Every major city in China has at least one “tea city”, a large multi story market with hundreds of small stalls like the one below.
If you’re a pu erh drinker and you come to Shanghai, you’ll most likely want to visit it, as the largest selection of pu erh can be found here.
If you see something of interest in a shop the shop owners are happy to let you sample it (unless it’s over 1000 RMB / they have only have one cake/brick left).
If you don’t speak Chinese and don’t have any local friends, I’d advise you to get Google Translate as an App and an App using Bing Translate for your mobile and a 3G SIM so you can translate from English to Chinese on the go. Google translate is the best translator, however it’s sometimes blocked, which is when an App using Bing comes handy.
Tell the shopkeeper you’d like to try a certain tea (我想品尝此茶。= I’d like to try this tea) or let them know what you’re looking for (你能推荐一个90年代生普洱茶给我吗？= Which 90s sheng can you recommend?). It’s helpful to ask for the price first hand to see if something fits your budget (多少钱? = how much?).
Most dealers with reasonable prices are willing to negotiate down up to 30%, some with unreasonable prices even further and teas ~100RMB usually aren’t negotiable unless you buy in bulk (5 cakes/bricks or more).
If you tried something and you think the price is too high for the quality, you should ask for a discount (你能不能给我一个更好的价格？= Can you give me a better price?) or outright tell them how much it’s worth to you (i.e. 我不希望支付超过300元人民币。= I don’t want to pay more than 300RMB for this.)
When the counteroffers stop coming, you’ll know their lowest price.
The common perception of a western person is the fact that one gets ripped off if there is no fixed price, however this is normal in China and the price difference is usually not so enormous that you “overpay” by more than $10 to $20 for a cake costing $50+, which is a highly negligible amount for a western person that can afford to fly to China for a holiday.
If you shun negotiations and the likeliness of not getting the best possible price because of you being a foreigner, there are also a few shops that have fixed prices next to some of their house brand cakes and bricks.
The ground floor of the market mainly has green tea, tea for gifting etc. and the pu erh shops I usually frequent are on the 2nd level.
Outside of the main building are a couple Dayi resellers in case you fancy their products.
The pictures were shamelessly stolen from Reluctant Relocator – I hope you don’t mind.