Today was Lily and my anniversary. Weiwei got dragged back to her government post to give some motivational speeches at a big meeting so we were on our own. After our long and elaborate breakfast we thought we would take a walk to our favorite old teahouse, along the way pointing out all the ways the city has changed since we last lived here. Blocks that had been holes in the ground were now shiny new apartment buildings. Blocks of apartment buildings were now holes in the ground. Nowhere in America do you see such a breakneck pace of development.

We took our casual stroll down tea street, passing three Ten Fu’s Tea stores. In China, Ten Fu’s is like the Starbucks of tea. They are so all-encompassing that when we give taxi drivers the back-street addresses of some of our tea friends, they shake their heads and say “you should go to Ten Fu’s. That’s where you get good tea.” By the time we got to our favorite old teahouse, we realized it was still only 8:30AM. (We woke up a bit early due to the time difference.) Of course it hadn’t opened yet, so we continued our wandering down the main street of town.

Eventually we reached the ocean, where sixty-somethings were practicing Tai Qi and fan dancing. Along the rocky shore, lots of fishermen were set up, and some people were even hunting for clams. A full choir had assembled, practicing traditional folk music. I had forgotten how active people were in retirement here in China. It was great to see everyone out and about.

After a while the cold ocean wind got a bit strong so we ducked into the fanciest hotel in the whole province, the Shangri-La, looking to see if they had a teahouse. Unfortunately, all we could find was a coffee shop. In China, the most upscale establishments tend to be the most westernized. Coffee is fancy and exotic while tea is normal and unremarkable. The sign of a really fancy establishment is the inclusion of a fork and knife at the table setting instead of chopsticks. In China, all of our western finger foods from pizza and donuts to french fries are eaten with a fork and knife. I learned this the hard way after being looked at like a barbarian for picking up food with my bare hands the first time I went to China.

In our super fancy coffee shop, we ordered tea. To our amusement, we were brought out big mugs and tea bags. This is sadly the direction that mass market tea culture is moving in China. While it seems like more and more people at home are trying looseleaf tea, learning the difference between Tieguanyin and Shui Xian, in China, there is a movement towards the pre-packaged convenience of the tea bag. Of course, tea farmers and tea vendors at the highest level will always have a market- whether it be wealthy Chinese business people, or companies like Verdant Tea sharing with a totally different audience, these producers have nothing to worry about. It is the mid-market tea producer that is going to find larger companies pushing them out of business.

Of course, Chinese philosophy places all movement in cyclical time, so eventually the obsession with convenience and packaging should be overcome again by a resurgent interest in traditional Chinese culture. This is the most likely scenario. Nostalgia and national pride should keep tea relevant in the Chinese domestic market for as long there is tea to sell.

Since we were already at the Shangri-La hotel, we thought we would go to their five star buffet of traditional Western, Malaysian, Japanese, Korean, and Chinese food. We both got made-to-order mixian rice noodle soup, and got plates full of fresh caught maguro tuna and salmon sashimi, sliced on the spot for us. Incredible! What a thing to get full eating. After we couldn’t eat another bite of lobster, sashimi, truffles, or any other such delicacies, the concierge got us a driver to take us to the tea market. No fighting for a taxi at the Shangri-La.

Wang Yanxin had stepped out for a half hour to get some food, so we went over to Yi Yan Cha Tang (the One Word Tea Club) to sip pu’er and talk about the synthesis of natural unpredictability and the artistic human touch in tea and tea culture. The boss, Master Bi was in Suzhou, so we chatted with his “disciples.” Master Bi has started making incense sticks and coils for meditation out of aloeswood that he sources himself. Aloeswood costs more than gold by weight, and smells like enlightenment. We might save enough for a few coils of his cheaper incense to bring home. We shall see.

When Wang Yanxin returned, we had a spirited discussion of seafood. (Everyone in China loves to talk about food). This weekend she is taking us to her friend’s one table restaurant by the ocean. Her friend goes out on his own fishing boat, and prepares feasts of fresh-caught crab, fish, abalone and more for whoever is lucky enough to get a reservation. We can’t wait. After talking food, we tried a half dozen sheng pu’ers we bought one to celebrate our anniversary. It was unlike anything else we had tried, made by Haixintang from Banzhang leaf with a real kick to it, and layers of complexity like Farmer’s Co-operative. The only catch is that it comes in a giant 2000g cake. We spent a bit more than we meant to, but we are happy to have it.

After drinking pu’er, Wang Yanxin let me take pictures of some incredible tea pots, cups and more. She was amazed at how well the camera worked compared to her phone camera, and then wanted me to take lots of pictures of her shop to send to her. We even got a few pictures of her and I together, despite her camera-shy nature. I am excited to be able to give people a face to put the legendary name of Wang Yanxin to. She looks so unassuming and nice in the pictures. You wouldn’t be able to tell how formidable of a tea disciple she is.

A call from Wang Yanxin’s kindergartener daughter shows that the intensity streak runs through the family. “Mom, we discussed this yesterday- why is grandma picking me up from school again?” Wang Yanxin could barely get a word in, “you know I close shop at 7PM. I am with the nice people who gave you that pretty necklace and chocolate, so don’t complain.” Daughter says “I have nothing else to say to you about this. You are just selfish, drinking tea while I have to labor in school. Goodbye!” Wang Yanxin laughed and shook her head as the other line clicked.

We took our leave to prevent mother-daughter crises and went to a three-story restaurant with peking opera and acrobatics on the main floor. I had been craving some real Qingdao food, so we ordered “gala,” clams stir fried with ginger and cilantro, shredded potato with vinegar, hot pepper and onion, and scallion pancakes. Perfectly filling meal to combat the sheng pu’er. Plus, you can’t beat strobe-light-ridden hula-hoop twirling opera. Great way to top off a full day. Tomorrow, Wang Huimin arrives from Xiamen. Lily and I miss her dearly, and will be off chatting about life, about sourcing Taiwanese teas, and about getting her tickets to visit America when she can. Very exciting to see such an old friend.

18 Responses to “China Trip Day Three”

  1. Jim Mincin

    Happy Anniversary, Lily and David! How great it must be to spend such a special time in a place you love, with friends you love, as well. It is really interesting about the more upscale hotels and areas being more western…Lol tea bags!! That must have been a shock. I hope the rest of the day will be enjoyable for you two. Congratulations on the sheng that you purchased, would i be correct in guessing that it will be one that you break out every anniversary to see how it progresses in taste? With the amount, im sure it could last 30+ years if you ration it out…

    I feel bad talking about “business” on this day…But was just trying to figure out a budget for the sourcing trip. Im thinking somewhere between $350-$500, so I dont think i will be able to partake in the yixing hardware 🙁 The Zheng Shan Xiao Zhong that you drank with Wang Shilin does sound interesting. If you decide to source some of it, I would definitely get 2-4oz, depending on price. I just want to have a well balanced cache of good black and darker oolong teas! So if you do find an aged TGY that you think is comparable to the one you sold(which has been my favorite! I dont drink it all the time because i want to conserve) i would be interested in probably around 8oz or so. Would Wang Shilin have any chocolately/fruity black teas? While Laoshan is my favorite black tea, it would be nice to try some others! And i still have Jin Jun Mei, so that wont be needed.
    I was wondering if you could be on the lookout for a tea with a flavor profile like Rou Gui, either in a black or oolong tea. For some reason i have become fond of that profile, and im sure you may be able to find some great examples! I think i have enough puer at this time, so i dont think i will need any of that type of tea…

    So i was just wondering how this would all work, is there any way to keep something like an “open cart” throughout your trip? And of course I always defer to your judgement, you have never steered me wrong in any tea i have tried from you 🙂

    Thank you so much for this great opportunity! How amazing it must be for you! You do what you love, and it is at the same time work 🙂 So that way it never seems like work! I wish you and Lily the best on your anniversary, and on your trip!

    Jim Mincin (Hybrid)

  2. Brandon Lovejoy

    Great to read of your adventures David and Lily! And aloeswood incense… sublime! I hope you bring back even the tiniest fragment. 🙂
    Happy belated anniversary! … keep the great stories coming.

    • I caked and got 25 sticks of the handmade aloeswood incense. You could buy three cakes of Yiwu, or six boxes of ’98 Xingyang Golden leaf for the same price, but sometimes you just have to take advantage of the opportunity and go for it. I look forward to sipping my latest tea acquisitions and appreciating the incense.

  3. Charlotte

    Happy Anniversary!

    It sounds like such a wonderful time you are having, so many sites, food and tea! Love the pictures and the food looks and sounds wonderful; good thing they are feeding you so much, it looks like you need to eat more too!

  4. Happy Anniversary!!!

    I love the detail in your articles and can’t wait to hear what you do next. I think I’d fit in perfectly in China… to talk about food too! Your articles are making me hungry.

  5. Wow David what an awesome day. Man you are one lucky guy David. You are in China which is beautiful and enjoying yummy tea and food. Man that food looked good. Not to mention you got to spend the day around beautiful women. Paradise is all I have to say. LOL!

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