Drinking some bad Wenlong Fengqing puerh from '09, basically bad hongchapuerh...
kyarazen, any vendor is impressive one on one, if they aren't total hacks. They sell tea, so they are sales[wo]men first and foremost. Also, what constitutes a good vendor broadly tends to go with "how long were they vendoring" or "do they have solid connections?".
Guang and Irene at Houde, for example, have relatively little interest in chatting, blogging, or in any of the peripheral elements of customer service (after their early days in the mid 2ks). They also never had great connections aside from their original ones to family gaoshan grower links. They simply were around at the right time, right place, and they knew a bit about what was a good puerh, and simply bought the highly promoted boutique teas everyone else in Taiwan was talking about (from well known distributors anyone can buy from) and buying. To the extent their business has income from puerh sales, it's all eating from these earlier wholesale purchases. So they aren't gurus wrt puerh in the way Imen Shan is for dancong. Remember when she went on the warpath about how much tea a single tree can make about five years ago?
Other people who really know puerh, for instance, Sebastian and Jing of Jing Tea Shop, more or less have stopped seriously purchasing puerh long ago, but they know what the hell they're talking about. You can ask them for help, just as you would Tony@ Origin or Twodog2@ white2tea, in buying something specific.
When it comes to actually sourcing puerh, very few people can really keep up, and they are, like, rich moneybags or hangs with them. Tony Chen of Sanhetang really likes being around expensive sports cars, and he's also big on incredibly expensive new teaware. Not so rich, but accomplished guys, like the Yang dude have long since stopped seriously trying to source teas, but he still has unbelieveable antique teaware for sale or display. With unbelievable prices, I suspect--original taobao site never specified the prices of some of the nicer stuff. When you look at dudes that aren't so rich or connected, Nada was able to buy in 2008, real (or clearly high enough quality fake to be as good as) LBZ. He did okay in 2009 and 2010, but couldn't really drive towards really good stuff until 2011, then 2012 and 2013 just made it really hard to go for very good quality. This was paralleled by other people I'm familiar with, like the puersom guy, Zhizheng, and the newer teas made accessible from marc of creamofbanna or Bannacha makes clear the limits in quality that normal people have access to.
People who do have a stronger connections to gushu growth and who do have strong knowledge to curate teas well for their shop tend to be incredibly expensive, like Linda Louie from Bana Tea Company. Probably because plenty of rich people know her and trusts her wares as much as I would. Of course, given how crazy the prices have been, this year she seems to have only bought more shu. She's never directly produced any of her own tea, though (I think, that 145g Mengsong cake might be an exception). Most everyone else are easily outmatched by capital. I mean, Mengdai Tea Factory and 6FTM are both factory tea companies that pump out lots of bad tea, but when they want to, they clearly can put out something acceptable as high quality, regardless of where that tea is actually from. They have the size and social muscle to do this. They generally don't because it's not as profitable as selling bad tea, but recently it's gotten hard to get margins off of bad tea as people have gotten a bit more discriminating.
Heh, brought back to mind Eloi of Sampan Tea. Wonder what that rascal is doing these days...