I finally had the chance to go on a tour of the Maliandao Tea Market in central Beijing today to take part in traditional tea ceremonies and learn some of the intricate details of the tea making process. This market is one of the most popular wholesale tea markets in China where the vendors are happy to let you sample their varieties of tea.
My group visited two separate tea shops, each specializing in different chá (tea). The first shop served primarily lü chá (green tea) which was poured into glass cups to ensure that the water cooled off quickly enough that it wouldn't burn the loose leaves and buds. Lü chá is a young tea; leaves are picked off the tree in March (san yuè) or April (sì yuè) and apparently very guì (expensive) to buy at that time. I learned that the best brews of lü chá are the second or third brews, so the first pot of water is poured into a separate bowl and discarded. It's hên dàn (too weak) and the guests can only receive the best!
The second shop served us hei chá (black tea) and wu lóng chá (oolong tea). Chinese black tea is different than western black tea (which, interestingly enough the Chinese call hóng chá, or red tea). Our "black tea" was never really consumed in China, and was almost exclusively exported to foreign royalty. The teas were brewed in a porcelain pot, and we drank out of clay cups. These teas require hotter water to release the flavours. Serious tea drinkers use separate pots for each tea type, clay being the preferred medium for hei chá and wu lóng chá because it will actually absorb some of the flavour. There was one wu lóng chá that I didn't like, and to stop the server from refilling my cup, I learned that I had to tap the table twice - much more polite than my comment, "wo bù xihuan zhège" (I don't like this).
The tea was sold in grams, and I was surprised to learn that there is a specific term for 500g - jin, and 250g is bàn jin (half of jin). 50g was rounded to yi liang (one ounce).
We had a late lunch in a local restaurant where we enjoyed dishes like gong bao, jiaozi (dumplings), and cōngyóubǐng (pancakes). I got to use practice some Mandarin here, though not a lot as our guide did most of the ordering. Embarrassingly, I had to ask for a chazi (fork) because using kuàizi (chopsticks) is really hard right now as I have a fractured finger.
Photos from the Maliandao Tea Market
In case you're wondering...hei chá, specifically roasted pu'er, was my favourite.
Sherry. "Maliandao Tea Tour." 5 Aug. 2018, Beijing.