It is sad, but whereas previously I spent my Saturdays at Maliandao, swimming in tea, now all I can do to amuse myself is going to the local Asian market while I’m here in Central Ohio. It’s not much, but it’s food for thought.
Asian markets, I suspect, is where a lot of people in the USA come into contact with tea that isn’t bagged. Judging from the local teas available at Wal-mart and supermarkets, they mostly consist of Bigelow teabags, Lipton teabags, and other unmentionable names…. Lipton’s new White Tea, for example, just tells you something along the lines of “First discover in the Fujian province of China, Lipton White Tea is plucked by hand from the tips of tea buds before the tea leaf blossoms, to preserve the natural goodness of the whole leaf.”. Sure…. first discovered…. as if it’s new.
Which is why I think Asian markets in general are such a lost opportunity. Obviously, not everybody goes to their local Asian market, but it definitely speaks to the audience that is more likely than most to try out something new, something a little more exotic. While there today, a Caucasian lady and her Asian friend were shopping, and the former asked the latter “do you have a good tea to recommend?” while they were walking by the tea aisle.
Unfortunately, of course, none of the teas there were anything near what you might call good. Starting from the packaging, the teas being sold are atrocious, usually. They usually come in ugly packagings of green, lime green, red, orange, and other bright but uncomfortable colours, many of which haven’t been updated since the 1950s, and with unclear labeling, naming, spelling, etc that further confuses any potential buyer. Out of the whole aisle, only one tin of tea looked decent, judging by the packaging. It was a Lapsang Souchong, the tin having obviously been designed by somebody with half a brain, in a clear black and white layout. It doesn’t cost that much to do these things. It probably doesn’t cost them really anything considering how cheap packaging is to make in China. Yet…. nobody seems to understand the need for such a thing.
The teas themselves, of course, range from bad to atrocious. Rarely do they have anything really decent. I remember trying a few things from the local Asian market while I went to college in Northeastern Ohio (no, I’m not from Ohio; it’s just a coincidence that I’m here again) and they were all… pretty bad.
The only Asian market that had reasonable tea that I’ve been to was the Great Wall in New York City, but I have been informed that it’s dead. They put them in clear glass jars, so you could see what the leaves were like, and generally while they weren’t exactly great teas, they did have a few things that were palatable. In fact, I can say that I really got interested in tea because I bought a pack of mingqian longjing from them while visiting there. It’s odd for a Hong Kong boy to get seriously piqued by good tea from a shabby touristy Asian market in NYC, but such is life. I remember it was really expensive, and I wondered why it was so expensive, and tried some… and decided that I should never drink bad tea again. I’m still trying.
I wish more places were able to do that. Black teas in general keep very well, so it’s not too difficult nor too much of an investment to do such a thing. While cities on the coast definitely have other alternatives for a tea lover, for most of the American population in smaller cities, towns, or even rural areas… the local Asian markets really represent a lost opportunity to bring this beverage to a wider audience.