As the expression 'not for all the tea in China' suggests, there is a lot of tea in China (no, it isn't just a random remark someone once made). The only downside to having such a huge number of quality teas to choose from is that it can be difficult to know where to find the best tea at the best value.
So, we took it upon ourselves to do the legwork for you. We checked out teashops all over Beijing and rounded up a list of our favourites to help you on your way to the perfect brew.
Maliandao Tea Market
The place to try
The centre of all things tea-based in the capital is undoubtedly Maliandao Tea Market. Spanning an area larger than 16 football pitches, the market purportedly handles over 10 percent of all the tea in China (seriously – all the tea bought or sold annually). Maliandao can seem like an endless cascade of intimidating tea statistics – and yes, we know we’re not helping – with 3,000 independent vendors all hawking their share of the 4.2 billion RMB’s worth of tea that changes hands here each year.
But an afternoon spent wandering this massive indoor market can offer some rare insight into one of China’s oldest and most respectable industries, not to mention cultural institutions.
From the entrance to the market street, marked by a statue of the eighth-century tea master, Lu Yu, who wrote the first complete and definitive guide to Chinese tea, the fragrant perfume of fresh, unprocessed green leaves mingles with potent earthy wisps of fermented pu’er.
Unlike other famous markets in the capital, whose sensory overload is delivered in the form of shrill cries of eager shop keepers announcing the superiority of their wares and ruinously low prices, Maliandao excites with evocative scents and stunning colours. Vendors are very often second-, third- or fourth-generation tea merchants and they know their trade well enough to sit back and take a more civilised approach to business.
Although the market is primarily concerned with wholesale, most shopkeepers are happy to show off their common varieties as well as brag about the exclusive speciality rare batches that they could only acquire through their
cousin’s, best friend’s, neighbour’s
close relationship with the grower in Zhejiang.
Take their word with a pinch of, um, sugar? The stories are often fanciful but the teas speak for themselves. Sip to your heart’s content and, although there is never any expressed obligation to buy, try not to work the vender too hard unless you plan to take something home. It’s poor form. (Or, should we say: pour form?)
Maliandao Tea Market 12
Maliandao Lu, Xicheng district.
Open 8.30am-6pm daily. 西城区马
If you’re anything like us, you might be surprised to learn that Wuyutai
does more than the best cheap cone of green tea soft-serve ice cream (5RMB). Lo and behold they actually sell tea inside, too!
Prices for loose and pre-packaged teas range from a comfortable everyday cuppa (25RMB, 250g) to the truly astounding (2,000RMB, 250g). English varies by location, tastings available.
Wuyutai (吴裕泰) Over 100 locations around town (look out for the green shop-front). Most shops open 10am-7pm daily.
Xingsheng Tea Shop
The hutong favourite
Owned and operated by an energetic family of tea vendors with ties to tea plantations in Anhui and Zhejiang provinces, this shop has a homey Old Beijing character that borders on novelty while still maintaining
its claim to authenticity.
charm of its cluttered shelves and peeling gold leaf is compounded by the smiles from the elderly attendant. A bit of Chinese goes a long way, but it’s easy enough to get by if you know what you want. Prices start from 50RMB for 500g; tastings available.
Xingsheng Tea Shop 45 Dafosi Dong Jie, Dongcheng district (6403 8217). Open 9am-10pm daily.
Zhangyiyuan Tea Shop
The classic choice
After over 100 years of distributing tea throughout China, Zhangyiyuan has remained largely unchanged. Their traditional preparation techniques and high standards, even for cheaper varieties, have earned them a reputation among Chinese consumers.
It’s a well-regarded name brand for respectable, if not terribly rare,
loose and pre-packaged teas. Their process for making their special jasmine tea is even listed as a state-level feature of intangible cultural heritage – that’s some serious tea. Prices start around 65RMB per 500g; English varies by location.
Zhangyiyuan Tea Shop 86
Qianmen Dajie, Xicheng
district (6701 9371). Open 10.30am-8pm daily. 西城区前
Dim sum tea tip
Wherever you eventually decide to buy your tea from, one of the best ways to enjoy your newly purchased crop is at your favourite dim sum restaurant.
We love a lazy afternoon spent sipping our best finds through endless rounds of steaming bamboo baskets, but did you know that most places will brew your leaves without any charge or nominal fee?