Shanghai presents the tea lover with an embarras de richesses. Good tea leaves can be found just about anywhere.
Supermarkets like Carrefour and Hymall, and food markets like Shanghai No. 1 Food Store on Nanjing Dong Lu are accessible to the layman. The downside is that the person manning the tea counter may not be of much help.
Warm and informed staff serve up a variety of decent teas and sweets to accompany at the ubiquitous Taiwanese specialty chain Ten Fu's Tea. Locals are attracted by the shops’ guarantee of quality at reasonable prices. You can sample before buying.
Worth a visit, Cheng Yuxin Tea Store was established over 160 years ago and is the oldest tea shop in Shanghai. For a splurge, treat yourself to teas picked from the wild beyond the reach of insecticides.
Tea markets are ideal places to spend a day smelling and sipping tea and learning from vendors, many of whom are also tea fanatics. Giant, drafty Tianshan Tea City has 150 crowded stalls hawking thousands of varieties of leaves. Of these, regional varieties of longjing are most popular. But beware the laowai pricing, and bargain hard. As a rule of thumb, mid-range teas run about ￥60 to 180 per 500g.
Tianshan was founded as a wholesale market but now mostly serves tea drinkers directly. Several other wholesale tea markets -- Daning International Tea City (formerly known as Datong Road Tea Market) and Jiuxing Tea Wholesale Market in Puxi, and Hengda Tea Wholesale Market in Pudong -- target area resellers, and can sometimes offer a better deal for individuals.
All of these tea markets also sell high quality tea wares that would make impressive gifts.
Tea newbies would be wise to invest in a glass set. The transparent exterior allows the drinker to watch the leaves as they transform during the steeping process. For flower teas, especially "blossom teas" that unfurl to reveal whole flowers, glass is ideal. Another benefit is that glass is unlikely to contain lead and other metals sometimes found in local ceramic glazes. For an inexpensive glass teapot, try local markets like Tianshan, Daning or others mentioned above
A porcelain teapot is the classic way to drink Chinese tea. For aromatic teas, this should be your weapon of choice. Because porcelain doesn't absorb the flavors and scents of the tea, it can be used to brew any variety of tea. Greens, whites, flower teas and some oolongs work well in porcelain. You can find sets in local tea markets, but be careful of fakes. Or head to SPIN and check out lovely, simple sets by international ceramic artists.
A true tea lover's most prized possession is the zisha yixing teapot. Made of a porous, unglazed clay, this teapot absorbs the tea's aromas and minerals with each brewing. To avoid confusing its flavors, a zisha pot should only be used with the type of leaf first steeped in it. Perfect for aged pu'er, a "seasoned" zisha teapot makes for an unparalleled tea experience. Get yours at the Taiwanese specialty chain Ten Fu's Tea, as mentioned above.
By Jean Yung
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