Wednesday, February 11, 2009

China | Beijing | Maliandao Tea Street

Since I had completely run out of the puerh tea I had no choice but to wander on down to Beijing and replenish my stores. Loose puerh tea is available at the State Department Store in Ulaan Baatar, but it is hardly the quality I am accustomed to drinking. As I mentioned earlier there had been a devastating collapse of the Puerh Tea Trade in China so I thought it might be a good time to stock up on Puerh in Beijing at fire sale prices. I took a cab from the airport (Mongolian Airlines still flies to the old Terminal #2 so I still have not seen the huge new terminal yet) straight down to Wangfujing Street and checked into a fleabag hotel just a half block from the Foreign Languages Bookstore, one of my usual haunts in the Big Dumpling.

Before checking out the books, however, I headed for the Maliandao Tea Street in southwest part of the city. There are over 1000 tea stores in this area but I always return to the shop of Ms. Na, who has an especially good selection of black and Puerh teas. “Long time no see!” she announced when I walked in the door. When I first met Ms. Na three years ago she spoke no English at all, but now she had obviously learned some colloquialisms. We were also able to conduct a rudimentary conversation on the subject of tea. Hoping to set the tone for the upcoming bargaining I said, “Puerh prices have gone down, yes?” She readily agreed, then suggested we sample her shop’s finest Puerh. This was sixteen year old tea from one of the most famous Puerh producers in Yunnan Province. Six months ago this puerh was selling for 10,000 yuan ($1,463) a kilo. Now the price was 2000 yuan ($292) a kilo.

Loose Puerh — $292 a kilo after Tea Crash

It was certainly delectable, with a wonderfully clear orangish-amber color, a breath-takingly bracing fragrance, and a flavor to bring tears of joy to the eyes of even the most jaded tea taster. But it was a bit out of my price range. I was more interested in the $20 to $30 a kilo Puerhs. Fortunately Ms. Na also had a good selection of these. The slow sampling process began, and two hours later I had bought an assortment of both cake and loose puerhs of differing ages, two kilos of Yunnan Gold black tea (two different grades), a kilo of Qi Mun (Keemun) black tea, and a half kilo of Tie Kwan Yin (Iron Goddess of Mercy) Oolong. That, I thought, should be enough tea to last for the winter months.

The unfailingly gracious and charming Ms.
Na showing off a cake of seven-year old Puerh
Some nice cakes of Puerh

See more on the Maliandao Tea Market.