Buying tea in China is like buying a fine wine at home. You need to educate yourself about thequalities of the variousteas, and then taste, taste, taste. In the end, taste is all that matters.The tea you like the best is the best tea for you.
Unfortunately,many visitors don’t have the time to educate themselves about the finer pointsof tea when they’re traveling in China. There’s no reason to be discouragedabout this, as many Chinese don’t know the first thing about tea, either, butthey know what they like.
Tea is servedat restaurant meals, so if you find a flavor you like, ask your server to writethe name in Chinese for you to use when you visit a tea store.
See our guideto ChineseTea Types.
Some areas of China are particularly known for their tea. See Top Tea Cities.
Teas can be found everywhere in China, from street markets to supermarkets, fromtea shops to tea malls. The more upscale the shop, the more expensive the teawill be, even if it’s not any better than what you’d find in a street market.
Loose tea: It comes loose in barrels where buyers just scoopout the amount they want. Buying tea this way offers tea drinkers the chance toobserve the grade of the tea.
Quality: The highest grade teas have whole leaves whilebroken tea leaves are a sign of lower quality teas. Loose teas also come infoil packets tucked in decorative canisters that sometimes are more appealingthan the tea inside.
Teas will becheapest in street stalls and supermarkets, but it is more fun to buy teas attea shops or tea malls. That’s because you’ll get to sample the product. China’stea plantations also offer this.
Tea tasting: While you’re seated around a small table, clerkswill prepare tea in small pots, then pour a sip or two of the brewed tea intotiny cups for you to taste. There’s no limit on the number of teas you cansample, but if you taste more than four or five kinds over an hour, you mightconsider buying at least a small sample of the tea you like best.
While manyvisitors will be content to buy tea from their hotel’s gift shop or cornermarket, devout tea drinkers will head to a tea mall. In Beijing, that’s Maliandao or TeaStreet in Xuanwu district. In Shanghai,they head to the Tianshan Tea Market.
Maliandao: Hundreds of shops can be found in two blocks ofMaliandao Street, with some buildings having as many as four or five floors ofindividual shops. Besides thousands of kinds of tea, you can also buy tea potsand other accessories as well as art made from compressed tea.
Prices are allover the place when it comes to buying tea. You may be able to find a packagefor as little as 10 yuan, but don't expect it to be a quality tea. In fact, itmay taste more like sawdust than tea!
Minimum prices: Plan on paying at least 30 yuan for a drinkabletea in a supermarket. At a tea shop or mall, you could end up paying a minimumof 100 yuan for an ounce or two.
Once you’vefound the tea you like, be sure to bargain to get the best price. Vendorsusually quote foreigners a price that may be three to four times higher thanthey’d tell one of their countrymen.
Using numbers: If you don’t know your numbers, pass a pocketcalculator back and forth until you’re both satisfied with the deal. Remember,you will be bargaining in Chinese renminbi or yuan.
Bring a Chinese-speaker: Clerks at tea shops and malls may notalways speak English, so if you can take someone who speaks Chinese with you,you’ll have a better chance of getting just what you want.