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Mr. Tea Reflects On Making The Switch From Coffee.

Flying Pigeon


I pity the fool who can't shake the evil bean. (Not really, I just wanted to use Mr. T's famous "I pity the fool" line.)

Living on the Big Island of Hawaii for 7 years turned me into a coffee snob. I grew to like the strong, bitter taste of Kona coffee and the coffee my friend grew on the Hamakua coast. During my 3 years in Japan I frequented two small cafes in Gifu City that served strong coffee and sweet cake, and played good, old-school jazz. I never got hooked on Japanese green or barley tea. Japanese green tea is good, but I prefer green tea ice cream and green tea chocolate to drinking it.

So when I moved to China last year I was hoping to maintain the coffee buzz. Not sure what happened. A few lukewarm cans of Nescafe and a few mediocre mocha's at some cafes and I just wasn't feeling the buzz anymore. So I gradually switched over to tea.

Flashback: The best cup of tea I've ever had in China (or anywhere else for that matter) was in a small town called Xiahe(夏河) in Gansu province. It was in a small ramen shop. The young waiter reached into a bag, pulled out a handful of tea leaves that were so dark green they almost looked black, threw them into a drinking glass (not a tea mug) and then poured hot water over them. The tea had a strong, smoky taste but it was also very smooth. I've been trying to "find" that taste ever since (about two years ago). I got a hint of it in a small ramen shop in Miyun (密云) two months ago. It wasn't as strong, but a hint of the smoky taste was definitely there. I asked the waiter what kind of tea it was and he said it was Oolong. A few weeks later I went to a couple of tea shops and tried to explain the flavor of tea I was looking for, but I still haven't found it. Maybe a trip back to 夏河 is in order. Next time I'm going to take some of the tea leaves with me.

So I bought a tea set the other day. And so far, my male ego is taking it in strides. I'm thinking I need some dolls and stuffed animals for a tea party. While she said it looks nice, my wife doesn't share my enthusiasm for tea. She likes fruit juice and milk. I'd like to bring this point up the next time a language teacher throws me a "Chinese people like tea, Americans like coffee" generalization.

I'd like to study the art of making tea. For me, it's about more than just drinking a beverage. It's like a mini ritual. It's about taking time out, sitting quietly, drinking something that tastes good and relaxes me.

I'm digging Jasmine tea. I'm hoping to switch to some green tea as the Summer heats up.

What kind of tea do you like?


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For the smokey tea, perchance was it Lapsang Souchong? It can be a bit of an acquired taste (i.e. my wife hates it), and the taste can range from "humm, nice smokey aftertones" to "damn! did they burn this?". [it is not an oolong, however, but the person might have been wrong.]

As for the manliness of tea, you'll just need to get yourself a manly teaset.

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Green tea Pu'er (much better than the regular stuff, as far as I'm concerned), Lapsang Souchong, Honeyed, sweet red teas. I also had some fantastic wulong in New York I can't quite remember what was. So good. Taiwan, possibly.

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I work with coffee. One of my favourite coffees is a Geisha varietal from the Hacienda La Esmeralda farm in Panama. Expensive stuff, but it tastes and smells of bergamot, jasmin, lemon - you name it.

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Thanks for the comments, everyone! Bought some 苦丁 and 拉普山小種 (a.k.a.正山小种) today. I'm going to buy some 普洱,龙井 and 菊花 next.

jbradfor, 拉普山小種 isn't quite the taste I remember, but I like it. Thanks for the gongfu tea ceremony link as well. Lots of useful info, plus it assuaged my fragile male ego. :) I'm planning to Skype with the parentals next week and it will come in useful. While I'm sure my mom will be down with it, I'm just not seeing "Dad, I bought a tea set" without some kind of "Oh my God! What are they doing to you over there?!" kind of reaction. If I mention gongfu along with tea set, it should balance things out, put him at ease.

In my search for that elusive smokey flavor, I'm looking forward to trying many different kinds of tea. It also gives me a great excuse to go back to that ramen shop in 夏河.

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Will be interested to see how you get on with the 苦丁, it's not to everyone's taste and I constantly get people turning their nose up at it.

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The dolls, wife, and I are liking 苦丁. The first pot was a bit strong, used too many leaves. But after the third attempt, I think I have it down. Taking the "less is more" approach. Thanks again for the recommendation.

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I think there's some weird psychological influences at work when making the tea or coffee choice. Beforehand I think "I should drink tea, I have all these varieties, I'm learning Mandarin and its healthier, but I feel like a coffee". Then I make myself coffee (usually instant) and think, "hm, should've had tea". By the way, I think I read somewhere Oolong is green tea that's allowed to ferment a little bit, like black tea. I'm a bit annoyed at myself now, as i bought a book about the adventures of Robert Fortune, the Scottish botanist whose task was to steal tea plants from China for the British plantations in India, I put it down somewhere...

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Hi Martin,

Thanks for the comment. I could really go for an iced mocha right now!

What kinds of tea do you have?

Instant coffee!?! Tsk tsk! :D

Black tea is next on my list of teas to buy. I might have to buy some Earl Grey.

Find that book! And when you do, please let me know the title. Sounds like a good read.

Strangely, I don't miss the coffee "buzz". I like the steady "glow" that tea gives me.

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