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Buying tea in China is like buying a fine wine at home. You need to educate yourself about the qualities of the various teas, 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 points of tea when they’re traveling in China. There’s no reason to be discouraged about this, as many Chinese don’t know the first thing about tea, either, but they know what they like.
See our guide to Chinese Tea Types.
Teas can be found everywhere in China, from street markets to supermarkets, from tea shops to tea malls. The more upscale the shop, the more expensive the tea will be, even if it’s not any better than what you’d find in a street market.
Tea is a kind of regional thing in China . On the one hand, most of famous Chinese teas are named after their production area, such as West Lake Dragon Well Tea and Huangshan Maofeng Tea. Some areas of China are particularly known for their tea. See Top Tea Cities.
On the other hand, it means that different teas from different places have unique features. For example, you could get green Pu’er tea in Yunnan, which you don’t find anywhere else.
Teas will be cheapest in street stalls and supermarkets, but it is more fun to buy teas at tea shops or tea malls. That’s because you’ll get to sample the product. China’s tea plantations also offer this.
While many visitors will be content to buy tea from their hotel’s gift shop or corner market, devout tea drinkers will head to a tea mall. In Beijing, that’s Maliandao Tea Street or another of the top tea markets. In Shanghai, they head to the Tianshan Tea Market.
Tea is served at restaurant meals, so if you find a flavor you like, ask your server to write the name in Chinese for you to use when you visit a tea store.
Tea tasting: When you go into a tea shop you could ask the staff give you some samples to decide what to buy since the variety is amazing. Seated around a small table, clerks will prepare tea in small pots, then pour a sip or two of the brewed tea into tiny cups for you to taste. There’s no limit on the number of teas you can sample, but if you taste more than four or five kinds over an hour, you might consider buying at least a small sample of the tea you like best.
Loose tea: It comes loose in barrels where buyers just scoop out the amount they want. Buying tea this way offers tea drinkers the chance to observe the grade of the tea.
Compressed tea: Compressed tea or tea bricks are compressed tightly in discs. In ancient times people compressed tea tightly for a better transportation in the mountains areas of west and southwest China, especially the ancient tea horse road. Compressed tea was also easier to preserve, when modern packaging materials and technology were unavailable.
The highest grade teas have whole leaves while broken tea leaves are a sign of lower quality teas. Loose teas also come in foil packets tucked in decorative canisters that sometimes are more appealing than the tea inside.
Chinese tea prices are all over the place. You may be able to find a package for as little as 10 yuan, but don't expect it to be a quality tea. In fact, it may taste more like saw dust than tea!
Minimum prices: Plan on paying at least 30 yuan for a drinkable tea in a supermarket. At a tea shop or mall, you could end up paying a minimum of 100 yuan for an ounce or two.
Once you’ve found the tea you like, be sure to bargain to get the best price. Vendors usually quote foreigners a price that may be three to four times higher than they’d tell one of their countrymen, for a start.
Using numbers: If you don’t know your numbers, pass a pocket calculator back and forth until you’re both satisfied with the deal. Remember, you will be bargaining in Chinese yuan.
Bring a Chinese-speaker: Clerks at tea shops and malls may not always 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.
China Highlights promises zero shopping sell to our customers to enhance the quality of your travel experience, unless of course requested for. If shopping is on your mind, we help tailor just the right combination to fit your desires, be it for souvenirs, cultural purchases or simply Chinese wholesale items at a steal! Your local guide can also help with some great shopping tips.