; Cwyn's Death By Tea: Taobao Puerh Group Buying ;

Sunday, July 22, 2018

Taobao Puerh Group Buying

Just over a month ago I participated in a friendly Taobao group buy with some tea friends. We all paid $27 for a bunch of samples, basically beengcha purchases divided between a lot of people. This is a small amount of money to get in on some tea fun. One person usually does the work of selecting teas, ordering, collecting money via Paypal, and then dividing and mailing out the packets of tea. Usually it's fair for the person doing the work to get a little more tea from the dividing if s/he is not charging any fee. A little extra tea is the payment.

Trying to find good tea on Taobao is something of a fool’s errand, so doing a group buy like this is a good way to go rather than wasting a lot of one’s own money. If I lived in China, I would probably constantly buy off Taobao, playing the tea lottery, random beengs like scratch-off instant win tickets, except that scratch-off tickets are mostly instant-lose. How do people with a tea problem manage to live in China and still have furniture? Maybe that’s the point in a puerh collector's life when you need to open a tea shop and rent a warehouse. Otherwise, for those of us living outside of China, while some Taobao shops are starting to ship overseas, most are still only shipping within China and you need to pay an agent to order, and double shipping costs. Splitting these costs among a large group of people makes sense. 

With a Taobao cheap tea, brown and not gray is good.
This sample is labeled 2002 Mahei. I know nothing about it. Probably everyone in the group buy discussed it and I didn’t read any of the information. The leaf looks a bit autumn to me with long stemmy leaves. I decide to use a Lin’s Purion cup to mitigate…whatever needs mitigating. The chunk weighs 14g so I might as well brew the whole thing up, going with my guess that the tea is autumn. I used my 125 ml gaiwan. Three rinses, one to open up the chunk and two more, I notice the brew is on the soapy/foamy side.

The storage on this smells nice, the tea obviously had some very aggressive storage early on, based on the browning and reddish cast to the liquor, but then stored in dry conditions, leaving behind an old wood/hay smell which definitely takes time to achieve. One mark in favor of the stated age. My fear with Taobao teas is overly wet, moldy flavor and luckily none of that here.

First steep has mild bitterness and some old wood flavor, but not much else. I toss and move on to the next two steeps. The tea has more mouth-coating mild bitterness, fairly thin, smoked meat with a touch of floral. For steeps five and six I extend the brew time from flash to sitting another 10 seconds, but aside from the bit of bitterness, I just don’t taste much in this. The next two steepings are thinning out more and I brew these in my glass cup. The Lin’s cup has a floral aroma when empty. I need to make sure this isn’t due to build-up of other teas, and change to a glass cup. But my glass cup and the cha hai don’t have any residual aroma, so my Lin’s cup is now leeching other teas in. That’s actually a desirable quality of clay teaware, but not so much when evaluating one tea.

Steep 7, I didn't use a camera filter either. Picked up the red more, I guess.
After eight steepings, I am feeling the astringency now. But overall the tea just lacks flavor other than mild bitterness. At 14g/125ml I expect the tea to hit me with whatever it has to offer, just unfortunately not much here. I kinda think this is autumn tea, aged wet early on and just not holding up after that. Mahei is Yiwu-ish, less aggressive than perhaps other areas, but I remember that beautiful 2016 Chen Yuan Hao Mahei with the rare pink color, like nipples. Never mind, it’s an unfair comparison.

If you want to get in on group lottery buys, places like Steepster or even Reddit may be a good way to meet people. Just post a topic and ask, usually somebody can steer you to someone else. Who knows, you might a tea that fits your taste. After a few rounds of group buying, saving the money toward a really nice tea is probably a better plan.

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