Stepping off the airplane from frigid Minnesota into the warm humid air of Xiamen was a beautiful thing indeed. So many of our tea friends from Qingdao call Xiamen their home town, and have always described it as an oasis of tea culture. Indeed, the whole airport was covered in signs advertising various teahouses and big tea brands. On the Xiamen Air flight from Seoul to Xiamen, you got a steaming cup of roasted oolong instead of the usual tea bag.
We were met at the airport by long time friend and first tea teacher, Wang Huimin. Wang Huimin and I met in Qingdao far from the center of southern Chinese tea culture. She came up as a favor to a good friend to help open a teahouse and shop centered around Tieguanyin from her native Fujian.
In the morning, our first stop with Wang Huimin was to stop at the most popular Dim Sum restaurant in town. For years she has been bragging about Xiamen’s food culture, so Wang Huimin was excited to show off the best of the city.
We thought Dim Sum in America was good, but this Dim Sum was incredible. Everything was spiced daringly with interesting additions like cumin, cinnamon, tangy tomato, spicy garlic chili paste and more. The dumplings were stuffed with jumbo shrimp perfectly cooked and marinated with cooking wine. There were interesting dishes like fried rice balls stuffed with cinnamon curry sweet-pickled cabbage and stir-fried wild greens with crispy onion. We ordered about 20 plates and ate all of them. Every single one was inspirational for developing a cuisine for our future tea house in Minneapolis.
After lunch we walked to Wang Huimin’s house down the block and picked up some fresh local mandarin oranges from a farmer’s truck to snack on with tea. Together we tried some samples from Wang Huimin’s farmer friends, including a White Peony that was incredible enough to bring in: it was crisp, sweet and smelled strongly of milk chocolate, with a long-lingering lychee aftertaste. All of Wang Huimin’s windows were wide open, so we could hear the the birds chirping in the trees. All in all, a very relaxing way to spend the afternoon.
We had an intriguing conversation over a cup of Tieguanyin about tea, health and caffeine. Wang Huimin explained how much science and experiential research is behind China’s 2000 years of tea drinking, and expressed some frustration with the West’s anecdotal “research” linking lower caffeine and higher nutrient content to green tea. While I have discussed the problems with western research methods regarding tea in other articles, it was interesting to hear the Chinese perspective. In China, it is common knowledge that the more oxidized and processed a tea is, the lower its caffeine content. Caffeine naturally occurs in all teas, but as they age or undergo processing, the caffeine is reduced. This is why in China, it is not recommended to drink green tea and sheng pu’er on an empty stomach- their caffeine level is thought of as much higher than whole-leaf black tea and roasted oolong. Wang Huimin gave me a long scientific chemical analysis that I will have to translate to back up the discussion, but it is certainly interesting to see such an opposing perspective in China. Perhaps the difference in results is related to the quality of tea analyzed and the brewing methods?
After we had enough tea to get hungry again, we went straight to the street food stalls to try Xiamen’s famous Baka Bing, a pan fried steamed biscuit filled with cabbage, green onions, sweet peanut paste, tangy tomato sauce and wasabi. When Wang Huimin described it we thought it sounded absolutely bizarre, but it was an incredible taste experience. I have to make a note on cooking these to see if we can recreate it as a tea snack at our new teahouse space, because it is definitely worth sharing.
We strolled along the ocean and looked out at the boats coming and going before finding a juice bar to sit down and enjoy some fresh squeezed pear and carrot juice. Lots of great discussions about opening a tea bar with Wang Huimin this winter in Xiamen. She thinks that our focus on unique teas not found elsewhere and our farmer emphasis is a new perspective to tea in Xiamen that would be very well received. For my part, I would love to help Wang Huimin get back into sharing the teas she loves, so a collaboration is looking very likely in the near future.
After dinner in a wooded outdoor pavillion on the lake, and a discussion on the changing Tieguanyin industry in Xiamen, we went back to the hotel for an early nights rest. Our coming day involves meetings with some tea ware artisans and farmer friends of Wang Huimin’s from Wuyi living in Xiamen. Stay tuned…