As part of my self-education, I sourced out another tea merchant in the Vancouver area. This time I wanted to go to a more traditional tea shop, so I went to China Town and found one called The Chinese Tea Shop where I met the owner Daniel Lui. I explained to him my journey on the discovery of tea and asked if he would spend a bit of time with me to go over his selection of teas and share some his vast knowledge of tea. He agreed and the experience was well beyond my expectations. The Chinese tea shop focuses on four main types of tea: Green, Oolong, Pu’erh and Black.
My interest was to taste and learn more about Pu’erh. The Chinese tea shop is very simple but elegant. As you walk in, there is tea lining the right hand side of the shop: green tea, then Oolong; the large middle section all dedicated to Pu’erh tea – mainly in pancakes. The last selection was of black teas. On the opposite side are cabinets with a large assortment of clay tea pots and Asian teaware.
In the center of the shop, just in front of the cabinets containing the tea pots, Daniel has a table where clients sit and sample tea while Daniel tells the story of the tea. The day I visited, there was a lot traffic with people coming and going. One couple who stopped was from Portland, and the woman, Jane loved Oolong. Daniel suggested Oolongs for her to sample.
Everyone was welcome to sit and sample the teas with Jane, so I sat down to begin our sampling of the teas Daniel had selected. The first one we tried was called Tie Guan, a premium Oolong tea from the 1980’s – over 30 years old. It had a plummy, fruity smell due to its age. As Daniel brewed the first infusion, it was peach/pink, almost Amber in color. The aroma was of plum, the first infusion was not bitter, but very refreshing with hint of raisin and a hint of smoke. The second infusion was darker and the flavor completely changed: a bit more bitter with a stronger raisin flavor. The third infusion became sweeter and more roasted smelling; less bitter. With the fourth infusion, I could begin to identify the smell I was trying to describe: more like tobacco or a fine cigar, offering a nice after taste on the tongue. I loved it! A good winter tea as it was very comforting. Jane purchased this tea along with a few others.
The next tea we tried was a Pu’erh called Big Tree Yi Wu 2006 – seven years – which will get darker and stronger with age. It had a sweet taste, very nice, and not bitter as I had expected. The second infusion’s color was a bit darker, and the flavor was sweet with an almost subtle fruitiness to it. Daniel suggested it would be good paired with seafood, to which I would agree – especially with crab.
Daniel explained that you learn through tasting and experiencing the variations; over time, you will be able to tell if it is good quality tea without knowing all the details of the tea. He orders all his tea vacuum-packed so the aging stops. That way the client can decide how they want to store and age the tea once it is in their possession.
I will have more about The Chinese Tea Shop in my next post. If you are ever in Vancouver, I encourage you to go check out The Chinese Tea Shop in China Town, well worth the time because the experience will be worth it.