A Tea Addict's Journal

Traveling in China

June 21, 2007 · 10 Comments

These days, wherever you go in China, as long as the hotel is semi-decent it is bound to come with a water boiler, of the cheap plastic kind. This one I’m staying at is no exception. Except, the hotel is fairly new and the water boiler still smells a bit like plastic. Also, they don’t have real glasses here. Instead, I get this:

The white cup is detachable from the base — in fact, it’s just a regular plastic cup slipped into a handle of some sort. It’s not very elegant, nor ideal for tea sipping, but since I wanted to travel light and not carry around a big load of teaware, this will have to do. The stains are from the previous tea that’s still in the cup.

I only took two teas with me on this trip – the Assam that Mr. Lochan gave me, and a Lapsang Souchong. I tried both in the plastic cup by now, and I must say I like the Lapsang Souchong better. It’s got a nice sweet aftertaste and mellows out evenly as infusions go on, whereas drinking the Assam, I really feel the lack of milk was making the tea less enjoyable than it could be. The tea is more bitter, and doesn’t quite turn sweet in later infusions the way the LS does. I think this has much to do with the intended market for such teas, and the preferences of the target audience. A tea like LS will not sell well in China if it doesn’t turn sweet, whereas the way this LS is is probably a touch too light to go with milk.

I think this might also account for the way the Indian Oolongs behave. They brew a bright, strong introduction, but then fades fairly quickly as infusions go on. I think they’re probably just not meant to be drunk that way at all, and drinking it Chinese style is probably not “getting” the tea. Perhaps if stuck in a big porcelain teapot, with some scones on the side, they will beat any Chinese oolong brewed the same way.

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10 responses so far ↓

  • kibi_kibi // June 22, 2007 at 2:36 am | Reply

    Plastic cup looks rather… basic? I think it’s a really cheap stab at the Russian glass holders (look a bit like this) they use/used on trains there. Similar idea anyway.

    And, I guess you can’t “gongfu” everything… have you tried adding a slice of lemon and some sugar to your Assam 🙂


  • MarshalN // June 22, 2007 at 3:41 am | Reply

    Except I’m not even gongfuing my teas, unless you consider throwing leaves into a cup and adding hot water being some sort of gongfu…

  • kibi_kibi // June 22, 2007 at 8:18 am | Reply

    Ah yes, I didn’t mean paragraph 3, I meant paragraph 4… and I think I missed a tag on that link 🙁


  • HobbesOxon // June 22, 2007 at 9:33 am | Reply

    Straight Assam is considered a little “hardcore” here. My Grandad and I are the only people I have ever met that drink it that way! Milk is usual – it’s just too bitter for most English people.

    Conversely, I don’t think I’ve ever seen people add milk to lapsang souchong. Then again, it’s only drunk by a few, anyway. Lemon is the classic additive for that one, over here. 🙂

    I think you’re right with Indian wulong, but then again we do drink the leaves until they’re “finished”, in the same way as gongfucha – we just use three larger brews to get there, rather than lots of little ones. As you’ve rightly pointed out before, using fewer, bigger infusions just seems to homogenise everything, and takes away the nuances of variation.



  • lewperin // June 22, 2007 at 1:23 pm | Reply

    I think it may be a little early to know what Indian oolong is for. They haven’t been making it very long, and there really isn’t a stable set of types of Indian oolong, as far as I can see. They’re basically just feeling their way, aren’t they?

  • Anonymous // June 22, 2007 at 3:57 pm | Reply

    I like Assam straight…it’s one of my favorite morning teas, actually, to wake up with. Brewed 4-5 minutes with boiling water I very seldom find it bitter, and I never reuse those tea leaves – one infusion is all. But I drink all teas “straight”, with the exception of chai (which needs milk/sugar to *be* chai), so perhaps I’m just odd.

  • MarshalN // June 22, 2007 at 11:55 pm | Reply

    I agree Lew, but the way the tea plays out tells me that they are similar… could be because of the way they’re used to process their tea making its way into the way they make oolong?  I honestly don’t know and am just speculating.

  • lewperin // June 23, 2007 at 6:20 pm | Reply

    I’m pretty sure you’re right that gongfu tea brewing, in the loose sense of getting lots of steeps from a lot of leaf, is pretty much unknown in India. (At least it seemed to be unknown in India when I visited India in February and March of 2005 and met some smart Indian tea people.) But that doesn’t mean they won’t learn. And it would be natural for them to learn how to do it as they learn how to manufacture oolong.

    On a related matter, I’m convinced that Darjeeling “black” tea (which isn’t usually fully oxidized these days) works beautifully with gongfu brewing.

  • MarshalN // June 24, 2007 at 7:30 am | Reply

    I agree, I’m not saying they won’t learn, but I am saying that because of their general target audience (I doubt they’re trying to pitch to the very small minority of gaiwan using brewers) they might not have a reason to make it better for the few of us who brew it this way.

  • TeaRoad // September 13, 2007 at 11:26 pm | Reply

    I am planning a trip to China primarily to learn more about tea. I don’t speak Chinese. ANy suggestions on finding an interpreter and the best places to visit (tea estates, tearooms, teashops, tea museums)???? Michelle

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