu erh (and everyone drinks pu erh here, especially cooked pu erh). Dayi tea also has the best long term resale value. However, Crimson Lotus actually had me looking at fancy Xiaguan 2016 offerings earlier today. He told me he was into XG tea a few days ago ;) I’ve long been curious about their tuos, but maybe I’ll pick up one of their premium cakes too.
Thanks for your in depth response! Wuyi Star has a sample pack of 3 of their popular teas so I think I’ll go with that.
On the Puer front, what makes you think small brands will have more of a pesticide issue than large brands? Also, some of the small brands sell in insane volume on Taobao, could that make up for lack of markup? Either way, I’m going to definitely get a Dayi cake next, they have one 357g cake that’s under 100 rmb (also their best seller online). Oddly though they don’t seem to sell 357g cakes of their classic recipes, just 150g cakes?
How do I reach out to someone like Yunnan sourcing or Crimson Lotus about that? I’d love if they could hook me up but I definitely can’t pay US prices here in the mainland.
Dayi sells bigger cakes than 150 grams. They sell all the way to a 1kg brick so they are out there. What kind of US pricing are you looking to get into? I know a bunch of sellers and some to avoid as well by seeing what they sell.
@DongBei Crimson Lotus Tea is actually pretty easy to get a hold of from what I’ve heard.
DongBei the big brands are held to higher standards and are exported worldwide through official channels. Cheaper pu erh could mean you find the occasional pube/cigarette butt/rock/chewed up pumpkin seed too.
Cheap stuff moves fast on Taobao—no indication of quality. Trust me on that one. There’s plenty of Dayi cakes @ the 357g level—you aren’t looking hard enough if you’re only finding the 150g. Also TMall is more reliable than Taobao.com, since sellers are held to higher standards, so stick to TMall.
Some of the western vendors’ pricing is good enough that they’re better value than what’s sold by mainland chains, as I found out in Kunming last week. I just bought $160 of tea from Chawangshop.
Also if you don’t know how to contact Crimson Lotus, I’m not sure what to tell you buddy. lol
Once you learn a bit more, you could hit the tea markets. You have to bargain your tail off to get a fair price at the markets, but you get to try teas and find out what you like. In Kunming last week, a couple of ladies offered me a 2014 Dayi 7542 for RMB 230, when I pay like RMB 50 for one on Taobao…lol. I still let them brew some up, knowing I had three 2014 7542s aging at home in HK. That and I drink (and sell) HK storage 2003-2004 7542, which is a lot more pleasant drinking than a 2014, although brewed cooler, new factory sheng can be quite pleasant. Brewed closer to boiling and you will suffer a little…
There was a small brand of Puerh I bought off Taobao a while back and remember liking it. I only bought the ripe. I do not know their Taobao store but the name of their tea is The Tea Horse Family. I have bought from a few other sellers on Taobao and had some luck but I really don’t know the sellers because I was using an Agent and he handled the details. I simply picked out teas that looked interesting. As you are in China you don’t have to buy through an agent but can establish a Taobao account and have sellers ship to you directly. One seller I do know by name is called MX Tea and I have had good luck with their tea. You will definitely find a lot of bargains on Taobao. Since you are in China I would think that that is the way to save money on tea. You can usually tell if a seller is any good by the rating he has. Bad sellers will quickly get bad reviews. You could also like people said look up Yunnan Sourcing as I think he will ship within China.
As far as Taobao goes and buying Dayi teas you need to learn to recognize a fake by the way they are wrapped. People on this site have taught me how to spot most fakes. Real Dayis are wrapped in a particular way.
Dayi maintains a TMall store so no worries there. I can’t find MX Tea but coincidentally I think I came across the other one today.
Can you send a pic of the MX Tea so I can look them up by name? Thanks!
I admit that I have only bought from these sellers through resellers on aliexpress but I can recommend the Teas I’ve had from them.
My favourite Rizhao green game from this seller.
I love this Tea. I’ve only bought black Teas from this seller but this Tea still holds up well after three years.
This is as far as I understand still one of the rizhaocooperatives and tends to be a bit more experimentalthan the others.
If you do give a tea market a try, my main advice would be to try the tea first – drink with them and ask questions. My other advice would be don’t spend an amount you’re not comfortable parting with. It’s not like they’ll surely pull a bait and switch or something, but you if the tea isn’t as fantastic as when you tried it in the market or what you were expecting, you won’t be feeling as gutted.
Definitely try any tea first, and don’t be afraid to walk away without insulting them. They’ll invite you back to drink tea again—don’t be like, “No, I don’t think I’ll be back, your tea sucks,” as that’s highly offensive. LOL. When you do find something you like, don’t get too excited as you’ve lost your ability to bargain then.
I asked for prices before I even began drinking, and then selected the teas I wanted to try. If I wanted something I tried, I then made an offer and we met halfway.
I noticed in Kunming they tried to short me 5-10g, regularly, for the weight of the bag. When they asked me if it was ok, I told them to throw some more in with a smile and they did, while chuckling themselves. Gotta keep it lighthearted around the Chinese IMO. To get offended or upset is often seen as a major loss of face.
Definitely – be polite. In the tea market situation I always just make an excuse, say I’ll come back (I won’t), thank them and leave. All you can do if you don’t like a tea is not drink it… saying it sucks can be pretty rude.
Yeah, they tend to include the bag in the weight here, but are always happy to throw more tea in, you just have to point it out ;)
I don’t know what part of China you are in but when I was living in Yunnan you couldn’t go into a tea shop without the owner insisting that you try some of their different teas.
That would be my advice, just go in and see if you can try any before you buy.