A Tea Addict's Journal

Gift boxes

May 31, 2014 · 6 Comments

My parents get gifted tea from time to time. Generally, if you’re Chinese, you probably receive gift teas faster than you can drink them. Over the past decade, the packaging for these teas have gotten more, and more, and more ridiculous. Here’s an example we recently got:

Now, a big box is pretty much de rigueur these days for gift tea. The box, it seems, must not be any smaller than about one foot by about a foot and half. Otherwise, it’s not a real gift. Now, the really fancy ones, like this, comes in a sleeve, so…

Yeah, this is the actual box. What does that say? Why does it say Diamond sutra, instead of tea? Well, this is a Buddhism inspired tea, apparently, and the tea itself is some foshou (Buddha’s hand), a varietal. It’s from Fujian, and made as an oolong. The whole connection is explained once you open the box.

So there’s this sutra, literally, in the box in the form of a little booklet (note the nice touch of printing it on paper on what looks like a scroll). Then there’s that white piece of paper that explains everything

I won’t bore you with the details, but the fun part is – they claim that among teas made in Fujian, there are the “Three Saints in the Clouds”, which are, in order, Gold Foshou (jinfoshou) , Silver Shuixian (yinshuixian), and Iron Guanyin (tieguanyin). Note how tieguanyin, generally seen as the best of the bunch among southern Fujian teas, is relegated to third place – if gold foshou comes before it, it must be better, no? Oh, and that sutra – it’s there so you can read the sutra while you drink tea, because foshou (because of its supposed Buddhist connection in origin, etc) is particularly suited to Buddhists for meditation and what not. Needless to say, it’s all humdrum marketing speak.

Note how the actual amount of tea takes up less than half of the space of the box – the rest is actually just wasteful styrofoam. There are 20 bags here, each containing 7g of tea – so basically about 140g of tea.

Now for the actual tea:

Honestly – looks worse in person than on picture. It’s a mess – most of it is broken bits, and the leaves that are intact are a mixed bag, including leaves that are obviously “yellow leaves”. Compared it with another gift tea we received a while ago that I talked about – a supposed dahongpao.

While I usually hesitate to judge teas by the way the leaves look, in this case, I have to say it’s pretty obvious something is not quite right with the foshou. Yes, this bag is 10g instead of 7 – one reason I dislike these pre-packaged bags of tea is that they limit you to whatever pre-set amount of tea is in the bags.

The foshou tasted acceptable on first sipping, but can’t do three infusions without starting to taste like water. I guess if the drinker is just sipping it grandpa style, it’s all right. Otherwise, it’s crap.

It’s really an unfortunate side effect of the gift culture in China that these giant boxes are so common. Aside from the need to dream up new marketing speak for them, they are also incredibly wasteful. The teas don’t have to match, at all, what’s on the box. Without opening the tea it’s impossible to tell whether it’s any good or not. I just wish they were more sensible – a nicely designed tin can, with a bag inside, would be infinitely better than these packaging. Oh, one can hope, I suppose.

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6 responses so far ↓

  • P // May 31, 2014 at 9:06 pm | Reply

    This takes me back. I use to find these boxes all over the place in Southwest China, even in the dingiest supermarkets. I once had a TGY from one of those, when curiosity got the better of me… Horrendous, and left me feeling sick for the better part of the evening. For the price, I could have bought a very fine bing then. Sigh.

    • MarshalN // May 31, 2014 at 9:42 pm | Reply

      Yeah, if they appear in these boxes you can bet that the price has at least been inflated significantly. The tea can then be really terrible.

  • twodog2 // June 1, 2014 at 5:03 am | Reply

    So much truth in this article. I can barely find a trash bin big enough to take in all the garbage tier tea I am gifted. Not to mention the laughably ornate boxes. The stories and labels on Chinese tea packaging become increasingly meaningless. Eventually people will have to completely disregard all but the most basic information, as everything is touted as a sacred sutra level oolong or 1995 Pure Spring Gushu Laobanzhang (which is probably more like 2011 mixed summer plantation Lincang). Anyone who wants to drink tea is going to have to increase their speed reading skills and ignore the covers of these farcical books.

  • Hektor Konomi // June 4, 2014 at 4:43 pm | Reply

    Hopefully the gift-giver is not a reader of this blog.

    • MarshalN // June 5, 2014 at 1:27 am | Reply

      Most definitely not. I believe this was a souvenir to some sort of convention thing, and that person then passed it on to my parents because that person doesn’t drink much tea.

      It does make me wonder when is it a good idea to tell people who gave you tea that what they bought you is, in fact, horribly overpriced, low quality tea. While social conventions would probably dictate “never”, I do wonder at what point this becomes a disservice – what if the same person keeps giving those teas to people, and the receivers all think “oh… this tea is pretty bad” but are too polite to say otherwise?

      There’s probably no good answer here, I suppose.

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