A Tea Addict's Journal

Chinatown tea

March 31, 2010 · 5 Comments

I was in Philly the past weekend for a conference, and for much of the time I was there I spent in the hotel or in Chinatown, which was right next to it.  Normally I’d bring my own tea to things like this, so I don’t have to endure bad teabags with coffee-flavoured water (when will these places ever learn????).  However….. I forgot to bring my own stash this time.

So…. I was out of tea, and I don’t want to drink that nasty, nasty stuff brewed with coffee water.  What do I do?


Many of you live near a Chinatown or another, and no doubt some have visited these institutions before.  I still remember when I lived near Cleveland that they had nothing but Foojoy tea and a few other horrible abominations that could pass for “tea”, but at the same time, I also remember that the first revelation I had in tea came from a longjing that I bought at the now defunct Great Wall in NYC’s Chinatown.

I ducked into an underground market in Philly’s Chinatown, and walked into their tea aisle.  It’s quite well stocked.

It’s actually extremely difficult to buy any of this stuff with any confidence, because you know that for the most part, they’re not particularly great, and since there’s no way for you to look at the leaves or taste it first, you’re really taking a gamble.  Over the years the type of tea that they sell have been upgraded, at least in terms of packaging.  Instead of the ugly little tins for the old style, CNNP brands, now you have all kinds of Taiwanese and Mainland producers who vie for your attention.

I was, at first, attracted to a tin of Keemun, thinking that you can hardly go wrong — even the worst Keemun can be pretty ok, with inferior water and what not.  Then, however, I chanced upon a tin of puerh — specifically, one that is labeled “Nuoshan pu’er cha”.  Nuo, in this case, is Nannuo’s nuo.  It reminded me of the Nor-sun that I bought a few years ago in Columbus and which turned out to be quite all right.  I took a chance and bought this, $3.98 a tin tea.

The first thing I noticed when I opened the tin is that it smells — it has this odd medicinal smell that is somehow slightly citrus like.  The leaves are very broken, as you can see.  When I tried it out, it brewed a dark, dark liquor.  It does not, however, have that fishy, pondy cooked tea taste, but it’s definitely cooked (mostly, anyway).  Once you get rid of that odd citrus smell, which disappears quite quickly, the tea is remarkably decent.  At the very least, it probably beats all these loose puerh that online stores like Adagio sell at a much higher price.

I tried it again yesterday, now that I’m back at home.  You can taste the odd citrus flavour the first infusion or two, and then it goes away.  The tea is soft and smooth, and actually delivers that nice, plummy taste in the later infusions when brewed longer.   Definitely a winner for $3.98.

Moral of the story?  Try your local Chinatown, if there’s a sizable one next to you.  You never know what you might find.

Categories: Old Xanga posts · Teas
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5 responses so far ↓

  • lewperin // March 31, 2010 at 1:36 pm | Reply

    Hey, you have tea radar. Philly’s Chinatown is so small, you could walk across it and almost not notice. Congratulations on a good catch!

  • Anonymous // March 31, 2010 at 1:57 pm | Reply

    Although serious tea driners in China won’t buy tea from supermarket, there are teas sold in supermarket/grocery. But oddly most (if not every) tea products sold in Chinatown are not seen in supermarket/grocery in China. I wonder where and how they get them. Many I saw in Toronto are labeled (and probably packed) by importers. Among all Chinatown teas, I think the Hong Kong packed ones (with double lidded tins) are generally better for their prices.

  • Anonymous // March 31, 2010 at 5:37 pm | Reply

    Some of those teas look exactly like the teas that Ten Ren sells. Some of their King Oolong series. Particularly the ones in the boxes with the gold embossed numbers. It might not be the same stuff.

    I found some Shou Mei for 3.99 for a tin and it turned out to be interesting.

    Frankly, it’s worth it for the tin.

  • MarshalN // March 31, 2010 at 6:16 pm | Reply

    Lew: Yeah, I guess I do. Somehow I felt that this shop would have a lot of tea.

    Gingko: Yes, a lot of them are indeed repackaged tea. They were probably purchased wholesale by importers and then packed into these tins. This one is, in fact, double lidded, but was packed in NJ.

    Annmann: Those are TenRen tea indeed — there’s no TenRen in Philly so this is what you get I guess.

  • Anonymous // March 31, 2010 at 8:06 pm | Reply

    I wish I had your eye for packaged teas. I was in San Francisco during my spring break last week, but didn’t buy much tea in Chinatown. I suppose I wasn’t brave enough to buy tins of tea I can’t see or smell. I’ll have to stray from my usual spots in the International District here in Seattle and try to find some cheap gems.

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