Dec 29, 2004  Taipei City   We go to the Tea Merchant's

Wednesday morning, we made our way to the subway station, bought two tickets for NT$20 each  (about 60 cents US) and rode up the line a few stops to meet Heather.  After winding through  back streets, we came to a tea merchant's shop.  A large, somewhat ruffled and moth eaten looking parrot stood (perched?) guard outside the door.   Inside, the small store was crammed floor to ceiling with bales and boxes of teas.  An old woman huddled behind the counter with a calculator and accounting books, while a young man greeted us,waving us to have a seat at the only clear spot in the place, a low dark wood polished table.  At the end of the table, were set a tray of items to make and serve tea.  Handing out a long sheet of prices, descriptions of teas (all in Chinese) he started brewing different teas for us.  We were soon joined by three or four other groups of people being served around the table.          

Finally, we learned what all the strange ceramic tea warewe had seen in the pottery town of Yinge was used for and  how wrong and inefficient Western tea making methods are (though, of course, as a Chinese, he was way too polite to say so.)  In fact, he did not speak much English at all, so Heather translated for us.  This was awkward, not because he and Heather did not speak Chinese, but because the majority of his customers this time of year are Japanese and most of his 30 minute tea tasting course/sessions are held in Japanese.  We were not the only foreign couple there---just the only one who did not speak Japanese.  It seems the Japanese have a very different teas, so, this time of year, when businessmen have their bonuses and a bit of vacation, some of them come to Taiwan (a 2 hour flight) and buy exotic teas to take or ship home.  Indeed, while we were there, the mailman came by with three special delivery money orders from Japan for the little old lady behind the counter to get ready to mail.

  we're in the tea merchant's shop looking

out onto the narrow alley--note the parrot chained up to a perch outside to the left.   Below, the view facing into the shop. 

 

We turn to our left and there is a low, polished wood table on the end of of which is a tray of teapots,  bambooscoops, cups, etc.  The table can seat about 8 people on low stools. 

  The tea mechant, who looked vaguely like a Chinese John Cusack, gave us each a small cup to set upon a rectangular wood saucer.  Note the tiny brown teapot to the left.  He brews tea

in that and pours it into the glass carafes on the tray.  He can use the same tea leaves about ten times in the tiny pot-it acts as a sort of tea strainer.  Aromatic teas are brewed in the red china pot with the funny lid at the far left.  When we saw these little pots in the pottery shops in Yinge, we could not believe they were big enough to be useful--they seem only souvenier size.  As you'll see on another web page, they are standard size and brew plenty of fresh tea.

  Note the brown teapots on the left

have been set into carafes to drain their brewed tea.  The tea merchant is pouring hot water over another pot of tea that already has tea leaves and hot water inside it.  This will form a certain amount of suction inside the teapot; a line of dampness will appear around the rim of the brown teapot lid, indicating suction has formed and the remaining water at the end of the spout in the brown pot will recede, indicating the water has soaked into the tea leaves.  No further waiting is needed, and then the little pot will then be upended into a glass or ceramic carafe.

Immediately afterwards, the tea will be poured around for serving into small cups.  Like wine, one smells the hot tea as well as tastes it, and waits for it to cool for better flavors to become evident.

the merchant offers a smell of the teapot to a

Japanese couple visiting on a tea buying trip.  In fact, most of the buyers were Japanese on holiday buying trips and the merchant conducts most of his demonstrations and business in Japanese.  Taiwan was a Japanese colony until the end of the Second World War, so many of the older people speak Japanese and the Japanese have high regard for Taiwanese tea--which they once owned and developed.   Note the bamboo tea scoop and the wooden saucers under the cups.

Before brewing each tea, the merchant passed around a scoop of tea for us to smell before it was brewed

  Here, a rare "blue oolong" tea, harvested

only once a year is presented to us for our inspection.

We placed orders for several teas to be picked up after lunch and left feeling better educated and a bit dumb about not knowing why in the world all those Chinese potters in Yinge were making "tourist" teapots.