Continued from Tea Shopping in a Market in Shenzhen, China – Part 2
I find that the more familiar and comfortable I am with a shop, the easier it is to get a good read on teas. Struggling with communication issues came into play there, of course. Initial starting points for expectations or preferences hardly came across at all; but just isolating broad tea types did work. It would be nice to have tried a dozen different teas or more to get a feel for what I liked there; but in practice — under those specific limitations, and my wife wanting to leave before we walked in — I didn’t taste much.
Again, tasting a sample should have indicated what I was getting (unless the vendor trick of swapping out that final purchased product came up), but beyond that risk it’s hard to reliably taste on the fly. Slight changes in preparation method and even water used shifts a lot, and mental context is something else altogether. It would be familiar trying teas in random settings after a while: Factoring out some variables, adjusting for randomly trying lots of versions; but for most that would probably throw things off.
Oddly, the few teas we bought seemed fine. Not ideal based on preference and what was there, but definitely close enough. Probably if I’d tried to buy teas presented as better versions, some of the background on what the teas were wouldn’t have been accurate; but leaving off at the “buying something” level cut that risk back. Two seemed interesting in style and good buys, with potential to improve through aging. One was just a bad decision: The taste wasn’t a favorite range (like mushroom), but the odd feel structure should have been more of a red flag. Two unusual bundled tea samples were interesting — a Da Hong Pao oolong and a sheng pu’er — and I bought a cheap pu’er pick.
So in the end, the advice to go into a more Western-facing outlet and accept paying well over best local shop rates works. Except for the part about dropping out the experience of exploring, the random shopping activity itself, and the mixed results benefit of buying some moderate quality teas. All that could be pleasant with unusually positive results, or frustrating leading to making bad purchase decisions; but beyond the results it should be interesting. It doesn’t work reducing a goal to only relating to what you buy without considering the value in hacking through the unproductive part of the early learning curve. It was nice, all those times.
I’ll let the pictures highlight what turned up and show how things looked, since all this cuts that short. Reviews spell it out in painful detail, but as a summary it was cool looking around that market, even if I did buy better tea versions online at essentially the same time.
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