With all the time off we have (but are expected to be "around" in case there are any questions about our grades) a friend and I decided to take a trip into the city. We had a few places we wanted to stop, but at the top of my list was a tea wholesale market. In Guangzhou there are lots of little areas that specialize in selling one thing and lots of it. There's a market for leather goods, one for shoes, one for dried fish, and obviously one for tea. I'm sure there are others I haven't discovered yet. I was looking to buy a new tea set (yes, another
one). I already have serveral, but each set is a different style made with different materials. I'm trying to purchase one of each kind while I'm in China.
I asked a Chinese friend for directions to the market, which is in the Fangcun neighborhood. When we got off of the bus, I was amazed. I was expecting a row of tea shops, maybe two. Instead, I had a row of shops that just sold tea sets, a mall of shops that sold nothing but tea, and at least two
more similar malls! (We didn't have time to go in all of them.) Where to begin?
We started poking in the little shops on the street since that was easiest. A few of the shop keepers looked up and seemed friendly, but a lot looked bored or disinterested. We walked across the street to the first mall we saw and starting poking around. I was more concerned with finding a tea set than with buying tea, so I was walking pretty quickly. In most shops, any tea sets they have will be on display against the walls and visible from the door. At one point, a man and a woman started waving at us, smiling, and saying, "Hello, welcome!" By far, they were the friendliest people we'd seen all day. How could we not go in?
They spoke only a little English but the warmth of their smiles was enough to entice us to sit down for tea tasting. Whatever we expressed interest in, they brewed. They had a catalog in both Chinese and an English/Chinglish mix that was fairly informative and helped explain the differnet kinds of tea, where they were from, and the teas' properties. In
So much tea
We finally chose one shop to go into. The owners were the friendliest.
China, people don't just drink tea because it tastes good, they drink it for its health virtues as well. In many ways, tea culture in China is like wine culture in the west: a novice can't tell the differnce from one pot to the next, but an expert will appreciate the subtleties and nuances of each kind and is willing to pay the extra money for the best. I may gasp at paying $45 for half a pound of tea, but for many, this is very little money to spend on good tea.
We sampled about 5 different kinds and munched on tea covered sunflower seeds. We enjoyed chatting with the couple in our broken Chinese, telling them where we were from, about our jobs, and of course, about the tea and how best to brew it! Both of us fell in love with a jasmine tea. I was excited to discover that they had long jing tea, which is usually only sold in Hangzhou (near Shanghai). My friend really liked another black tea with flowers in it that I thought was too sweet. In the end, I ended up buying 250 grams (half a pound) of the long
I am thirs-tee.
Each bag is a quarter pound.
jing tea and and a quarter pound of the jasmine tea; she did the same, except she got the sweet black tea rather than then long jing. We both also wanted to get some large flowers that open when you put them in water.
By the time we left, not only had we gotten the tea, we'd walked out with a few free flowers of tea, catalogs, and free calendars with photos of Fujian province. (A lot of tea is grown there.) With sales skills like that, you can be assured that I will return once I have room in my fridge for more! (Loose leaf tea should be kept in the freezer or refridgerator to keep it fresh once its vacuum seal been opened.)
We walked across the street after stopping to buy a quick snack of dried fruit. I poked around in a few shops, still looking for the tea set I imagined in my mind. Just as dusk was settling around us and I knew we were almost out of time (we had a bus to catch), I stopped in one last stop at the end of the row, tucked into a corner. Inside was
Buying dried fruit
a popular snack in China
one set that looked exactly like what I was looking for. Most of the tea shops only sold the traditional brown clay pots and cups or very dainty sets; I wanted something bold with imperial patterns on it. I asked the shop keeper for the price and found it to be so reasonable I didn't even bother to bargain with him. Then we set out into the night, passing all the other tea shops that were begging us to visit them.
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