133. Drinking Chinese Tea in Context

Drinking Chinese Tea, In Context: If a Western foreigner walks into a restaurant in China and orders tea, odds are good that they’ll be served a Lipton tea bag. It’s made in China, of course, but still Lipton. If you know that tea was first cultivated in China, that it’s been produced and savored here for at least the last fifteen hundred years, then you understand the travesty of this. Amy was first to work it out and start demanding the good stuff. It does require some persistence.

Amy: I’ll have tea to drink.
Waitress: Lipton.
Amy: No, Chinese tea.
Waitress: Chinese tea?
Amy: Chinese tea.
Waitress: Chinese tea?

And so on. Western tastes are still a bit of a riddle here, so the easy assumption of 1.3 billion people is that we could not, would not, enjoy the taste of Chinese tea. On the contrary, there is such a dizzying variety of tea here, medicinal and recreational, that it begs to be enjoyed in the same way that you would enjoy wine in France – pretentiously. There is no harm in assuming that this is the best that tea can be, as long as you stop short of using phrases like, “light smokiness with the signature of oolong” and “unmistakable bergamot.” No one wants to hear that.

Things are changing though. Big cities, in particular, are nurturing a budding coffee house culture that will eventually rival the West’s. At home, I’m a relentless and inflexible coffee drinker. But with little more than instant Nescafé available in most Chinese cities, I’ve temporarily changed teams. I even bought a special Chinese tea mug for drinking loose leaf tea on long train rides. In Second Class cars especially, the sight of this mug in my hand is apparently as astonishing as if I were carrying a Chinese baby. Or carrying a Chinese baby who was carrying a cup of coffee. Good coffee. French press coffee. A nice Columbian with high floral aromas. Man, I can’t wait to start drinking coffee again.


  1. furey says:

    Good stuff…

    excuse me, my kettle is boiling…

  2. Niru says:

    Hi Amy and Sloan, I just didnt move from my desk in the last one hour as I have been ploughing through most of your entries.

    Its been an amazing experience to simply read them, I wonder how it would be to actually live it.

    I really hope you enjoyed traveling in my country (India), though I do feel bad for some of the harassment you faced. I do promise things are changing for the better.

    Just so inspiring that I am going to run home and tell all about your blog to my husband and see if I can bring him on board a little dose of wanderlust ;)

  3. artur says:

    no chinese tea in china?:)