Recently, I got the chance to visit Xiamen, China, on a business trip.  I was very excited because I looked forward to trying some more tea.  When my colleagues asked me what I wanted to do after work, my answer was simply “Go to a tea shop”.  At lunch, I told everyone that I was interested in starting a tea shop in the U.S. one day.

Fortunately for me, someone knew an ex-colleague whose family owned a tea company, and they called to introduce me.  So after work, my colleague, Winnie (who was a fabulous host, by the way), and I made our way over to Sumgo Tea.  The tea shop was beautiful, with displays of tea and tea pots, a vibrant red and gold color scheme, and a few tasting tables in ebony wood with small stools for customers to sit on.

We were met by Yolanda Want, the import-export manager, who asked a few questions about what types of tea I was interested in.  She and her team then brought over a few teas for us to choose from, and proceeded to brew some tea for us to sample.  We started out with a few oolongs, and of the three we tried, I decided I liked the Tieh Kuan Yin best.  It was light and vegetal, but with a slightly buttery flavor that I loved.

At that point, Lee Lin, whom our colleague had introduced us to, invited us upstairs to their offices to talk and sample some more tea.  We sat at a large tasting table with a built-in drainage system to facilitate preparing the tea in the gong fu style.  The tea was prepared this way downstairs as well, but using a gong fu tray instead of a special table.  Upstairs, we tasted a green tea and a couple of oolongs, but we were talking too much for me to catch the names and write them down!

When they heard that not only was I interested in tea, but planned to start a tea business one day, they immediately offered their assistance.  They encouraged me to email them with any questions, and told me a bit about their exporting business to the U.S. and Europe.  Sumgo Tea is a large and successful business with 20 tea shops in Xiamen and 300 across China, along with their export business.  I was quite thrilled to have stumbled onto such a great contact!  Lee also gave my colleague, Winnie, and me a lovely presentation box of tea samples, which was extremely kind of him.

After that, we returned downstairs and continued tasting tea.  I ended up purchasing a wonderful White Silver Needles from Fujian, and a deep, rich Tuo Cha Pu-erh as well.  The one tea that we tasted that I decided not to buy at the moment was a Jin Junmei, which is a delicious black tea with a fruity, almost wine-like bouquet.  It’s getting very popular in Fujian province, and the prices are going up accordingly.  I’ve made a resolution, though, to save my money and get some the next time I’m there.  It deserves all the accolades it’s been getting.

So my brief trip to Xiamen was more successful than I dreamed possible.  I was able to buy some great tea, try some other fantastic ones, and make an excellent connection for my future business.  Plus I got to share my experience with my new friend, Winnie, who said she had even learned quite a bit about tea.  My only regret is that I didn’t have the time to meet up with my fellow T Ching blogger Daniel Hong, who recently wrote a post on Jin Junmei.  I can’t wait to go back and taste some more tea!