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Jun 13 2013 In Tea Journal By

Tea Hunting in the Backstreets of Chinatown

You could tell by the owner’s standoffish posture, I stood out like a sore thumb in the shop. I could almost hear his thoughts, “you must be lost; you belong one block down in the tourist section of Chinatown”. This was a little herb and tea shop on the backstreets of San Francisco Chinatown where the locals shop. Just what I had been looking for! Walking in, that familiar pungent air of medicinal herbs told me I’d find some interesting items here to take as souvenirs.

Large glass jars of loose tea greeted the customer upon entering. This is what initially caught my eye. Scanning the loose leaf, could I identify them? Oh, some stuff I hadn’t seen before! Fu ding sticks—I’ve hear about those—some loose Puerh, Jasmine flower—my favorite! …Like a kid in a candy store.

Then I found the Puerh cakes. There were so many! I started picking them up and smelling them, trying to get a sense of quality, reading the labels for any information they may yield. Unfortunately, I don’t read Chinese. Not much luck with the labels, except I could discern the words cha, Yunnan and Puerh. I was quickly chastised by the shop keeper, “Don’t open those!” Oops, my bad. Guess not everyone shares my inquisitive nature during tea shopping.

So I started to gather up several to purchase, ranging from a larger wheel, a birds nest, and a brick. Put them on the counter so he was aware I was not just browsing. He relaxed a bit then as I asked him to help me package up some of the loose leaf I was scoping out at first.  I think he caught the glimpse of zeal in my eye.

I had to get some Fu Ding having not tried it before. He adamantly warned me about the bitterness, “Are you sure? Very bitter, very bitter”.  I enthusiastically nodded and smiled, “how much?” I then asked about the one labeled ‘red tea’, “is that a Keemun?” (I had to repeat myself several times here.) Ah yes! “You know tea!” as he then smiled with me. I explained that I owned a tea shop in Virginia and don’t get to see stores like his much. Some loose Puerh and Pi Lo Chun green tea were the others I selected to take home with me. This was fun!

You’d have thought we were longtime friends by the time I was leaving the shop, as we were smiling and laughing and spirits were lifted. Once again, making friends and memories over some tea. Tea truly can bring people together.

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