|Flagstaff House Museum of Tea Ware|
The same is true for tea. It has become increasingly difficult to find low price and high quality tea in Mainland. Affluent Chinese customers in Shanghai or Beijing are now willing to pay (much) more for top quality tea than Hong Kong, Taiwanese or Western consumers.
I don't have figures for tea, but imported wine is probably a good indicator for China's appetite for luxury beverages. This chart shows that wine imports have really taken off in the last decade (multiplied by 40 between 2005 and 2015)!
After 1997, when China stopped the monopoly of the CNNP on the sale of tea, Taiwanese merchants were among the first to go to Yunnan to purchase puerh directly (and skip Hong Kong).
This is how Taiwan was able to access to most of the best old and young puerh until roughly 2006, when China started to better structure its own tea market and when its consumers started to purchase top quality teas.
- one of the shops looked nice and new from the outside, but once I had closed the door I recognized the particular smell that was overwhelming: mold! It's the nasty smell you get in a closet when it's too humid and the clothes start to have mold! The whole store had this terrible smell. We left quickly!
- There was a shop where the owners were eating, petting their dog, reading their phone... not paying any attention to us. A look on the stickers on the teapots indicated that things were not cheap here. We left.
- I recognized a tea brand that I purchased over 10 years ago in Taiwan. It was a very heavily roasted (nice but fake) WuYi tea. The shop was neat, the packaging cute and traditional but there was no place to try tea and no cup of tea was offered. It also wasn't possible to purchase samples. We left.
- In another shop, we noticed that the employees were busy packaging shu puerh cakes. We started a conversation with the owner. I had brought a bag with some of my 1997 raw Menghai 7542 cake. It's the tea I was brewing in a thermos during this trip. Christopher likes this tea (even brewed in a thermos for hours!) and so we asked if the shop has something similar. He produced a red label puerh from 1997 priced above 500 USD. He didn't seem very interested in comparing it to my 7542, though. And I didn't see any place in this shop where we could have brewed these 2 teas. Since 7542 is THE reference for that era, I guess he figured his tea wouldn't be better. We left.
nearby gourmet shop! And a little later, I spent a wonderful hour exploring the Hong Kong Maritime museum:
|Tea chest with 2 pewter caddies in the Maritime Museum|
- access to small samples of great teas that let you try a cake of puerh or an Oolong before committing to a big purchase. Going through different teas from different origins is a great way to educate your palate.
- a detailed brewing guide to learn about all details that will affect the taste of your cup of tea.
- creativity in the tea preparation process with the use of Chabu that give a mood, a meaning to each tea session.
- an Internet presence with worldwide delivery and a section with lowered prices that isn't a fast-changing commercial gimmick.