Sunday, September 06, 2009

Tianshan Tea City

I felt strongly that I had found this place a little too late.

Tianshan Tea City is supposedly a tea retail centre (perhaps not so much now these days) with a concentration of about 300 hundreds shops that sell tea and tea related stuffs. The 3rd level specializes on paintings and antiques.

On the bright side, at least I found this place and enjoyed browsing tea sets from shop to shop. They have indeed a lot more varieties to offer than Yu Yuan. One can also get to sample different types of tea first before making any purchases and also get to learn to distinguish different types of tea on the spot.

A labyrinth of shops

The second you step into this 3 storey building, you are wrapped in the fragrance of tea. There are endless of tea shops on the ground floor and some of them specialize on certain types of tea. However, this is the kind of place where you will need someone who knows the shop owners well to get a decent price for a decent quality.

I enjoy having the luxury to select from a large variety of goods and to be able to compare different prices but there are simply far too many shops at the Tea City and too much “pressure” to browse around as each shop attendant will try to draw you into their shops. With hundreds of other competitors, you can imagine how stiff the competition will be.

So you can also imagine you won’t be able to enjoy a second of peace if you loiter “suspiciously” in front of a shop. Before I can stop for even for a second to take a closer look at the samples of tea leaves on display, the attendant started greeting me and of course, trying to find out what I wanted.

I was adamant to get enough tea to last me for a year back home and being totally lost in the maze of shops and having no means to tell which are the better ones, I just walk straight into one. I wanted to get some Iron Goddess of Mercy (tieguanyin) after being mesmerized by it at a teahouse.

The joy of tea tasting

Without another word, the female shop owner gestured us to sit down before the table which is cluttered with tea preparation equipment……and she started taking out samples of tea from different bags soon after. So you get to taste the tea before buying.

Of course, or else how would you know which one you will like? She said and started boiling the water and cleaning the teapot and cups with hot water.

And so, we sat and tried sampling different tea and smelling the fragrance of tea. She laid down 3 different grades of Tieguanyin and of course, different grades will reflect different prices. It is not difficult to tell the good ones from the bad ones when they are side by side. In fact, you always need the bad ones to be able to appreciate the good ones. Under such comparisons, you will always be tempted to buy the best of them.

It was a tea tasting session but also a learning session as I struggled to distinguish one type of tea from the other and to unravel the different layers of the taste of tea. There are just so many different tea in China and each region produces distinctively their own kinds of tea.

What I found also interesting was the way the owner enjoyed each cup of her tea and I like that attitude. For a person who has to work from 8:30am to 8:30pm in the same shop every day and still maintaining a certain amount of passion to the job that she does, it is quite amazing.

So we sat, in the summer, in a tiny tea shop, drinking cup after cup of tea. Although it rained earlier on, temperature was hovering around 30 d.c. and the tea that we were tasting was at a temperature near boiling point. It wasn’t the best condition for tea sessions. I could feel my perspiration on my back and forehead already.

However, it was also there and then I realized why tea was consumed in a tiny tea cup. Because it was meant to be appreciated, not to be consumed. It was meant to be appreciated as a form of art, not for any practical means.