I successfully landed in China. I arrived in China two days ago, flying into Pudong airport. My friend Marjorie, a fellow tea lover, picked me up from the airport and acted as my host for these first few days.
My first day was mostly tourist stuff. She took me around to eat and we visited all her favorite local places. The highlight of the day was when at around 9:00 pm when we walked passed a store that sold cocktail equipment. As a barback for a famous cocktail bar we went in to look around. We were questioning why a cocktail store was open so late when a couple came in, went to the bookshelf in the back and opened it, revealing a hidden stair case. We of course followed and found ourselves in a speakeasy style cocktail bar that would even hold its own in the New York City bar scene. When we looked at the menu we even saw that they were using cocktail recipes from famous cocktail bars such as Angel Share. (No Maison premier sadly). When asked, we were told that one of the bosses worked at Angle Share before.
My second was more tea oriented. Marjorie took me to her favorite tea shop in the Laoximen tea market. They specialized in Wuyi style teas and we tasted an arrangement of Xiao Zhongs (lapsang) and Yan Chas. What I found most interesting about this experience is that none of these teas had major flaws. Each one had its own characteristics and flavors, yet none were what I would call bad. (well except one). In the west you do get a lot of bad teas. You get teas that have a mistake in the making process that they couldn’t cover up or fix and it gives it a bad flavor. Often times the flavor can be described damp, moldy or a with a stinky aroma. These teas had nothing like that. The average tea in China is better than the average tea in America. Much of the standard level teas in America have these flaws and would not sell in China, thus they get exported.
The first tea we tried was a Jin Jiu Mie. Jin Jiu Mie is a red tea that is made from all buds. The one we had was smooth and sweet, and while it had a light body there was some depth/weight to it. Paired with a little bit of the fermentation taste, this tea really ended up tasting similar to soy sauce. What followed was an unsmoked Xiao Zhong and a smoked Xiao Zhong, neither of which were bad, but neither having a lot of outstanding attributes. After the red teas we started drinking Yan Chas and this is when the party really got started.
At this point I had actually brewed a tea that I bring from from home. I had brought Jie Long Kong Shui Xian from Tea Drunk. This is a personal favorite of mine, grown in the area behind the Tianxiyi Temple in Wuyi Shan. Roasted much lighter than other Shui Xian this tea has a complexity not often found in Wuyi Shui Xian. The aroma and the easy drinkability of this tea was noticed and enjoyed by everyone. There was a fish like taste to the tea, that is a signature flavor of old tree yan Chas. As what always happens when someone tastes a tea for the first time that is from a famous location, the shop worker questioned if it was truly from the location. I told him that I trusted the authenticity and honesty of Tea Drunk owner, Shunan Teng, that she would not lie about the location on a tea.
Next we drank a Biado. This was the best tea they offed and Marjorie ended buy the small bag they had. While I don’t remember the exact tasting notes, after that much tea you it becomes hard to remember each one, but it had a liveliness to it that is found in all teas of quality. Most teas seem dead, like flat soda. A sign of quality in tea is that it seems to be alive in your mouth. This is something that I can not conceptually explain, it must be tasted to understand. It also had more hui gan (comeback sweetness) than all of their previous teas. With a weight and minerality on the teeth, this was defiantly from the Wuyi region.
I ended the night at Yan Yuan Garden, where a teahouse is inside a 200 year old building. They served tea the old way, right from the gaiwan along with tea eggs and little candies. It is a bit touristy but I did enjoy the experience and the silver needle white tea I got was better than expected. Though I have to say, drinking from the gaiwan is tiring and I much prefer using it as more of a teapot
What I enjoyed most about today was being in the presence of tea drinkers. In New York it is hard to find serious tea drinkers. The experience of drinking with someone who has been into tea longer than you is always rewarding. You can learn something even by watching them and the philosophies they have gained over the years always positively influences your own.