So your brother is going to China...
What do you get him to pick up for you? My brother is on a study abroad kind of thing in Dailan. He has some substantial time off so he can travel places. Doesn’t know squat about tea though.
Teas? Teaware? A tea house?
Seriously though, if he can find a good, authentic Tai Ping Hou Kui, that’s what I’d ask for… and maybe a really good Yunnan.
Can’t believe I forgot! I’m totally asking for a panda now.
Thanks for the suggestion! Haven’t tried a Tai Ping Hou Kui yet.
If he can make some friends who are into tea there (folks actually know what they’re doing), he may have a chance of getting something decent.
Buying tea for someone else is already very personal (imagine a non-wine-drinker trying to buy wine in France for an oenophile) – and buying tea in China can be difficult, even if you know something about tea. Compared to something like wine, the “product” is not very standardized (with the possible exception of pu’er, which still has problems with counterfeits, and commercial grade teas from outfits like Ten Fu / Ten Ren, and former state-owned brands like Sea Dyke), and tasting it before buying (and developing relationships with sellers) becomes very important.
There is good tea to be had in mainland China, but with the growing middle class and rising RMB, it’s getting more expensive and more difficult to find the good stuff. The market is still kind of the wild west; there aren’t many places I can think of where he could go and be sure to get something at least pretty good (in HK and Taiwan there are a few places along those lines). If he makes it that far south, maybe the Best Tea House shop in Guangzhou, which is either open already or will be soon. Their stuff is a little expensive, but some of it is quite good. I don’t know what kind of tea you’re interested in, but the northeast of China, where he’ll be staying, the tea customs are different from southern China.
bearsbearsbears, who has visited mainland China more recently than I have, has this interesting report about current tea trends from his perspective.
I would have your brother skip “teahouses” if he’s looking to buy tea for you. Stand alone tea shops (preferably those catering to non-tourists), or wholesale tea areas, with hundreds or thousands of shops specializing in different types of tea, are probably a better bet.
Teaware, also very personal. If you can have him take (detailed) photos, it might be worth having him pick up some stuff. But honestly, you may have better results simply mail ordering tea or teawares from trustworthy vendors who are located in, or ship to, the west. Yes, the product will be marked up, but you will actually probably end up coming out ahead.
Lots of good info that I’ll pass along. Thanks much! Never really thought about the economy and drinking trends affecting availability. So bummed I couldn’t go because it would’ve been awesome to experience all of that first hand.
I believe the furthest south he’s going is Shanghai and Hangzhou. Initially they were supposed to be able to visit HK but I believe they’re running out of time so it’s unlikely now. :/
He won’t come back with the greatest tea in China, but I’m hoping that in passing along some good info he’ll be able to pick up something that’s pretty good. He’s only gotten into tea in the past six months or so, so anything helping his tea drinking/buying experience over there is good for both of us. :)
If he goes to Shanghai, there are several “tea cities” there worth visiting (Tianshan is one; there is some more recent info on newer ones on Teachat). Close to where he’ll be, Beijing has “Maliandao”, probably the second biggest tea city in Mainland China behind Fangcun in Guangzhou.
Do they each specialize in certain types of tea or do they have similar offerings?
The tea markets / tea cities are like big wholesale malls (common for all sorts of things in China). There are hundreds or thousands of small shops, most of which specialize in certain types of tea or teawares. In some cases, there will be a whole building or floor devoted to one type of tea; in other cases it may be more broken up.
Wow that’s a lot of tea. Would be fascinating to try to sort through all of that and pick the best ones.
Dalian has very nice cold water seafood (somewhat like Maine). Not something he can bring back ;-) but he can enjoy for himself.
If he goes to Shanghai and Hangzhou, and if you would like some green tea, I recommend Gong Pai (Tribute Brand) Long Jing. It’s a rather expensive brand and doesn’t provide the best quality/price ratio. But if he buys from an authorized seller or store, the tea will be of decent quality. There are hundreds of thousands of tea sellers in that region and it’s quite hard for a traveler to pick out the better ones. So buying brand name product is a safe way.
Another brand name I reluctantly recommend is Tian Fu. Their teas are generally of decent quality. But they are infamous for over-pricing the tea. But they are kind of safe shot, and the price is probably still better than price in the States.