A Tea Addict's Journal

Entries tagged as ‘shopping’

Crashing prices

February 26, 2024 · 5 Comments

A couple years ago I posted about an outing with a friend to go to the local Dayi store to drink new 7542s (I think I deleted the image by accident). The tl;dr is that they’re very average and way too expensive. Now, two and half years later, we have this:

This is a screencap from Donghe which shows you prices of puerh. For the 2020 7542, which reached a peak of around 50,000 RMB/jin (42 cakes) we are down to around 29,000 RMB. It’s still really expensive at over 600 RMB a cake, but nowhere near the peak. I’d also imagine prices will continue to fall as the quality simply isn’t there.

More importantly, you can easily buy ten, even fifteen, years old 7542s on Taobao that are genuine that cost around this price. People trying to sell you the 2020 version will tell you it’s special, they used better leaves, blah blah, but in reality it probably is just another run of the mill 7542 with very little difference that you, the drinker, will notice some years down the road – certainly not at a price that is so inflated.

I have increasingly come to think that for most teas, especially ones that aren’t special in some way (i.e. most big factory productions) you’re just better off buying when you are ready to drink them – there is such a huge backlog of teas that are sitting in storage somewhere by people who bought them years ago to “invest” that are, well, looking for drinkers. Why buy new, when you can buy old?

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2019-2021 7542s

July 9, 2021 · 2 Comments

Yesterday I went with a friend of mine to a local Dayi store to drink the new 7542s. We had three – from 2019 to 2021 (left to right). The reason we went is simple – the new 7542s are priced to the heavens. The new 7542 this year, for example, is well over 1000 RMB a cake. On Taobao it is selling for roughly 1500+ per cake, which is about $230 USD. The green wrapper version of the 7542 from last year is now double that at 3000+. It was a “special” year, some 80th anniversary cake, basically. The 2019 is about the same price as the 2021. None of these prices make any sense.

They especially don’t make sense when you drink them. The 2021 one feels insipid, high fragrance, but lacking in body. The 2020 one is better – obviously so. It’s got a solid mouthfeel and rounded profile. The tea is decent, but at $450 USD a cake, you have a LOT of alternatives and the 7542 does not stand out as a good purchase. Likewise for the 2019 – the tea, which is pretty standard factory fare, has no real business being this expensive. The 2018, funny enough, is only a fraction of the price.

It’s clear that Dayi has switched strategies once again. Long gone are the days when they do 10+ pressings of 7542 a year. These years it’s just once, and they limit the production amount. This is, I think, mostly to drive up prices. For the price of one of these cakes you can find a tong of some older 7542 with 10 years of storage on it. There isn’t that much immediate demand to consume this tea – nobody’s drinking this for fun. In fact, any kind of blemish on the packaging on these teas immediately result in a discount, so people are loathe to even handle them lest they lose value. God forbid there’s “tea oils” on the wrapper or a tiny dent on your box. These are, now more than ever, vehicles for alternative investment and not for drinking. If you want to drink something, find a not-sought-after Dayi recipe from like 2009 and buy away. If well stored, they offer good value for money. These 7542s are for people who have too much cash and nowhere to spend it.

Categories: Teas
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Taobao price controls

January 3, 2021 · 5 Comments

I was just randomly browsing through Taobao the other day, looking to maybe buy a couple cakes of those mid-2000s Dayi that I finished up during the pandemic. Except, they’re all gone, and the seller that I bought them from no longer sells any Dayi of any kind. This was unusual, since he used to have quite a few of them and it’s unlikely he’s sold out of all. Now his store only sells stuff like Nanqiao… and nobody wants to buy mid-2000s Nanqiao when Dayi is only a little more expensive.

So I DMed the guy and asked what was happening. Turns out, recently something was going on and Dayi basically managed to get Taobao to kick off all these small time tea sellers selling Dayi. Now when you search for Dayi, the only people who sell them on Taobao are the official stores, and at prices that are way higher than what was possible only a few months ago. If you look for, say, 7542 from 10+ years ago, you get less than 20 hits. Previously, you’ll get literally endless pages of the stuff. Granted, there was a fair amount of fakes in there, and you have to be careful, but there were also lots of sellers selling real tea among them. Now they’re all gone. I can still get the tea from the guy I DMed if I want, but that’s not really something you can do if you don’t know Chinese or if you don’t already know who has the good stuff.

This means that if you are bargain hunting on Taobao, that door has just closed. It’s possible to find older teas from small producers that could be good, but those are a real lottery ticket and it’s very risky to do so. If you just want some cheap Dayi, chances are finding a vendor who is located in Guangdong and has physical access to a place like Fangcun is now the better bet.

This is a troubling development. It’s probably done in the name of protecting the brand and to kick out counterfeit goods, but also ends up stopping people from undercutting officially set prices. So, just know that if you now go on Taobao to check prices… what you see is not what really happens in the market place. A lot of these teas from the big brands are being traded at a level lower than what you see on retail there. You can go to www.donghetea.com or something like that to check wholesale prices, but that still doesn’t give you access to the retail market unless you already know someone who’s there.

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7542s

August 17, 2020 · 6 Comments

Since there’s no travel or anything of that sort in the pandemic, tea buying has to go online (well for those of us who used to do it in person anyway). One thing I’ve done recently is try about a dozen different 7542s from 10+ years ago. These are all from about 2006-2010. The advantage of this is that none of them are too expensive – the most expensive one is still under 1000 RMB, which, for a 10+ year tea, isn’t so bad. The cheapest is around 300 RMB, which at $50 is a lot cheaper than even a lot of newer teas. All of them I bought off Taobao. Retail is usually not much above wholesale prices, which you can get a rough check on with sites like Donghe. They even have an English version of the site.

The prices are reasonable because there just aren’t a lot of buyers. Some years ago I was musing about how in ten or twelve years, there will be a lot of people sitting on a lot of aged tea and they are going to let them go at prices that weren’t too far away from what they paid. The supply is too large and demand relatively small for these teas to rise astronomically like the stuff from the 1990s. If you are an “investor” and looking for capital gains on your tea, you buy those special production stuff from Dayi instead of 7542s. If you’re a drinker, you’re probably not storing 7542s en masse. There were a lot of these made, and the volume drinkers (restaurants, etc) aren’t using Dayi anymore in their teapots.

Storage for these tea is paramount – if you go on Taobao and you buy the same production from Kunming, the taste is a lot younger than some guy selling it from Guangdong. Location is no guarantee – a seller in Guangdong could’ve bought his lot from some guy in Kunming, or Beijing, or whatever. So finding the right guy with the right storage at the right price takes a bit of guesswork and luck, but once you find it, it’s worth it.

What’s the result of my tastings? Well… they’re all pretty decent. 7542s, from batch to batch, could have fairly obvious differences, although these differences are more obvious the more experienced you are drinking pu. One of the teas I bought, from 2007, has a distinct fruity taste up front, while another one costing double does not, but is instead stronger and lasts longer in the cup. Is the more expensive one a better tea? Yes, certainly. Is it worth the extra price? That’s much harder to say. It probably depends on how much those $50 is worth to you.

There is also the risk of buying fakes, that’s unavoidable when dealing with Dayi or any of the major factories. You could try to get yourself a black light and play with the labels, you could do comparisons, but at the end of the day, once you’ve had enough 7542s, you can tell the basic 7542 taste almost immediately – fakers don’t normally use decent tea, otherwise they can’t make money (they’re better off selling it as “ancient tree single village tea” or some such). There was a point in time when fake teas could be as good as real ones, but not in the 2006-2010 timeframe (or later).

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2018 Shenzhen Global Tea Fair

December 24, 2018 · 2 Comments

I haven’t been to a mainland Chinese tea fair in quite a few years. Back in the day, I’d go when I get a chance, although in general, they’re all rather samey – a lot of big displays from big producers, plus a whole bunch of smaller stalls from smaller, no name sellers and producers that seem to exist on the sidelines just because. This year I got asked to give a talk at the 2018 Shenzhen Global Tea Fair, originally by Livio Zanini to be part of a panel. However, as that fell through, I figured… why not, I’ll go anyway, so I ended up going anyway to give a talk based on A Foreign Infusion.

One thing to note is that all these tea fairs around the country are done by the same company – Huajuchen, who have a rotating schedule of tea fairs all around. So there really is something to the idea that once you’ve been to one, you’ve been to all – because they’re all organized by the same people who travel around China to do these. Shenzhen is one of their biggest, and it’s big – about six halls worth of tea stalls. This is what parts of one looks like

I got there early, before they formally opened, so I took a quick walk around before any customers showed up. Tea fairs in China are part trade show, part consumer expos. For the bigger producers, I think it’s a branding exercise. For the smaller guys, it’s an important retail outlet. Last time I went to a Chinese tea expo, probably ten years ago or so, it was mostly puerh. These days, there’s a lot more white tea and liubao, although puerh is still quite important. Interesting to note though, some of the biggest brands in pu, like Dayi, don’t seem to be there – perhaps there’s no real reason to splash a bunch of money on what has to be a lavish stall (because they’re the biggest brand after all) and the return on such a stall is minimal, since everyone already knows who they are.

For someone like me, the more interesting stalls are always the small ones. The big brands you can find everywhere, the small ones you never see. Unlike in the past, however, when I’d happily spend hours sitting at stalls drinking this year’s production, these days I’m really not very interested in new-make puerh. Instead, I looked around for older stuff – there isn’t much th