Taobao buying agent, anyone?

Hello, all!

(08/2014) I made a few changes to this topic.

I have wanted to post something about my experience buying on for some time now, and it looks like now is the time. I have been buying tea from Taobao for almost two years now (I have successfully received at least a half-dozen different orders), so I actually have much to post, but I want to get this out there now, so I may post things over time as there is much here to share.

The basics: Taobao (does anyone know how to pronounce it?) is like the eBay, or Amazon, of China. And amongst other things, there are tons of retailers selling all kinds of tea (as you may imagine), and some are offered at incredibly low prices (partly because of the conversion of USD to ¥). The selection of tea is mind boggling, and the prices can be about as incredible. BUT, and this is a HUGE BUT, there are many things to learn, and risks to accept, before buying through Taobao.

Before you can even buy anything from a seller (like the ones who sell their wares on eBay or Amazon), you will need a Taobao buying agent to handle the buying and shipping of the items.
Items of interest:

1) The language barrier: If you don’t speak Mandarin (I don’t) then you will need help translating. So far I have been able to figure out enough important characters (like the ones for for green tea, Dianhong, pu-erh, etc) to help me search Taobao directly. Then, I use Google Translate to translate the webpages (A few personal details about translations: recently, I started using Chrome, with Google’s translator, and I find it is faster and less cumbersome than using Internet Explorer (using my Windows 7 PC). I prefer Firefox, but none of the translators I found are as good as the ones for IE and Chrome. Does anyone know of any add-ons for Firefox that translate the characters in-page rather than having to hit a button which generates a completely separate tab\page with the translated text?). I believe there is at least one website that does the all of translating for you (AliExpress?) by generating a list of items in English, but I prefer to go direct through Taobao, as I seem I get a better selection, and then I know for sure if a tea is on sale or if the seller offers free shipping on an item.

2) Finding an agent (assuming you don’t live in China and/or don’t understand Mandarin): You will need a Taobao agent (meaning, an online service) that can communicate with you in your own language so you can do business with them. Moreover, depending on the country in which you live and the seller you are purchasing from, many sellers will not ship direct to you anyway, so you will need an agent to accept the package in wherever country they are located (I assume most Taobao agents are located in China), and then arrange for the agent to have it shipped internationally to you. There are all kinds of variations in how Taobao agents do things. For me, this has been an ongoing struggle. (08/2014)I have used a number of agents, and I have to listed some of them and my experiences with them throughout this thread.

3) Finding the Taobao sellers that sell the tea you want: I have spent literally hundreds of hours searching for the teas and the sellers that work for me. (08/2014) I listed some of them and my experiences with them throughout this thread, and hope to post more on occasion.

3) Payment: many agents use PayPal (of course, you have to have an account to use PayPal), but many do not. So it is a matter of feeling comfortable using your credit card directly to pay for the items (or using other means of payment, like Western Union). I have used PayPal and paid directly with my credit card. There are some small but interesting financial considerations here as well (some agents charge a conversion fee—which varies somewhat, with or without a per-transaction processing fee, and some do not).

4) Shipping: There are several considerations here, including cost, getting items through customs, various mail carriers to choose from, etc. Depending on how many shipping options an agent offers (i.e. China SAL, China Air, EMS, DHL, etc), and I assume what kind of ‘deal’ they may or may not have with shipping companies, shipping only one item can be expensive (or even for many items that don’t weight much). The shipping can (and often is, for me) be more than the cost of item itself. For example, the minimum cost to ship internationally when using Taobao Focus is 26 ¥. Each seller charges for domestic shipping (sometimes it’s free), which is the cost of shipping the item to certain cities inside China. This cost is separate from the international shipping cost (assuming you are outside of China) the agent charges to ship the item from the agents city (where the seller sent to item to) to your city.

5) Customer service: conversing with both the agents (and possibly even the sellers) can be a real challenge. There are many things to consider when choosing both an agent and a seller, like the reliability in the description of items of the seller, if the items on their website really are ‘in-stock’ if they state they are, how well they communicate if you have questions about the particulars of an item, etc. Also, most agents take pictures of the items before they ship to you. … more later.

6) Time difference between where your city and the city where the agent is within China when communicating with the agent (for some agents, you can’t just e-mail them with questions, you have to wait until it is during business hours in China and then chat with them live, as is the case with TaobaoFocus).

7) Seller details: A few for now: on Taobao itself, you can actually view the customers experiences (reviews) with the seller and/or with the item they bought, you can see how many of those items they sold in the last 30 days, you can see how reliable they are in their transactions with other customers (similar to Amazon and eBay) on a scale of 1 to 5 (Description match, Attitude, Delivery speed), you can see how many overall items they sold by looking for an icon, or a group of icons (hearts, diamonds, crowns) next to the sellers name. Usually there is a fee Alipay or Paypal charges to convert USD—or whatever currency you are using—to RMB (Chinese Yen, symbol ¥), which can make the total cost a little higher. Currency exchange rates also seem to vary slightly from agent to agent but at present most agents seem to use roughly 6¥ = $1 (this also varies as one currency is valued against the other, in general, regardless of the agent). I have seen slightly different exchange rates, depending on the agent.

Note: This chart will give you an idea of what the different credit rating symbols mean: So far, I don’t think I have bought from a seller with a credit rating lower than 3 ‘Hearts’ (that’s at least 41 successful transactions), and I prefer they have at least a ‘Diamond’ rating. I have found that most tea sellers have at least one Diamond, and I have seen at least one seller with two ‘Gold Crowns’.

I am sure there are other interesting topics here to explore as well.

I will be posting more details about my experiences later.

My hopes are that we can share our experiences to help us find the best tea for the best price!

88 Replies

Great info, thanks! I would love some examples of what you have gotten there, and for what price.

Glad to hear it! I will be sharing more shortly.

Shawn Alex said

shopping on taobao isn’t easy for foreigners, mainly issues like language, taobao rules, payments, shipping, nearly all of those issues will affect the shopping experience on Taobao. However, if you find a very good one-stop agent service like, you may start a wonderful online shopping journey on Taobao.

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A few things up front:

1) I have no affiliation what-so-ever with any of these agents or sellers (other than having bought from them). I only hope to spread the joy for those like me who are frugal, and/or live on a very limited budget, and/or just want access to a better selection of tea!

2) My passions are Chinese green Tea, Chinese red Tea, and more recently, ripe pu-erh. I rarely drink ‘flavor-added’ teas (I call Tea, just ‘Tea’, and teas that have flavor added (since Tea already has flavor), well, ‘flavor-added Tea’. : p ). Most of my experience is looking for and buying Chinese green tea, but just in the last couple of weeks or so I have been exploring Chinese red and pu-erh on Taobao.

About two years ago, after spending many, many hours scouring Taobao looking for fresh green tea (2012 at the time) all the while ‘wrestling the alligator’ so-to-speak—learning how Taobao works, how the translator works, how the agent works, overcoming my fears I would get scammed, etc., I decide to ‘go slow’ and I finally bought two teas from the same seller, using the Taobao agent called (which, btw, is now out of business. Yes, there are risks involved). The links below are to teas from the 2013 harvests; the 2014 harvest teas should be out soon:

1) a bi lo chun green tea:

2) a tea somewhat like a Laoshan green tea:

And as luck would have it, my wife and I liked both of them, and they are now teas I buy every year (the second tea listed above is now my wife’s favorite green tea).

Oh yeah, price. I can’t remember for certain, but I think the total was about 15 – 16USD for the 200 grams. That was a little more than 2USD/OZ. My goal is to keep the average price at or below 2USD/ounce, which I can almost always do (sometimes I spurge and buy small amounts for $3-5/OZ).

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To make the following more clear, I added a few details to my original post (where I feel they belong).

One of the problems with ordering through Taobao agents is that some have a minimum fee for your order. Most charge 10% of the cost of the item on Taobao. But, I have used Taobao Focus as my agent at least once, and they have a minimum of 35 ¥ (or 35 Chinese Yen, often shown with the symbol ¥) fee for my order. So, for example, if I just wanted to buy an item (or items) that cost 15 ¥, I still pay 35 ¥ for their fee (instead of 10% of the item cost of 15 ¥, which would only be 1.5 ¥). So, when I use that agent, I make sure to make my order LARGE (getting my order to 350 ¥, while shooting to average the tea for about 2USD/OZ, means buying A LOT of tea in one order)!

So, as a real life example of how the costs generally work (and how buying one item can be expensive): let’s say I want to buy this tea:, which is listed for 14.25 ¥ ($2.38) on Taobao, and I used Taobao Focus as my agent. Taobao Focus would charge 35 ¥ as their fee, and the cheapest shipping (China Air Mail) for anything 100 grams or under is 26 ¥ to the US, and, I think, they automatically charge 15 ¥ for domestic shipping (even if the item is listed on Taobao as Free domestic Shipping). So the total is 14.25 (item cost)+ 35 (fee) + 26 (international shipping)+ 15 (domestic shipping) = 90.25¥. 90.25¥ / 6 = 15 USD.

Amazing how it all adds up, isn’t it!? As you can see, it can be a little complicated, to say the least, to figure out the final cost of an item—especially when you are buying multiple items from multiple Taobao sellers. The shipping I use (usually the cheapest, but not always) generally takes 3 – 5 weeks for the tea to get to me. Still, that’s not too, too bad for 1.75 OZ of a fresh, premium tea (I verified that this is graded as a premium tea).

As a counter example, I calculated the following by buying the same tea from a different agent (this is theoretical, because I haven’t completed any orders with seller I am basing the following data on, so until I get some experience with them, I don’t plan to list them here, at least not for this example):

I choose to buy this tea (btw, this tea is listed as ‘grade: premium’; possibly, I will post more later on where to look on Taobao for the teas grade): from an agent with a 10% fee (no minimum), an agent that is willing to back out the cost of domestic shipping (a domestic shipping fee is usually added automatically to the cost, and I have to message them to take it out, which can be somewhat of a hassle), and one that offers international shipping cheaper than the last agent. In this case, everything is calculated in $. When choosing international shipping, I choose ‘Air-small’, such that anything 100 grams or under is $3.

Total cost of tea = $2.38 (item cost) + $0.24 (10% fee) + $3 (international shipping)+ $0 (domestic shipping) = $5.62 (may be a little more if currency conversion fees are included). This is a much, much better price ($5.62 / 1.75OZ = $3.21/OZ) than $15. Now, this is theoretical, as I haven’t completed any orders with this Taobao agent as of yet, so I can’t verify the details here.

I bring these examples up because I am interested in finding (and buying from) agents like these: no minimum fee, with reasonable international shipping costs, and willing to back out any domestic shipping charges (if they are listed free on Taobao). I am happy using Taobao Focus for large orders (so far I have found that they have great customer service). But to use them to buy a single tea it’s really not feasible for me (the thriftiness in me, I suppose).

In purchasing tea from a number of different sellers (in think it’s five at this point), using a few different agents (three at this point, one of which has gone out of business), so far I haven’t had any problems with any tea not being what it was advertized as (although, theoretically it could happen: it happened once when buying from eBay). And, although I have had a few opened by customs (I could share some there as well), so far all the packages have arrived OK.

And, this example illustrates the cost of buying just one tea at a time. The more tea you buy at once, the cheaper it gets, as, generally speaking, the heavier the weight (shipping both domestically and internationally), the lower the cost per ounce, and as you can see even in this example, the shipping is more than the cost of the tea itself (even after the fee). So, the goal for me (at least cost wise) after finding the teas from the sellers I like, using the agents I like (admittedly this can be VERY time consuming), is to buy, and ship, as much in one order as possible. That way, unless you are buying expensive tea (and believe me, there are plenty of those), by buying the tea more direct (not exactly, because you are using an agent) it is easy to significantly cut the costs of the tea versus buying tea through an English speaking website.

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Here are the homepages of two sellers I have bought tea from and had good experiences with: – they specialize in West Lake Longjing, and they sell a lot of tea. – they sell a variety of different teas, although they don’t do near the volume as the above seller does.

More details later …

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Here is a rundown of a recent order I just received in the mail:

I decided to give another chance to a Taobao agent I have had mixed results with in the past, so I placed an order through them:

I decided I liked the following three teas (weighing 50 grams each) from the same Taobao seller 大者茶农 link – This seller hasn’t sold many items yet, and they are very new: store opened: 2013-12-25, and so far they have earned a credit rating of only three ‘Hearts’ – they sold 48 products in the last 6 months. So it was a bit of a risk buying from them (I usually buy from sellers that have a least earned at least a credit rating = one ‘Diamond’). But, if you read on, you will see it turned out well.

So, I placed my order for the three teas through the Taobao agent. With this particular Taobao agent when I pay for the order I not only pay for the items, but I also pay for an estimate of the international shipping cost, which they determined to be a total of 300g: 100g for each tea. To me, the estimated final shipping weight seemed high for a package containing three teas (at 50g of tea each), and when I messaged them about this (before paying), they said they would adjust the price after they received the teas and determined the actual weight of the final package. This was something I didn’t want to do, but I decided to take the risk and paid the full amount for the order.

Once I paid there was a significant delay (three days) in the response time from the seller confirming my order (confirm, meaning, the agent verifies the seller actually has the items in stock); I messaged my agent that I wasn’t happy about the delay. As it turns out, the order went through hours after I messaged them. A few days later my agent physically received my order from the seller, and my agent then shipped it immediately (that’s the advantage of paying up-front: no wait time for the agent to determine the actual weight, then message me and wait for me to pay for it before they ship it). When I asked them what the actual weight of the final package was, they said the amount I paid in advance was just enough (for 300g). I messaged them that I couldn’t see how the final package could weigh that much (in my experience, depending on a number of factors, I have found the final weight to be somewhere between 110% to 140% of the total weight of the actual tea – the extra 10% – 40% is due to all of the packaging). I just couldn’t believe the final package would weigh 200% of the weight of the actual tea. Amongst other things, they told me to be patient with the delivery of the package (that sounded like an odd statement to make, given the circumstances).

When I got the package, aside from the three teas I ordered, there was something in it I did not expect: a very nice little ceramic teacup (of a beautiful sea-foam green color). I then realized that had been why the package had been as heavy as they said it was. When I queried them about the teacup, they finally told me what had happened: they asked the seller for a gift (I think because of the delay in confirming my order), and when the seller sent a teacup along with the three teas, they included it with my package (without telling me). Why they didn’t tell me this before, I don’t understand. Still, I am impressed that 1) they asked the seller for a gift, 2) the seller sent one, and 3) my agent passed it on to me (even though I paid for it’s international shipping, it was still well worth it).

Here are two pictures of the teacup (I was hoping the artist’s signature would show up better on the bottom):[email protected]/

The gifted teacup made it all worth it.

So, language barrier and all, all’s well that ends well. : – )

Mandy said

How much did this order I end up costing once everything was said and done?

I’m glad you asked! I was wondering of anyone was actually interested in any of this.

Here are some of the details straight from my order:
Unit … price … Weight
1) 2013 new tea greater premium red Maofeng Feng Qing Yunnan Yunnan Black Tea

US $3.30 … 100.0g
2) New tea leaf gift moonlight beauty Pu’er Tea single bud premium tea Pu’er Tea tea Health tea Oriental Beauty tea

US $6.78 … 100.0g
3) 2013 new tea palace Yunnan Pu’er Tea tea premium tea slimming tea loose leaf tea in bulk tea 50g cooked

US $3.20 … 100.0g

SubTotal:$13.28 Shipping Cost:$ 11.25 Discount:$ 4.90 All Total:$ 19.63

The discount was applied when I asked them to back out an amount because the seller offered free domestic shipping for each item (the system automatically adds domestic shipping when you add the item to your ‘cart’).

So, that’s about $20 for a little more than 5 OZ of tea. This is actually much more than I normally pay per ounce, for many reasons (largely due to international shipping costs, and I normally buy lots of tea in an order, so the shipping per gram is cheaper). Still, in this case I got a nice little teacup out of it as well.

When I get the chance, I hope to give details of another much larger order (5 pounds of green tea and a gaiwan) I recieved recently, from other Toabao sellers, through another Toabao agent. The tea in that order averaged about $2/OZ.

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yyz said

I’m so happy that you have been posting about your experiences. tofar r I haven’t bought from taobao yet. Most of the time I use it to get more info about teas and companies I buy through aliexpresw. There is definitely more variety available even from the same vendors and some teas only occasionally available on aliexpress are always available through taobao. So far I have bought through aliexpress because the Teas I am buying at the volume I’m buying have so far worked out to a better price through aliexpress. But I think that some of the buying agents may work out to a better price when I am buying in volume.

Thank you for your reply (and your interest).

I know of Aliexpress, but if I remember right, when I tried using their system I couldn’t find any place on the webpage that would recognize a Taobao link (one I found on my own), such that I could add the item to a ‘cart’ and buy it. I know you can search for items (like tea) in their system, but I think its much more limiting in what comes up.

If you have any questions, post them here and I will do what I can to answer them (I’m not out here often, so it may take awhile for me to post an answer).

yyz said

That’s true. The taobao sites are sometimes found in the aliexpress adds, but when working the other way I sometimes take the keywords from the translated taobao listing to find it. Sometimes companies also have stores on both platforms which can make it a little easier. Many times though the sellers are kind of acting like a buying agent and are buying it from companies and listing it on the English platform. It would be nice if they could link the sites since they are produced by the same company!

Yes, it would be nice if they could provide those kinds of links.
On a related note, I would think the same items being sold under different auspices happens all the time. It seems to me to be very difficult to know for certain if the item is sold by the item ‘manufacturer’ (as in, farmer, for tea), or if the seller is simply acting as a middle-person.
For example, I have found what appears to be the same gaiwans on both Amazon and on Taobao. The links follow.
Which seller (if any) is the manufacturer? Who knows.

yyz said

Many are trying to take advantage of many platforms several sell on taobao, Amazon, aliexpress and or eBay. Some on aliexpress act as middlemen and order stock from different companies/dealers. I ordered one tea through such a service and it ended up being sent to me from the tea factory directly which was nice because they sent extra tea including a different grade and a tin I wasn’t expecting. Because of this type of wholesaling some teas can have a difference of price of 20$ or more depending on the seller.

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Here is a rundown of another recent order I just received in the mail:
For one of my large orders of fresh spring green tea I decided to use a Taobao agent I have had good results with in making a similar sized order with last year:
I ordered five pounds of green tea from two different sellers I bought from last year and was happy with and a gaiwan from a seller I had never bought from before (but whom has a good credit rating):
Hangzgao According to Taobaos website, this seller has been selling on Taobao for over six years, and have sold 181,116 items since then (Four Silver Crowns). I have successfully purchased tea from them twice last year.
Wishful Tea City According to Taobaos website, this seller has been selling on Taobao for over three years, and have sold 1,950 items since then (Three Diamonds). I had purchased at least one tea from them last year.
Earth porcelain Square According to Taobaos website, this seller has been selling on Taobao for over three years, and have sold 14,291 items since then(One Silver Crown). I had not purchased from them previously.
NOTE: I just stumbled on this chart which will give you an idea of what the different credit rating symbols mean: So far, I don’t think I have bought from a seller with a credit rating lower than 3 ‘Hearts’ (that’s at least 41 successful transactions), and I prefer they have at least a ‘Diamond’ rating. I have found that most tea sellers have at least one Diamond, and I have seen at least one seller with a ‘Gold Crown’. I plan to add this to the original topic.
I chose to purchase three different teas from Hangzgao, two of which I bought last year, and one slightly expensive one I wanted to try:
2014 Anji Baicha (250g) –
2014 West Lake Longjing debris (500g)-
2014 Pre-Qing Ming West Lake Longjing (50g) –
I chose to purchase two packages of a Loashan green tea from Wishful Tea City. I bought a very similar tea from them last year:
2014 Laoshan Green Tea (125g) –
Finally, I decided to purchase a gaiwan from Earth porcelain Square, knowing the risk that it may arrive broken while being shipped internationally (and I would have no recourse):
Large Jingdezhen blue and white porcelain gaiwan with dragon design –

This order went relatively smoothly with one exception: one of the teas I ordered from Hangzgao was out of stock. When I found out the item was out of stock (there was a note of this on the order page), I started a ‘chat session’ with them; I had to wait until 9PM my time to even begin to communicate with them, as there is no way to e-mail them with questions or any way to leave messages except through the chat window (at least, that is the only way I am aware of). It took some time for someone to come into the chat room (5 mins?) but once I started typing and sending questions, the person on the other end was very responsive, and I was able to order two replacement teas for the one that was out of stock:
2014 West Lake Longjing (small) debris (500g) –
2014 West Lake Longjing (large) debris (500g) –

Once everything arrived, they took a picture of all of the items together and posted. Once I viewed it, I paid for the international shipping. Finally, shortly thereafter, they shipped it to me. Here is the picture of my order:[email protected]/14001793454/
The little bag of tea in the middle is a sample sent by one of the sellers, and the 50g longjing tea is still within the prism-shaped tin at the top. They also took a close-up of the gaiwan; I beleive they did this to show it was intact when they shipped it. Here’s that picture:[email protected]/13998236971/

In the past, I have always used the cheapest shipping (SAL, China Air, etc.), but in this case the difference between China Air (~10 – 20 working days) and EMS (~5 – 10 working days) was only a few dollars more (I think it was $79 vs $76), so I chose to ship via EMS. My package arrived about a week after it actually shipped (a day or so after I paid for the shipping). One of the teas was a little squished, but everything was very nicely and tightly packed, such that the gaiwan was kept in what I believe was its original packaging—a cardboard box with each of the three parts nestled in its own section cut out of a large piece of Styrofoam—in the middle of the large box with the rest of the teas. Most important to me in this shipment was that the gaiwan arrived unbroken; and it turns out, it was!
Now, for the ‘bottom line’: financial cost. I figure an items cost by adding the following: 1) item cost on Taobao, 2) the 10% fee the agent changes, 3) a fraction (if there was more than one item from the seller) of the domestic shipping cost, 4) a fraction of the international shipping cost (I determine the international shipping cost of each item by figuring the percentage weight of the item against the total weight of the package). And finally, if there is a currency conversion fee (if there is a fee, 3.5% seems to be the standard), I add that in. It’s a little complicated, and there is some subjectivity to it, but it works for me.
Now, for the numbers:
Four packages of the Anji Baicha:………………………………………….. 250g x 4 = 1000g
One package of small Longjing debris:………………………………………… 500 × 1 = 500g
One package of large Longjing debris:………………………………………… 500 × 1 = 500g
Two packages of Laoshan green tea:……………………………………………125g x 2 = 250g
One package of Pre-Qing Ming West Lake Longjing: ……………………………….50g x 1 = 50g
Total weight of tea:…………………………………………..2.3kg x 35 oz/kg = 80.5 oz

Order total: 89.31 USD
Shipping by EMS (Parcel weight: 4 kg): 78.63 USD
Total cost: 167.94 USD

Then, backing out the estimated total cost of the gaiwan (at $18) the ~80 ounces of fresh spring green tea cost my wife and I $150. To me, this is the real kicker: $150 / 80 oz = $1.88 / oz!!! And, that is with two tins included in the international shipping cost!
My next order will probably cost more per ounce, but as my goal is to average our price per ounce of our green tea to about $2/oz, so that will be ok, as this one was below $2/oz.
If you live on a very limited budget, or if you don’t want to pay a lot for fresh tea of reasonable quality, I found this to be best the way to go.

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SarsyPie said

I was looking to make a purchase on taobao. Not tea, actually, but teaware. I am trying to figure out which agent to use. This thread has some really great info! Very detailed. Thank you so much!


Glad you found it useful. I have purchased a few teaware items. So far I haven’t had any major problems (on one set of thirteen items two had small chips on them). I advise making sure they take a picture of your items before you pay for the shipping and have them send it (most do).

AllanK said

I have used Taobao Tube and Taobao Focus for teaware having bought teapots from Taobao Tube and large Tea Caddies from Taobao Fucus. Both had me somewhat convinced I was lucky to get them intact. Had they not arrived intact I would have been out the money. With Taobao agents the buyer takes the risk of breakage although I think they both guarantee you get your package.

AllanK said

I would add that when an item is on sale at Taobao, Taobao Focus automatically charges you the full price. They did this to me and I did not realize it until much later. They may give you the sale price if you notice and call them on it. Taobao Tube did not do this.

Yes, AllenK, for some reason the regular price comes up in the Taobao Focus cart, and you have to adjust it if it is on sale. I have never had a problem with it.

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apt said

i want to buy some puerh there.

I haven’t bought much pu-erh yet, although, I hope to do so this fall. I would be happy to share my experiences here, if you are interested, when I buy some.

apt said

please do! there’s this one cake that Cwyn posted that’s $30 (legit) on Taobao and $150 elsewhere

apt said

Hobbes (half-dipper) bought a whole tong of it from taobao

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Cwyn said

Today I decided to place a tea order with a questionable seller, only 2 hearts. A few negative feed backs but they are from what I would call (in my experience as an EBay power seller) “idiot buyers” and they were for non-tea items. One example was from someone expecting a wood item was real ebony wood. Well of COURSE it isn’t, ebony is illegal and even the few antique legal items are not going to be $7. Ebony is the color, learn to read, people.

My rule with online buying is the same as gambling, never bet more than I am willing to lose. In this case, I paid $26 and change for 3 tea cakes and China shipping. I paid with Paypal today and can chargeback as needed. But first I will see if Taobaofocus gets the package. With this service, you don’t pay the international shipping until Taobaofocus receives the item, and repacks it, as Simplicitea said.

SarsyPie said

Very good point. The item I want is a little more pricey. Not nuts or anything, but more than I am willing to gamble off right now. Is it bad that I’ve started to think of things in terms of how much pu’erh I can buy?

“Well, I could get this teaware from Taobao that may not arrive at all, let alone in one piece, OR I could buy 4 cakes of pu’erh….”

apt said

did you buy the one you were talking about earlier? the 90s somthing with a purple wrapper

Cwyn said

No, this time I am talking about the 2012 Jingmai.

Sarsonator, well tea cakes have been used as currency for centuries, so maybe you are channeling to an older self who lives near the Tea Horse road.

I would be interested to hear how the tea cakes turn out, once you get them and brew one of them up.

Cwyn said

Taobaofocus contacted me after they were unable to get a response from the seller. They aren’t optimistic the seller is still operating the store. I wasn’t charged anything, because a transaction did happen.

Bummer. Yet, not too surprising if their previous sales volume was only 2 hearts.

Cwyn said

From selling on EBay myself for years, I saw evidence of rather unfair bad feedback early on. The seller had only 5 comments and two of them were damaging. One of the comments was from a “buyer” who expected an inexpensive wood item was real ebony wood, ebony was the color of the wood stain, not the actual wood. I think the item was less than $10 US. I forget what the other comment was. Either it was a really ignorant buyer (yah right, real ebony for that price) or it was another seller eliminating the competition: I’ve seen this happen before on EBay, a new seller gets removed by competing sellers who buy an item, and then file a dispute and negative feedback to make it impossible for the new seller to keep selling. My further guess would be that the seller started up a new ID and is still selling, because despite what Taobaofocus said about the seller not responding, I saw the seller’s last login was same day I tried to purchase. Perhaps the seller is leaving up the old storefront and lists an item when someone tries to buy, but I haven’t gone back to verify that part of my theory, it is so typical for online selling tactics I lost interest in finding out more.^^

I’m with you, Cwyn. When a seller has a low score, or a few negative comments, I usually look closely at what they actually say, as sometimes there seems to be very little basis for the negative score; furthermore, it does seem some negative reviews are more of a personal ‘hit’ than a review about the experience regarding buying the product. Here is one example of feedback of one seller on Amazon that had an overall score lower than many sellers: “i wish i could give 0 stars. DONT BUY FROM THIS PLACE. SHADY AND UNPROFESSIONAL. never received my order. seller would not respond to emails. BUYERS BEWARE THIS PLACE IS A RIPOFF. THIS COMPANY IS GOING TO MAKE ME STOP ORDERING FROM AMAZON ALTOGETHER. VERY SHADY BUSINESS. DON’T BUY FROM THIS SELLER UNLESS YOU WANT TO BE RIPPEE OFF. BUYER BEWARE OF THIS SCAM COMPANY! DO NOT USE THIS SELLER!!” I know Amazon gives you recourse if the seller doesn’t send the item or respond to e-mails, so this response has little weight to me. These kinds of comments are red flags for me: "BUYERS BEWARE THIS PLACE IS A RIPOFF. " Why would someone say that based on one transaction? It sounds to me that there is some other issue going on, and it may even be that it is a competitor trying to make this seller look bad. Anyway, this seller also had plenty of positive comments. So, although I take note of poor reviews, I have also learned to look closely at those reviews, and, if possible, I also look at the reputation of the reviewer themselves.

I hear you about your doubts about Taobaofocus; and, perhaps you are right. Yet, although I have had issues with other Taobao agents (ones that are no longer in business), I personally have not had any integrity issues with Taobaofocus. And, yeah, there is the possibility the seller sold the item somewhere else, and didn’t update that change on Taobao in a timely manner.

yyz said

I tend to read the commens too, when there is a lower score. Sometimes it is one item that is no longer sold that didn’t live up to expectation. Other times it is transit time which the seller may have little or no control over if the product is stuck in customs or misplaced by the postal service. If the comments are repeatably that the item does not live up to expectation for several items bought by different buyers with no reasonable explanation from the seller than it makes me cautious. So far I have always got my goods, a reasonable replacement ( with my permission), or a refund without having to dispute anything.

I’m with you, yyz. Overall, my experience buying tea (or whatever) though Amazon, E-bay, Taobao, and other tea retailers has been positive.

The way I look at buying online is that I basically buy only from websites I trust, ones that I know will allow recourse of action (like Amazon), or where I realize I may loose out on a single transaction (for example when I buy from Taobao), and chalk it up to a loss, as long as the benefit of the transaction working out outweighs the risk of the loss. It’s a simple application of ‘risk assessment’, which can be applied to many areas of life.

Cwyn said

If I conveyed doubts about Taobaofocus, then I wrote rather poorly ;/ I chose to try for the cakes because I found the customer comments doubtful. I like Taobaofocus, and have money sitting in my account there for when I see something I like and want to move quickly on.

I have no problem taking a risk with a Taobao seller in general for small amounts of money. In fact, with online merchants, very often a small seller trying to get started will work harder for a satisfactory sale than a big power seller who drop ships.

It’s easy to misunderstand something in the limited format of text only communications. I am glad you are happy with Taobao Focus; I am as well. The biggest stumbling blocks for me are the minimum of 35RMD for their fee, and the fact that they will not honor free shipping for sellers that offer it (I corresponded with them once, and they refused to budge on this). Still, those things aren’t that big of a deal; it just means I wait until I have quite a few things before I buy anything, rather than just buying a one or two items at a time.

On the second thing you mention, I have found this to be true as well, and I have gotten some really good deals on tea from merchants who are new.

Out of curiosity, you seem to really know pu-erh, so if you get a chance can you tell me if the pu-erh you are familiar with are available for good prices with this seller:

It looks like they sell tons of pu-erh. I haven’t bought from them yet, but I will likely try them this fall.

Cwyn said

Omg that seller is hilarious! I am sure they sell a lot of tea by pure fun! Their tea nerd logo is the bomb, a drunk tea head with tea leaves in his hair and dazed eye balls that also suggest glasses. I don’t know what you plan to purchase from them. As we know, shipping is the killer. I will go for the killer for ya, their Nerd label seems to be about buying 3rd quality leaf (broken stuff) and selling it cheap. I laughed so hard at their 2000 g bricks from 2013, 2 kg of tea. Their ripe brick is $21.75 but Taobaofocus is showing the regular price of 41.75. The raw isn’t all that much more. They admit the chopped leaf isn’t fine leaf but they claim it tastes just as good as the perfect leaf tea. I loved the description of using the brick to whack thieves on the head, and potential embarrassment of having this big brick show up at work and having to explain this much tea to your co-workers, that you could appear to have a problem. The 500 g raw (two 250 g bundled in bamboo) looks interesting too.

My impression is their own pressings have a similar paper wrapping as Yunnan Sourcing, the company tea is pressed in Simao with Kunming storage, fairly standard. Not gonna get top quality but they admit that and are catering to people who plan to drink the tea, not gift it or invest in it for the future. I am in for a brick of the ripe, I am fine with chopped tea for what is purely digestif for me. I will let you know how the shipping works out and whether I get the sale price or not. As for their factory cakes, Menghai/Xiaguan etc the prices look good but I am not a wrapper expert and would prefer to stick to their own cheap, label tea. You could ask over on TeaChat or email MarshalN for an opinion.

Update: dzpuer is on a list of sellers of fake factory tea. This wouldn’t apply to their own tea as they don’t make any claims about the leaf source.

Thank you for checking out their store and for getting back with me!

Glad you got a kick out of their website. I like their ‘persona’ as well.

I have no problem with not getting high quality tea from these guys. I probably wouldn’t be able to distinguish high quality pu-erh from standard fare anyway (although, hopefully, someday I will be able to). Agreed, when the tea is cheap, the biggest cost by far is the international shipping: I basically figure about $3USD per every 100 grams for the shipping option I choose (usually the cheapest), and if the total package weighs enough (over 3 KG), EMS actually is about as cheap for me as China Air, and a lot faster. So even if the cost of the tea itself comes to about $2USD per 100 grams (and sometimes it does), the biggest cost is the international shipping.

If you included the adjusted price when adding your item using Taobao Focus they should make the adjustment (I don’t think I have ever had a problem with them not doing this, as the adjusted price I provide has always been the correct sale price). I would love to hear how it goes

MarshalN responds to e-mails? Awesome! I see his blog is here but can you tell me how I actually e-mail him? I would love to get his opinion of this seller.

Cwyn said

I put in the comment box to them about the sale price and I paid the difference anyway. The shipping cost won’t be pretty so if I get the sale price, great, the difference can go toward the shipping amount. If not, to be honest $42 or whatever for 2 kg of cooked tea is amazing. The tea has a year on it and is in Kunming storage, quite a few sales of it so far compared to the raw. I am certain the other buyers thought as I did that cooked tea is a drinker and nothing spectacular but not terribly bad either. Also a brick this big, I don’t have to worry about storage for this much tea the way I would with raw. The raw would be a different consideration, but the seller is honest about the leaf being chopped, it is a drinker and not an investment tea.

MarshalN has his email on the blog someplace, same name at Gmail. He’s been very great with issues I’ve asked him. I’m sure he has seen this seller and has an opinion. Taking a quick look at the Menghai wrappers or whatever for an English speaking reader of his blog is something I am sure he will do.

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