Random shopping

I went to Maliandao today to pick up some stuff for L in Shanghai. Meanwhile I went and did a little shopping for some teaware — to bring to Shanghai to use. It’s one of those alcohol lamp + glass kettle combos. While I complained about the smell, in Shanghai I know I can open the windows wide with good ventilation — where I stay there’s such a spot. I also have a water dispenser that dishes out already-hot water, so the boiling times will be minimal.

Interestingly enough, going to the store that sells such things with L’s business partner has toned the price tag down by a few notches. I got it for the below-wholesale price of 50 RMB for the whole thing (wholesale is 52). I was expecting to pay around 60. I remember paying around 80 when I bought my set here after arriving in Beijing. In fact, for almost everything I can now confidently say that I have a pretty decent idea of how much things should be, having spent a good amount of time in Maliandao and also have quite a few people who now at least have seen me once or twice (thus making them think I work in Maliandao). Initial quotes for a lot of young puerh have dropped from those 200+ range into the 100 range, or even lower. One guy voluntarily halved the price of the cake he was trying to sell me, without much prompting on my end, and quoting me what I believe to be honestly a wholesale price. It’s amazing what a little time can do for you.

I also got to taste some teas. One was a maocha from Yiwu, fresh this year, that are from those plantations — those same plantations that everybody loves to hate. Taste is sweet, mellow, but weak… easy going down now, and infinitely drinkable, but lacking the strength (in terms of feeling the tea AFTER you swallow) and the depth that one finds in better Yiwus. In fact, it is a great drink-it-now tea. If you brew it like a green tea, it’s very nice, not bitter at all, and can hook anybody onto young puerh (if you can even call this young puerh). It’s just not what you necessarily want in a tea for aging. It also has the advantage of being quite cheap.

Another tea I drank was purchased in Yunnan when Xiaomei and L went there a few weeks ago. It says “Yiwu Gushu Cha” (Yiwu Old Tree Tea), but I think it has been poorly made — green tea pressed into bing. It has all the right characteristics of a green tea, and not really of a puerh. It was especially obvious when she told me this is from 2004… the tea doesn’t taste right. It’s always a delicate situation when somebody has a tea that you think is horrid, but don’t know what to say. I could only say that there was some huigan. After being largely silent for a while, I think she figured out that I didn’t quite like it, and even offered it up herself that “This tea is really fragrant — I wonder if this is green tea”. Whew, the awkwardness was broken. Otherwise I had to suffer more infusions of this rather bitter and unpleasant tea….

While there, a customer came in looking to buy a whole jian (or several) of the “Weizuiyan” cooked puerh from Menghai, produced last year and now fetching about 3x the original price when I first heard about it. He sat for a while, deliberating, but eventually walking. He has heard that prices for some puerh has dropped, which is actually true for Xiaguan — prices have toned down a bit, apparently, in Kunming. Menghai, however, still rides high…

But can this last? Will the drop in price for one factory cause a cascade? Will it be the warning sign of the risks of puerh investment? I wonder. There are obviously those, like him, who are trying to buy teas for cheap, hoping that prices have gone down a bit to a more acceptable level. But can it not keep dropping? After all, I think much of the newer stuff have simply lost connection with their inherent value. Menghai cooked puerh is not so much better than everybody else’s that they deserve to be three or four times as expensive, and raw puerh of this sort are quite undrinkable, relatively speaking. A lovely Wuyi tea or dancong can be had for less. Longjing is the exception to the rule… where prices are always high, but that’s because there’s the demand for it, and a good, top shelf longjing is really quite good.

Oh well, the ride continues…. but tomorrow, I’m off to Shanghai!


Comments

Random shopping — 3 Comments

  1. I admire your resilience for buying Chinese-style; the bartering is really, really something that I cannot do. It’s so exhausting to haggle over every… single… darned… item! I find it rather dirty that the prices are high to see how much they can get away with charging. Clearly, they are unashamedly hoping that the buyer is a fool/foreigner/foolish foreigner.

    I find myself rapidly losing my patience in Chinese shops, being forced to barter with everything from tea to suits. Even the department stores barter! Amber and I took my mother-in-law shopping for a day, and it got so that I had to sit on a bench and try to not look angry, while the two ladies happily went through the bartering routine for each item. It’s like pantomime. “And now we pretend not to be interested…”

    My sanity would definitely be on the line were I buying on Maliandao most days )

    Toodlepip,

    Hobbes

  2. Well, my sister has a few tricks up her sleeve that work well in bartering, although the most important thing is this — time.

    If you’re in a rush, you won’t get the price you want.  If you don’t have the patience, you won’t get the price you want.  If you just barter all day, they will eventually break down.

    It’s annoying, I know, but I’m just happy that my “starting price” is now at least 30% lower than they used to be.

  3. Yes, being able to “beat the system” to some extent must (partially) mitigate the immensity of the frustration that accompanies not having straightforward pricing. 🙂

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