I've had 2 or 3 questionable experiences with TeaSpring. I have purchased a couple of pu cakes from them that were 5 star rated on their site, and well reviewed on their site, only to receive the cakes advertised and then upon tasting - "chan-ko" = choke throat; very different from reviews - they were both raw, sheng cakes, green, and the odor was very smokey and ash-y.
In addition, I purchased a small amount of something they call Ya Bao - and which they say is pu-erh, and which they insist are the young buds of arbor treas. Supposed to have medicinal effects (I don't remember, but lower blood pressure or something); well upon arrival, the "buds" didn't look like tea buds to me, but more like young bamboo shoots (only a very slightly pinkish hue, very slight[>>edit - not pinkish, though that's what I remember from a year ago - I think I confused the orangey-browns mixed with the grey-greens and silveriness and my memory somehow grabbed onto a roseyness<<]; and sort of large, and sinewy/tough; infused to create a sort of vanilla-like aroma and taste). I took the tea to a local chinese tea master and chinese medicine master and also a very reputable chinese tea shop owner and one of her partners, a very learned and experienced tea expert - they all agreed that these were not tea buds from wild arbor trees (and the tea master/medicine guy works with and is affiliated with the pu-erh institute in Yunnan, China); they could only wildly guess that maybe these were magnolia shoots or buds of some kind (or even bamboo shoots or something similar) that had been essenced with vanilla - and warned that they might not be medicinal, and maybe even harmful; I emailed TeaSpring and told them of this, but they insisted that this "tea" was from wild arbor trees, claiming a different processing method and that I might consider how camilia sinensis given different processing yields very different teas (greens, pu-erhs, oolongs, etc).
So, I remain less than confident in TeaSpring. [edit-I may be reconsidering this based on renewed curiosity and exploration here].
I also don't purport to know what that "tea" was/is; but in terms of its morphology (basic structure and shape, etc) - it wasn't even close to any tea bud I've ever seen (you know how you can really check out tea buds after infusing). [edit-Funny how my memory is here; looking/exploring now, I'm finding possibility for this being tea buds - but not sure, having never, ever seen unprocessed tea buds from wild arbor trees].
Hoping this is helpful and with only intent to inform.
By the way - I have gotten very good pricing from TeaSpring on Honey Dan Chong, and other oolongs as well as Lung Ching Dragonwell.
I notice that they don't have the "Ya Bao" on their site anymore [edit - I was wrong, it is still there under pu-erhs and loose leaf, still some for sale].
Don't know what to make of this stuff.
ps - after I wrote this, I began to wonder if by chance I kept the "Ya Bao" - so I went searching - and lo - I found it! Here are 3 pics.
and w/ flash:
Hmmm. I am wondering after having built experience with tea over the last year,
and looking at this tea closely, and photographing it, and looking at the photos, could this be unprocessed (or very differently processed than most of us are used to seeing) camelia sinensis tea buds???
What do you think about this "Ya Bao"?
I'm starting to think it looks like it could be camilia sinensis after all?!
It's lost its vanilla-like aroma, and now imparts a distinctly menthol-like aroma (the dry tea buds).
Again, I'm very curious for feedback.
Scratching my head...