This post appeared originally at Cha Xi Collective. This is just an archived copy.
Ah, the taste. Another wonderful bing I brought back from Yunnan. Sweet and a little tart with the definite flavor of blackberries. I liked the smooth earthy aroma and I may have sensed black cherries in there as well. Rewardingly mellow lingering taste that fades into a lightness. In fact, there’s potential to be too light with this tea.
The first few infusions I tried at 15 seconds or so, and they were good, but fairly light and generic shou puer. Afterward I gave it a good soak and found the richness I remember from tasting this tea in the shop in Lijiang. Some nice big leaves in there too.
By the time we arrived in Lijiang Old Town (not to be confused with the massive modern city that is Lijiang proper), I had been forewarned by our friends that the experience would be one big tourist trap; they were not wrong. Lijiang’s streets are teeming with knick-knack shops, snack vendors, hawkers of every craft that someone on vacation might be interested in. Dumplings, fried dough, and delicious crystalized ginger were available on every corner, and there are a lot of corners as Lijiang is built like a maze. And yet it is a beautiful maze. The buildings are exclusively old architecture, or more likely new architecture made to look old. It’s like walking though some old european town in Disneyworld, except instead of a Dutch village you walk through Song dynasty China (the Internet tells me that the architecture might actually be based on old Naxi style which is a blend of Tibetan and Han Chinese).
With no lack of snacks to fill us, we walked along the stone paths between close-set two-story buildings looking for tea. The gentle sound of water followed us since many of the streets are divided by gutters large enough to be small rivers. You can stop on any stone bridge over these streams to eat your rice dumpling and watch the myriad tourists walk about. Most of the tourists are Chinese, of course, but there are a number of Westerners in any given view. Most of those not from China were French or German, which seemed to be the rule throughout Yunnan. No matter which western country, however, they all spoke some English. This was not the case for the Chinese, which was a little surprising for such a tourist-centric place. Still, we managed with our rudimentary Mandarin.
As for tea, we found a bit here and there, but many of the shops selling tea also sold jade bracelets, tobacco, or some other item. These are not the places to visit. Even among tea-only vendors, the tea we tried (mostly puer) was nothing amazing and certainly not worth the prices. I had mostly given up hope when we came across a puer shop which wasn’t ostentatious about its wares, nor was the proprietor – a middle-aged woman – calling out to us to buy her tea. She didn’t even get up when we walked in. Believe it or not, we took this as a good sign. When we asked (in our basic Chinese) if we could taste some of her puer, she gave us a skeptical look and said, “are you going to buy something?”. That was when I knew we had hit upon a real tea shop. She wasn’t interested in wasting her good tea on some American tourists. We explained our intentions and we were invited to sit and drink something, I think a 2007 Shou.
Since the woman had no English and our Chinese was quite limited, she called over a young girl who worked at a shop across the street to be our translator. The girl knew very little about tea, but was more than happy to be part of our interaction and her English was great. With her help, we made it clear that we actually knew something about tea and the woman began allowing us to taste some of her more expensive items. We tried out several fantastic bings and learned along the way that most of the tea in the woman’s shop was made by her own family. Finally I decided on this 2005 shou as acceptably delicious and within my price range. Although it was probably the most money I paid for any tea on the journey, it was for a 400g bing, so it was worth it. Plus, the woman was wonderful to interact with and kindness makes a difference in my bargaining. We also bought a hefty shou zhuan cha, but that’s a different story.