When I arrived to my girlfriend's place in Shanghai, I was surprised to see that she had a tiny stash of tea saved up for my arrival. They were all tea taken from various hotels that she stayed at on her own travels. Excited, I pulled out my travel tea set and was mortified to see that my "Fairness Cup" (公道杯) had shattered in the travel case. A twinge of sadness hit me. Optimism pulled me out of the sadness as I thought;
"I can still make tea with a Gai Wan (盖碗)".
A demon named Clumsiness came over me. I was examining all the cups and had even put the white, shining porcelain on the table. A simple bump of my chair sent the Gai Wan's lid sliding off and onto the floor. Splitting it perfectly in half. The sound of Myth II's Green Berets narrator rang in my ears, "Another Tea Casualty". With a feeling that could only be described as angered embarrassment, I gingerly picked up the broken pieces and stored my tea set away.
For the past twenty something days, I've been making do with two different sized glasses. That, paired with my tea filter is how I slowly consumed the small tea stash. I was surprised at how high quality the tea from hotels was. Full leaves. Great aroma. Better flavor. Once I ran out of the ol' stash, I began searching the nearby streets for tea spots...
Chan Tea - 禅茶
Walking around the streets of Shanghai with the bite of winter against my face, I managed to find a Tea Shop built into the local temple. It was labeled "Chan (or Zen) Tea" which was a term I've only seen once before... at Guang Fu Lin. The sun had long set behind the horizon, so I vowed to come back later. My girlfriend and I went stopped while we were walking around town. Stepping into the elegant tea shop, we were hit with the smells of fresh brewed tea and sounds of quiet conversation. We were met with a sudden silence. The atmosphere was thick with an awkward tension.
"The temple is through the other door. This is a tea shop."
Were the first words said to us. Quickly, I quipped, "Do you have Gai Wans?". At the mention of this one of the guys' attitude changed completely. Immediately we went from strangers to customers. All the various wares and items. Fancy temple stamped Gai Wans, travel tea sets, and more. Some reasonable. Most expensive as hell. And the temple tea? Way out of my price range. The lowest price for a tea cake was about $140.
As beautiful and fragrant as the tea was... my heart sank at the prices.
So my search continued.
Kung Fu Tea - 功夫茶
One of my goals while in Shanghai was to drink more tea. Learn more about tea, it's culture, types, and especially "Kung Fu Tea". We stopped in at various tea shops but were met with the same awkward tension, same expensive prices, and same disappointment.
Maybe I'm missing part of China's tea culture?
Instead, I started paying attention to other kinds of tea. Like milk tea. I began asking about what tea was used to make the drinks I enjoyed. Through this I was able to learn about different kinds teas and blends.
Now I have a surface level knowledge of Dan Cong Oolong Tea and Lao Cong Oolong Tea. With me constantly mentioning my search for affordable tea, my girlfriend mentioned her home province has it's own kind of green tea (汉中仙毫 Han Zhong Xian Mao)... which is now on my "to-try" list.
We searched a few more times for affordable tea or tea ware in our part of Shanghai. No luck. My girlfriend contacted a friend of her who was interested in tea. They found some affordable options online. My stubbornness caved in and I bought some. Which led to me buying a tin of black tea (祁门红茶 Keemun Black Tea) from a supermarket. Ten dollars was much more affordable than hundreds.
The search for cool, affordable tea and tea ware isn't over. We're planning on going to Hangzhou in the future. Maybe Chongqing too. Hopefully, we can also stop by Shanghai's biggest tea market before I take off on my next adventure.
Cheap tea in cheap cups isn't bad when spent with good friends.
Also, Happy Holidays everyone. And Merry Christmas!
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