Continued from Tea Shopping in a Market in Shenzhen, China – Part 1

Visiting the Shenzhen Tea World Terminal Market

(WikiTravel page for location details)

Language was a problem in that market, for sure. On the next subject of tasting reliability, I can’t blind taste teas for identifying a narrow type or quality level consistently; but given how much tasting I’ve done over the last three years I’m probably above average at trying. It hardly matters anyway, because if you can’t communicate clearly with a vendor it’s only going to work out so well. Vendors would start by assuming that you have little idea what you want and limited exposure, and talking past that and their own sales expectations wouldn’t work well (for general type preference and the next levels of specifics, and price range, whatever it is).  

There’s a story about someone selling a horse that tries to explain why you need to justify to a Chinese tea vendor that you should even try above-average tea, but the parallel never really does make a lot of sense.  The short version:  That one horse wouldn’t be the right horse for everyone, so people who don’t know tea should drink low-quality tea.  Maybe it works; except that they really can’t identify expectations through a language barrier any more than someone can intentionally communicate them.

It was still interesting trying. I was with my wife, so I wasn’t going to spend any realistic amount of money to buy upper-medium-level-quality tea anyway (the vendors were right – just not for the reason they probably assumed), so the idea was to hack through making the best of buying iffy and cheap tea.  The irony was that I had a good bit of tea, either recently on hand or on the way from Western-facing Chinese vendors; so it’s not that I wasn’t spending money on tea – but that part is a longer story.

My wife had spent a bit over half a year studying Mandarin, going to a class one full day a week; it was interesting finding out how far that would go. It barely helped in restaurants: It went how you’d expect it would go.

Of course tea shops are selling tea, and communicating a general type is definitely possible: Oolong or sheng, etc. Finding, trying, and buying something is simple enough, and if that process is interesting — and it should be — then it’s as well to not focus on the senses in which it doesn’t work out.  We walked out with tea.

You would think that tasting teas would make all the difference, that spending countless hours browsing tea groups or vendor sites could fill in lots of levels of background — but not about what you like: Taking a sip would. I’m not at the level of wondering if I like rolled oolongs, Chinese black teas, or sheng pu’er; and to some extent the existence of a broad range of styles and quality levels of any of those throws off exploration being simple.

To be concluded in Tea Shopping in a Market in Shenzhen, China – Part 3

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