Getting What You Pay For - A Rant Against Bargain Hunting


One of the intentionally aged teas, Pu-Erh has a loyal following.

Postby Salsero » May 23rd, '08, 12:52

augie wrote:I went to one tea place downtown and the owner was almost in tears telling me, "you are the only person in Indianapolis who knows about Pu Ehr"!
GeoffK wrote: Let me preface this post with ... it's not a problem.

Rock on Teabrother!
LOL ... you may really be the only one!

Ditto to GeoffK, "Rock on!"
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Tea Diamonds

Postby Wesli » May 23rd, '08, 13:56

Negotiating through the plethora of pu-erh is not an easy task. There are many teas out there that we must taste to determine whether or not they are worthy of our money. Price and opinions of other cannot always be trusted, and even good teas are wasted on us at times.

The best way to understand pu-erh, and develop a palate is to sample. Sample a lot. Never stop sampling! In my endless sampling, I rarely find a piece that I deem worth buying. When I do, they're rarely the $3/tuo kind. More often, they're the $30-40/bing. Even more often, they're the $100+/per bing. The truth is, I can't afford bings in the $100+ range. I can afford many in the $35 range, so when I find one I like in the $35 range, I get real excited! However, when I find the golden taste in a $3 tuocha (which I don't really expect others to like), I become ecstatic because I can buy as many of them as I want! I have discovered in my samplings that while price can be a good determinant, it accords only very slightly with how much I will enjoy a tea. To only try samples of the more expensive pu-erhs is naive. There are good, and bad, pu-erhs in all the price ranges. So while sampling for a good pu-erh to buy, why not get samples from all ranges?

Now, there is another reason for starting with cheap stuff. The truth is, that an undeveloped palate can not notice much difference between the quality of pu-erhs. When I first started drinking, if you handed me a $1000 long-aged sheng, and a relatively good shu, I probably wouldn't be able to notice much difference. Sure, I'd probably pick the $1000 aged sheng on taste alone, but maybe I wouldn't. I might have thought it to be too earthy. In fact, when I was starting out in pu-erh, I liked the young shengs more than the aged stuff. It wasn't until after I drank a lot of young sheng, that I had another go with an aged sheng and loved it. I had an epiphany where I said to myself, "This is amazing tea! This is definitely what pu-erh is all about!" Such a tea would have been wasted on me earlier on.

Concerning tea blogs, the reviews that are posted are not an extension of one's own palate! Some people like some things, some people hate those same things, it is simple truth. The best way to use blogged reviews is to get the samples, and taste them while reading the review. This can help one find flavors and aromas one wouldn't have alone. Sometimes one can find a reviewer with very similar tastes to onself, and only then be able to trust the opinions they give on tea. Even if the reviewers don't have similar tastes to oneself, As ABx pointed out, experienced tasters can still give some very interesting information such as factory and tea-region quirks and trademarks.

So, sample, sample, sample! Never stop sampling! There are diamonds in the rough, diamonds in the smooth, and tasting is the only way to find these. Not every diamond in the smooth is worth getting either. Without a developed palate, better teas are often wasted on people who don't understand what is actually making these teas good. Once one has a good understanding, one can really get every pennies-worth out of a great tea. To find the diamonds of tea, one can't trust reviews blindly. Reviewers can be found that have similar tastes to oneself, and experienced reviewers have a plethora of information to give. The world of pu-erh is vast and ancient, and we get to delve into it with freshly-found interest.
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Re: Tea Diamonds

Postby tenuki » May 23rd, '08, 15:08

Wesli wrote:So, sample, sample, sample! Never stop sampling!


No thanks.

I'm not a puerh vendor so I don't need the skills that develops and life is too short to drink lots of crappy tea unless I'm making a living at it.
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Re: Tea Diamonds

Postby Wesli » May 23rd, '08, 15:32

tenuki wrote:I don't need the skills that develops and life is too short to drink lots of crappy tea unless I'm making a living at it.

Well, if you drink the best stuff all the time, then it won't hold its specialness. However, if you drink mediocre tea, THEN drink real good tea, the good suff will taste SO much better.

On price...
When you're tasting stuff and trying to develop the palate, you want something to tell you, "This one is excellent, taste the excellence," "This one is %^&$, taste the bad flavor of ____." I used to, and to an extent still do, let price tell me this. Price really can't tell you this kind of thing. Sometimes it helps, maybe it shouldn't be looked over. But are we looking for "what's good," or are we looking for what we enjoy? Taste is too subjective for price or objective "goodness" to tell us what we'll like.
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Re: Tea Diamonds

Postby tenuki » May 23rd, '08, 16:40

Wesli wrote:Well, if you drink the best stuff all the time, then it won't hold its specialness. However, if you drink mediocre tea, THEN drink real good tea, the good suff will taste SO much better.



You remind me of the kid who when asked 'why are you hitting your head with that hammer' replied 'because it feels so good when I stop'

And let's get one thing straight. I only listen to my own taste buds when it comes to what 'good' is. My experience is that vendors (price) or reviews/blogs (hubris) have very little to do with helping me find stuff I like. I do believe in sampling, but only from the ever narrowing list of tea peeps, factories, recipes and sources that have proven to provide me with consistent goodness.

I respect your point of view and understand what you are saying, it's just not for me. I think that was what Geoff was saying too.

I have an idea. If you send me one good beeng I'll send you a box or two full of crappy samples. :D
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Postby Dizzwave » May 23rd, '08, 17:38

Hey all.. This is a cool, interesting discussion.

Each of us is into pu-erh for our own reasons. It may appeal to your inner baseball card collector, your inner botanist, your inner bargain hunter. You might love the aroma of your closet, the gongfu ritual, or the fact that you are the only pu-erh expert for miles around. Most likely it's a unique combination of these kinds of reasons for each of us.

I know that I stop having fun with it when I start obsessing about the buying. I've had (and nearly ruined) other hobbies that became all about waiting for the UPS truck. If I had put as much energy into playing music as I have into buying gear, I'd be a better musician with a crappy guitar -- nothing wrong with that!

Do I mind realizing that I just bought some crappy tea? Not if I'm still learning, but that's just me. I gotta keep it fun for myself. So, fellow tea-lovers and -obsessors, keep it fun for yourself. Doowutchyalike! If you enjoy bargain hunting and sifting through the rough for diamonds, don't let anyone tell you that that's the wrong way to do it. And if you rock, on your crappy guitar, rock on.
-dave
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Postby Salsero » May 23rd, '08, 22:09

Dizzwave wrote:Do I mind realizing that I just bought some crappy tea? Not if I'm still learning, but that's just me. I gotta keep it fun for myself.
For me the bonus of crappy puerh is that MAYBE it will be good or great puerh in a few years or decades... or maybe I will learn to like tomorrow what I don't like today. I know I am delusional, but don't burst my bubble!
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Postby GeoffK » May 23rd, '08, 22:19

Happy to see this post spawning a really solid discussion. To clarify I don't think people should trust the word of the vendors out there. They ARE in the business of selling. However there are a few companies out there that are more trustworthy than others, they're the ones who will honestly tell you if something is a truly exceptional or borderline (of course you need to email them for advice). I agree no store should be the definitive source on what you should buy. I do think though there's a true opportunity for some of the top stores out there to continue to distinguish themselves by only carrying quality product and NOT bring in crap.

One of my issues (and I have a few) is that many people who review young pu-erhs (and I would fall into this class were I to do many young pu reviews) do not have the experience of tasting a young pu-erh that then becomes an aged pu. It's really hard to take the thumbs up advice on a tea that simply may not age well (or thumbs down on one that may age very well).

I do hope this Pu market evens out a bit so that people can buy good tea for a reasonable amount.
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Vendor's view

Postby Jim Liu » May 23rd, '08, 23:31

Thinking about a vendor who wants to buy the crap and sell it cheap? I don't think so.

You have to put on a vendor's shoes and purchase tea by yourself in a messed up Pu-erh tea market.

The tea got lost during the shipping, the tea you tasted on the spot is not the same tea you received two months later, the tea you bought never showed up, but some other crap!

Making a living by selling teas in USA is hard, if not possible.
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Postby tenuki » May 23rd, '08, 23:40

My dealings with North American vendors (puershop included) have been universally good. I'm a customer of yours and have no complaints, I was actually just composing an email question to you in prep for an order. :) I was more speaking of the vendors you deal with, as you stated, it's totally messed up and that confusion bleeds even into resellers trying their best to run an honest and value driven shop.
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Re: Vendor's view

Postby GeoffK » May 23rd, '08, 23:49

puerhshop wrote:You have to put on a vendor's shoes and purchase tea by yourself in a messed up Pu-erh tea market.


A completely unenviable position, I agree, but it can be done. I think a store develops its reputation by doing everything it can to bring in quality teas, then standing behind those teas after it sells them to their consumers.

Den's tea is a perfect example of this. There will ALWAYS be factors which make selling anything very difficult, but if a store has a myopic focus on quality then their reputation will follow.

I think you've shown excellent customer service w/ pu-erh shop both by your complete willingness to take back teas people aren't happy with and by creating custom sample packs to meet the demand of the people on Tea Chat. I completely commend you for this. It's one of the reasons I'll continue to order from you! My one very constructive piece of criticism is that you unfortunately sell a selection of very bargain and very low quality tea. If it were my shop (and it isn't) I'd never in a million years sell things like those mini tea bricks or the 2003 Xiaguan Tuocha. To be blunt, the fact that the 2003 Xiaguan Tuocha got a GLOWING review on your site: http://www.puerhshop.com/index.php?main ... cts_id=354 reflects quite poorly. To me it says... here's a great guy who stands behind his tea, listens to his customers, but might champion a tea that is truly awful..

This is a high quality ripe pu-erh tuo made according to the original recipe that was exported to France in 1976.

This is a high quality ripe pu-erh tuo made according to the original recipe that was exported to France in 1976. The tea leaves are shiny and tea buds are fat and tight with brown and red color. The color of the tea liquid is thick reddish and has strong aroma. The tea has effects on decreasing the level of blood sugar, lowering body fat, and losing weight. Award

The product won the title of Quality Product of the Yunnan Province both in 1980 and 1994, the title given at ministerial level in 1987, the Gold Award for World’s Food Excellence three times in 1986、1987 and 1993 and the Gold Award of European Food Excellence in 1996. The tea is exported mainly to the Western Europe, Hongkong, Macao, altogether more than 20 countries and regions.


http://community.livejournal.com/puerh_tea/182208.html
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Re: Vendor's view

Postby tenuki » May 24th, '08, 00:12

puershop - Let me just state that the fact you are willing to speak up in this thread as a vendor is impressive and appreciated. Thanks!

GeoffK wrote:
puerhshop wrote:You have to put on a vendor's shoes and purchase tea by yourself in a messed up Pu-erh tea market.

My one very constructive piece of criticism is that you unfortunately sell a selection of very bargain and very low quality tea. If it were my shop (and it isn't) I'd never in a million years sell things like those mini tea bricks or the 2003 Xiaguan Tuocha. To be blunt, the fact that the 2003 Xiaguan Tuocha got a GLOWING review on your site: http://www.puerhshop.com/index.php?main ... cts_id=354 reflects quite poorly. To me it says... here's a great guy who stands behind his tea, listens to his customers, but might champion a tea that is truly awful..


I agree with this point to a degree and immediately threw my mini bricks in the trash with a shrug after I tried them the first time. But I would temper it with two ideas:

1) I personally have no idea about shu puerh. I don't know how it will age, I don't know what is 'good'. I barely know how to brew it. I know touchas are bagged generally and have heard they may need airing for a few years before drinking. Xiaguan is a reputable tea factory from what I understand. :?

2) Let the buyer beware. Vendors are in the business of selling. I expect there to be a certain amount of overstatement that may not even be intended - obviously the buyer liked the tea or they wouldn't be offering it, right? Still it sucks to get a tea that differs so greatly from the description.

What does this mean to me? It means I'm a puershop customer and like the fast shipping and good customer service but I totally ignore the reviews and the product descriptions aside from the dates, factories, etc. And I'm ok with that. Some people are just enthusiastic about what they are doing and finding my own way is better education wise anyway.
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Agreed

Postby Jim Liu » May 24th, '08, 00:17

I am myself disappointed with Xiaguan Tuocha, even I thought it's enjoyable. If you paid attention, I had it removed from the site.

I stand by for our mini bricks, which I think it's great to compete aganist any shu available.

You guys are always right, because you are the customers!
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Postby PolyhymnianMuse » May 24th, '08, 00:41

It is great for you to actually get into the community and post here, that deff shows that you care and are quite concerned about what people think of your teas and company in general. Inevitably there is always going to be a few teas from every seller that just isn't good at all, even the most reputable. It also comes down to individual taste, although there usually is some general concensus if a pu is good or bad, and some just might not agree.
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