20 August, 2010

2001 Dingxing "Yiwu"

Buying from Taobao is a real adventure. The range of available tea is vast, it's usually fairly reliable, and, sometimes, you strike pure, unalloyed gold.

I buy via Taobaofocus these days, which has the best shipping rates of those I've tried (including Panli and Taobaonow), combined with excellent service - including photographs of your various teas taken in the Taobaofocus warehouse prior to shipping.  I recommend the use of SAL - products aren't usually going to sell out in a few days on Taobao, and I'm happy to wait a fortnight or so for an arrival.  However, their Airmail and EMS rates are the lowest I've encountered, should you be in a hurry.  Shipping costs add up quickly, however, because tea is heavy!  Hence, SAL.

Taobao Focus Shipping Costs

Taobao Focus shipping costs to the UK are shown above, with RMB:GBP at the exchange rate currently quoted by Google.

2001 Dingxing Yiwu

This cake was previously described by your friend and mine, His Grace, the Duke of N.  I'd encountered a sample from Essence of Tea kindly provided by someone whose identity eludes me (thanks again!).  I bought it from 999我心依旧 (999 Wo Xin Yijiu), on Taobao, for the offensively low price of 200 RMB (below £20, $30).  I'll discuss the vendor a little later.  Let's consider the tea, first of all.

2001 Dingxing Yiwu

This cake is worth your attention.  I certainly found that it held mine throughout the sessions I've had with it.  This is a chubby cake, comprising big, fat leaves (pictured above and below). 

2001 Dingxing Yiwu

The soup, as you may see below, is clean, fresh, and nicely orangered.  The character of this tea described in one phrase is "spicy wood": it has a decent, solid presence, with plenty of complexity waiting around in reserve.  We encounter a floral aroma in the finish, and a long, strong aftertaste.  It has been stored well, and has good duration - indication enough that it hasn't been prematurely stripped of its content, at what is coming on for the ten-year mark.

2001 Dingxing Yiwu

So!  $30 for a lovely, charming tea?  A bargain!  Surely I should be buying a tong or two of this without hesitation?

If only life were so simple.  It turns out (from two Guangzhou-based correspondents, who wrote to me independently) that the vendor has a particularly poor reputation, locally.  Before finding out this, I joked that anyone who names their business after something related to Titanic / Celine Dion ("woxinyijiu" approximately means "my heart will always go on") must be treated with extreme caution.

One correspondent said that he had even visited the vendor's premises, and had been offered clearly fake tea, supposedly over a decade old, for less than 200 RMB ($30).  "It's not the kind of place you'd spend your money in, if you visited it", he wrote.

To be fair, he also reminded me of the saying, "If it tastes good, who cares if it's fake?"

I don't think this cake is a fake, as it is very similar to the Essence of Tea version, which I understand to have been procured from a vendor in Taiwan.  However, the reputation of the vendor has given me significant pause.  Should I order a tong?  I have letters from several readers indicating that they have bought single cakes from this vendor which all turned out well.  And so we are all teetering on the threshold, wondering about tongs.  Who will jump?  Perhaps me!

(The cake is available from other Taobao sources, but at prices that would add up to an extra 25% or so over a whole tong.  Hence, "My heart will always go on" remains attractive.)

Such are the delights of Taobao - a hint of the thrills and spills that buying tea in the PRC so often manages to provide...

July, 2011

This cake turned out very well.  The seller, despite her poor reputation, provided a whole tong of perfect-condition tea, and even gave me an eighth cake for free.  It remains sweet, dense, and pleasant.


Anonymous said...

I bet you done the graph of TaobaoFocus Shipping Costs in Matlab. I never thought engineering software tools could produce anything "useful".


Anonymous said...

I think you probably know this already, "Taobao" literally mean digging treasure. If you don't dig, how could you get treasure. Only problem is, it's a two edges sword, we could be the treasure of the vendor as well!


Hobbes said...

Dear Apache,

I do my accounts in Matlab! Come on now.

Matlab has so many functions with such specific purposes that many say it would take a lifetime to learn them all. I go one step further - I believe that the answers to all of life's questions exist in Matlab, we just haven't discovered the names of the functions yet.

"Whenever two or three are gather together in the name of Matlab, everyone will learn something new."



Anonymous said...

Dear Hobbes,

May be you can take it further and use Simulink to predict the maturation process of young sheng puerh as well!


Hobbes said...

I'm afraid Simulink is for girls.

DK said...

I'd be interested to know more about how you buy these things. Most vendors have either flat-rate shipping or charges that scale less than linearly, which makes it economical to wait and make large purchases infrequently. (Maybe this doesn't apply to Taobao, but it does to most of the anglophone stores.) I get the impression that you follow the exact opposite of this strategy, with little bits of tea coming in all the time. Is that accurate?

P.S. I always hated Matlab. But I think I'm the only one.

Hobbes said...

Dear DK,

I tend to buy a few single cakes from Taobao vendors (or, more rarely because they're less available, samples), test them out, and then buy the good ones in quantity.

I haven't bought tea in quantity from Western-oriented shops for a few years now, just the odd cake here and there of products that can't be bought on Taobao - vendor personal cakes (YS, Essence of Tea, Puerh Shop, Dragon Teahouse, etc.), and, exceedingly rarely, the odd old cake from Essence of Tea or Houde.

How about you?



P.s. Matlab is the lingua franca in my subject (engineering mathematics) - everyone in this field writes algorithms in Matlab, and so you need to use it in order to have your work adopted and investigated by others, as well as being able to download and evaluate others' work without having to try and reverse-engineer it from published equations.

There's very little alternative for scientific computing. I use Mathematica when I'm doing symbolic analysis (e.g., trying to find solutions to equations in closed form), but otherwise... what is there? C/C++/C#/Java? Matlab users tend to write the really computationally-intensive routines in C plug-ins, which are just called from within Matlab, in order to speed up the really iterative parts of the work.

I find R and S to be (no offence intended to statisticians in mathematics departments) just a sequence of black boxes for people that can't really program, or don't want to bother with the detail of implementation. For engineering mathematics, the whole point is tinkering and optimising.

Microsoft Research tries periodically to get the machine learning community to use their C++ system ("Infer .net"), but it hasn't caught on, thankfully. Engineers don't like having the details hidden from them! We're control freaks...

MarshalN said...

Gotta give Taobao Focus a whirl

I think it's interesting how this tastes more or less the same as the EoT one.

As for the "fake" issue -- if the price is right, does it matter? I think the tea checks out as an ok-stored, reasonable tasting, aged puerh of sort. Is it 10 years old? I don't really care, nor does it really matter. I think people who worry about fakes are mostly worried about resale value.

Hobbes said...

Dear MarshalN,

While it the end result is, naturally, what matters, the dodgy reputation of the vendor has caused many of us to pause before stumping up the money for a full tong. It's one thing to buy a test cake from someone who has been reported to indulge in shady business practices, but buying a whole tong requires some mixture of trust, foolhardiness, and bravado.

Fulfulling the second of those three criteria, I placed my order for a tong last week. I shall report my findings! If the vendor simply sends more of that which we have been buying, without messing around, then I'll be happy.

As ever, the name of the game with Taobao is "don't risk more than you can afford to lose"! It's much like gambling in that respect...



Asad said...

Hello Mr. Hobbes,

I stumbled upon this entry randomly late at night reading up on tea! I'm quite intrigued by these cakes and especially the label including the design. I read that you purchased a tong of these cakes and was wondering if you would be interested in selling one?

I've never dealt with taobao or anything and found it quite confusing when I tried just now.

Please do let me know!

You can e-mail me: asadajafri (at) gmail

Hobbes said...

Dear Asad,

Thanks for posting. This is a very decent tea, and (I think) it can be bought from Puerhshop? I'm afraid that I don't sell my cakes - they are much-loved and I wouldn't want to part with them!