A Tea Addict's Journal

Sunday September 3, 2006

September 3, 2006 · 2 Comments

Today I went to Maliandao — yes, the famous Maliandao. It’s basically a tea emporium in Beijing, and I think this is also where a lot of the small retailers from the city go to buy wholesale.

Maliandao is literally two streets full of tea stores. It is, however, also this:

Which is basically a tea mall. There’s also a smaller mall, basically across the street, that only focuses on puerh. Since my objective today was merely to buy enough teaware so I can brew tea again, I didn’t bother with looking teas very much. Yes, that’s Lu Yu in the front.

Just to give you an idea.

This is the inside of the mall, shot from the 3rd floor (the two floors above are, oddly, audio-visual equipment).

I walked around the whole thing, all three floors of it. Last time I came I only stayed on the first floor as I got sucked into a tea store and never came back out. This time I decided I’m just going to ignore all the nice looking (and smelling) stores and see what’s there first. The only stores I went in to were the ones that mainly, or only, sell teaware. Among other things, I needed a water boiling setup, a tea tray, a gaiwan, a fairness cup, and a few drinking cups. I was also on the lookout for a yixing pot, should there be any.

Most of the yixing on sale were of low quality, or just didn’t catch my eye. I was looking for something more interesting, but didn’t find any. There were some nice teaware in general, although most were of rather generic quality. At the end of the day, HK teaware is much nicer — the vendors really pick and choose what to sell, and they are usually of high quality. High quality, of course, also means high price…

I ended up buying a water boiler that uses alcohol (well, ethanol). I wanted an electric one, but Tiffany wasn’t lying when she said I won’t find an electric one in the mainland (I wanted an electric boiler with a glass kettle). Using a fire is a bit more tricky, but I think I can get it down. I also got a set of white teaware. I figured it’s better for looking at the colour of the leaves and liquor if the ware is white. I’ll snap some pictures when I have it all setup and ready to brew.

Then when the shopping was done, I tried out some tea. What caught my eye was a few buckets of maocha. I tried their best grade (hard to judge the difference, actually), and bought 100g for home consumption so I can try some more and let it age a bit. Where I tried the tea they had this behind the brewer

She walked away, although I think some of you might’ve liked to see her instead of the bings :p (ok, next time, I promise)

As I said I’ll buy some of the maocha, the girl gave me a taste of mainland tea selling — semi-bogus claims made by people who are only semi-knowledgable (real or otherwise). She said she’ll let me try something good. I was, of course, fine with that idea. Free tea, after all, is a good thing. So, she pulled out (among many, many samples) a bing of tea (she claimed she couldn’t find one that she was looking for, but this one was good enough). It looked semi-aged, about 10 years or so. She said it’s from 1975. I was a bit skeptical since it definitely did not look like 1975 tea — too compressed, colour not right, etc. When she brewed it:

It has “around 10 years old” written all over the tea. The leaves are still a dark green, while the liquor is, as you can see, brownish, but not very brown. Then she relented, a bit — saying this is a cake done with 1975 technique. I think what she means is using a 1975 recipe. Whatever…

It’s hard to blame them, I suppose, because the market is so heated right now (every store has a bunch of puerh cakes on a big display — even if that’s not their specialty). There are a lot of people who haven’t been lucky enough to try some of the older stuff, so they really don’t know. Whereas in HK there are enough old teas, in Beijing it just doesn’t exist, or they are so expensive that you can’t possibly get to try them. This particular cake, I think, could go for about $130-150 USD in Hong Kong. They were quoting $300. For that price, I can get a 1980s cake of some kind.

I also asked them if they have nongxiang tieguanyin. The only thing they could show me were qingxiang — and I think the sales girls don’t have a clue what a real nongxiang tieguanyin actually is. Some stores do sell stuff that’s more fired, but you need to find them.

Oh well, just goes to show that there’s no good, old puerh in Beijing, and roasted teas are hard to find. Next trip to Maliandao will be more tea focused and less exploratory….

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2 responses so far ↓

  • davelcorp // September 3, 2006 at 5:12 pm | Reply

    Nice set of photos. I think I would have a hard time mantaining my composure around so much tea.

    Why are electric water boilers unavailable?

    I hope you have plenty of time to explore and find the real gems. Toki, any advice for our young traveler?

  • Phyllo // September 3, 2006 at 11:19 pm | Reply

    Marshaln, I was also looking for an electric boiler in Guangzhou but none of the tea store I visited sell it.  However, the electric kettles were available in drug stores/supermarkets.  Since you already bought the ethanol boiler, I think it’s a very nice thing too.  I’ve been looking for a good ethanol burner in LA…but all of them are crappy.

    Welcome to Beijing and take care.  Say hi to Hu Jintao for me.

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