I was bored this afternoon, so I went to a local teahouse (well, sort of local). It’s located across the street from the Guozijian, the old Imperial University. I found it by chance last year when I visited Beijing while touring the Guozijian and the Confucius Temple (under renovation — most likely for 2008).
The street this teahouse is on is very nice
And while walking down the street, I found this rather interesting banner:
Which roughly translates to “Develop democracy: Respect and protect the voters’ right to a demoratic election!”
Anyway, it’s a short walk from the corner of the street to the teahouse in question
I picked a nice seat to sit down. In fact, this is where my girlfriend and her sister and I sat last time we were here, except this time it’s just me.
Views from the seat:
And the all important tea setup
Not a bad place to relax and spend an afternoon.
The manager of the store (or the owner?) came to me, as I was the only visitor at the time, and asked what tea I’d like. Almost immediately, she asked if I were Korean. Do I really look that non-Chinese? Nobody in Beijing seems to recognize me as Chinese. What’s going on? Is my Han blood tainted? I know my Mandarin is not perfect, and certainly doesn’t sound local, but plenty of Cantonese speakers have worse Mandarin, but somehow I don’t think they’re ever mistaken for a foreigner. Sigh. Add Korean to the list of foreigners I’m mistaken for (the others are Japanese, Brazilian, Malaysian…)
I wanted to have their Dahongpao, and funny enough, it was the one tea that they do not have in stock. Bummer. So instead of the Dahongpao, I went for their “10 year old Yiwu” instead.
This is the Yiwu in question
Does it look like 10 years old to you? Not sure? How about this?
Somehow, I have my doubts about their 10 year claim. Looks more like 5-7 to me. It’s possible that the dry weather in Beijing has something to do with the lack of aging. But 10 years? Hmmm. The tea still retained some smokey flavour, which surprised me. It was generally pleasant, the best infusion was around 5, as usual, and it went for more than 10 infusions before really dropping off. I enjoyed it, but I don’t think I’d buy it if I were tasting this for a purchase. At the end, when I was done with the tea, I sniffed it, and I think I could sense a hint of jasmine in there — I think there is some smell from the incense they use that seeped into the cake in question. They burn the incense quite near where they put the tea, so it’s entirely possible that the incense smoke made its way into the cake. This may also explain the lingering smoky flavour.
Another cake was also claimed to be 10 years. I really questioned the manager about that, and she relented — she admitted it was more like 7 or so. I still think that looks high, but I did not drink it, so whatever. The price of the tea was not cheap — 80 kuai (about 10 USD) plus 15 kuai for water and sundry (2 USD), so all in all, a 12 USD afternoon. I spent about an hour and half there. It’s really a nice little place, and somewhere good to bring a guest to drink some tea. The teas themselves are not as great. Then again, you don’t go to these places for fantastic tea, and you definitely don’t expect it to be a bargain.
They do, however, have some nice teaware. A problem with places like Maliandao is that the teaware for sale is generally of fairly low quality — mass produced stuff that’s destined for volume sale, rather than individual sale. This place had some nice new gaiwan and pots, at prices that are not exorbitant either. I definitely saw some gaiwan that I never saw on Maliandao (including one that my cousin might want). At 100 kuai each, they’re quite all right.
By the time I left, there were lots of people in the teahouse — almost entirely full. Most of them are foreigners, many knowing nothing about teas. Apparently, according to their website (the right hand link should be to the teahouse proper, but it’s broken) they were featured in the Time magazine last year. They also offer tea classes. I don’t know how good they are, but if I were to choose between this and Hong Kong, I’d do it in Hong Kong.
This is why one needs to travel — you never realize how good you have it until you go somewhere else. Hong Kong is indeed a tea capital 🙂