How to Order Tea from Taobao via an Agent

Buying through an agent for taobao isn’t terribly difficult. A lot of goods come from China and it’s natural for people to want to buy closer to the source. There’s a number of taobao agents to help satisfy the demand and ship goods to you for a fee. You’ll get dinged and leak money out to these agents/intermediaries, but in many cases the pros of less expensive tea and increased access of goods outweigh the fees and shipping cost. This article details how to go through a forwarder (agent) to purchase tea directly from the bao.

  • You can now buy teaware directly from taobao using their official forwarder, for most countries you still can’t purchase tea directly as it’s classified as a food.
  • Taobao is not a very good place for a beginner to shop at without assistance.
Fear the bao.


Taobao agents are usually forwarders based in China. Unless you have a generous friend in China, agents are probably a necessary evil. They are setup to collect your items and ship internationally. This means that you can order from multiple taobao vendors, and have the agent coordinate sending one big box internationally. This is good, because it’s usually a good idea to do sufficiently large orders to taobao, to make the pains of fees and shipping sufficiently worthwhile.

Typical process:

  1. You login to the agent’s site and enter a list of teas you want and submit for confirmation.
  2. The agent then checks the availability of those items and approves or disapproves the transaction.
  3. You pay the agent for the items and the Chinese domestic shipping. This is the first payment.
  4. Once the items arrive at the agent, you’re then invoiced for the international shipping. This is the second payment.
  5. The agent then ships the items internationally.

Costs & Fees To Look Out For/Expect

There’s an app in Seattle called One Bus Away. It doesn’t speed up or slow down buses, but it tells you when a bus is estimated to arrive and if it’s running late. It can be handy to know when to leave to wait for the bus, but its real value is letting you know approximately when a bus is coming, lessening the uncertainty and anxiety of waiting for the bus that might be running behind schedule.

A big barrier for people embarking on taobao is the unknown. In an online shipping landscape dominated by free shipping orders, getting hit with random unexpected fees really sucks. Here’s a roadmap of fees to lookout for and expect when buying tea.

% Fee

Most taobao agents will take a % fee off each transaction. This is fairly obvious and easy to find out without creating an account. Fees vary, but usually hover around 8-10%.

Exchange Rate

This is a sneaky one, and can make a big difference.. Some international sellers will honor the paypal exchange rate. While there’s some agents that do so (Dotdotbuy), that’s an exception to the general rule of thumb. This is a chance for agents to make more money and many of them will skew this to their favor. This exchange rate can really add up and be a potentially huge hidden cost (~10%). Make sure to research this before deciding on an agent.

Actual Item Cost

Like ebay or amazon, there’s often a first price listed which will then be slashed through, with the actual item price listed below. Sometimes this indicates a sale, other times it’s just the oft-used sales tactic to show relative pricing. When you add an item to the agent’s pricing, they will sometimes use the first item price and leave a space for you to enter the actual item price. In these cases, you may need to indicate to the agent the actual item price or they will charge you the first price and pocket the difference.

Item Cost
Non-Discounted Item Cost = 298. Actual Item Cost = 188.

Intl. Shipping

You’re shipping internationally from China, this won’t be cheap.. Different agents will offer different options.

Chinese Domestic Shipping + Fee/Vendor

Chinese domestic shipping is thankfully quite cheap (sometimes included in the item cost) and this is usually a small fee. Some agents will charge a fee per vendor (typically small) in addition to the shipping..

Paypal Fee

This one’s especially annoying as it gets sprung on you later, right when you’re about to pay. Agent’s will offer different payment options, but unless you are doing a Western Union or a bank transfer (its own set of fees) you’re probably using paypal. The vendors pay paypal 3% +$0.30, but they’ll usually charge you up to 4-5%.

Final Thoughts

Buying from taobao requires a lot of really annoying fees, but despite adding up all these small fees (10% + 10% + 5% + shipping + etc.). the end price will still often beat the markup of vendors who are marking up tea anywhere from 100-1000% of the Chinese retail price. The next post will cover more specifics on how to select teas from taobao.

List of Agents

  • Taobao Focus
  • Taobao Ring
  • Bhiner
  • Yoybuy
  • Buychina
  • Cheap Agency
  • Superbuy (Chinese, I use this)
Factory Teas.
Factory Teas.

5 responses to “How to Order Tea from Taobao via an Agent”

  1. Hi, what international shipping option would you suggest using on Superbuy (shipping to the US)? Also how good is an idea to send the whole order (if it is over 5kg/12lbs)? Or should I split it into smaller packages?

    Thank you in advance for the advice!

    • Hi Sasha,

      Good questions. For me EMS is the only option usually allowed to the US.

      As far as big vs. small, I haven’t had an issue with larger packages. But if you’re concerned with customs, splitting it into two may be a good idea.


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