I had the most lovely pleasure today of going with Kim and Sarah to a nearby tea market filled will buckets and buckets of wonderful, delicious-smelling tea.
Kim had found out about the market and knew that it wasn’t your traditional China market where people hawk at you–instead, the shop owners there were supposed to be very passionate about tea and really eager to educate you about the different kinds, flavors, and techniques of making tea.
What we thought may have been a shot in the dark actually turned out to be AMAZING. Kim’s description was spot-on: these people were genuinely very interested in educating us about tea. Not only did they let us sample to our heart’s content, but they also let us sample things even though they knew we had no intent on buying some of them (like the one that costed upwards of 1,000 yuan, around $170, for 100 grams).
We started out at a pretty expensive store, but we were all super glad we stopped by here because we met two people (one of who spoke fluent Chinese) who were traveling in Shanghai. Both were pretty big tea buffs, so not only were they able to translate to us what the shop keepers were saying about the tea, but they were also able to give us a lot of really interesting info about drinking tea itself. In a matter of hours I became 28395083 times more interested in tea than I ever had before. It helps that every single kind I tried today was freaking DELICIOUS.
The presentation of the tea was also excellent. As the shop owners told you about their tea, they went through a kind of formal tea-serving “ceremony” or “dance” so to speak – not really a ceremony or dance at all, but a pretty complicated number of steps that involved heating the water, taking the teacups out, putting the tea in the pot, rinsing the tea, using the rinsed tea water to also rinse the tea cups, emptying the “dirty” water (it wasn’t really dirty at all, this was all a lot of formalities for the most part), and then finally pouring more water into the tea pot and allowing the tea to steep for a few minutes, and finally serving the tea. It was all very complicated but in each shop they did it more or less the same way, and it was really cool to see how seriously they took it. We also learned a lot about the process – apparently some teas do not need to be rinsed (like the fruit teas), while others should probably be rinsed once before you drink them because the flavor comes out better the second time (like some green teas and some jasmine teas). Also, some of them can be steeped 15-20 times (like the really nice fermented teas), while others should only be steeped 4-5 times (like green and jasmine teas). While I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to steep tea as well as them, I’m at least glad I could see it first-hand and know what real tea buffs must be doing any time they want a glass.
The second store we went to had a really delicious fruit tea – made from dried fruit as well as tea leaves, but no sugar or artificial ingredients. But the taste! So sweet and delightful and fruity. I didn’t end up buying the tea at this shop, but Kim and Sarah did (although I ended up buying some fruit tea at another shop).
In the end, I bought wayyyyyyyy more tea than I will ever probably have time for, but at least I know I like it all and it’s all from freaking CHINA! (honestly, no regrets.) Not only that, but I can say with confidence that each and every kind of this tea is probably a way better quality than any kind of tea I’ve ever drank before. I can’t wait to go back to the States and indulge on these babies. YAY.
As a whole, it was an incredibly eventful and educational day not only learning about all this tea, but drinking it, too! By the time we left, we were all excitedly gibbering about how much we loved tea (I think the tea actually had a interesting affect on us… oops). 🙂