I had dim sum for breakfast before I embarked on my journey to Fangcun Tea Centre. Actually, all my breakfast throughout this trip was dim sum. Dim Sum is actually small dishes that you order off a menu in a restaurant. Examples of the dishes are steamed buns, congee, steam glutinous rice wrapped in lotus leaves, assorted fried/steamed pastries, noodles and even soups. Yummy. The 1st pix shows a dish of 3 steam buns filled with red bean paste. I had a choice of tea that ranges from pu erh, oolongs or jasmine tea. Different grades of the tea are on offer and the tea is charged per head basis. I normally choose a mid price ripe pu about 10rmb per head. You can see from the 2nd pix, you get to brew the tea yourself with a boiling pot of water at the table.
My hotel was in downtown and getting to Fangcun was easy.....hop on the subway and get off in 5 stations time (less than 10 min). It will take another 10 min walk from the station to Fangcun tea centre. Fangcun tea centre comprises of many buildings and exploring the centre for the first time was for me an exhilarating experience. There are more than 2000 shops selling tea and tea accessories.
There are 2 important points to note when visiting fangcun:
a) this is a tea wholesale centre - meaning though the merchant may sell you small quantities, you will normally get a better price if you buy in quantities. The wholesalers are normally upfront with you on their prices. An example would be buying loose tea. The pu erh shops which I visited quoted me prices for their loose tea per 500g (about 1 lb) basis. Larger quantities may give you another 10-20% further discount. I had bought a gaiwan for 35rmb although the dealer would sell me for 28rmb each if I had purchased 12 pieces. Likewise buying a tong of 7 pu erh pieces may be more expensive than buying a carton (4-8 tongs) of tea. The savings may about 20% in this case. If you are not fussy, loose pu erh there gives best value for money. Loose pu erh are very much cheaper than cakes or bricks. The price you pay for a kg of a 2003 loose ripe pu might only get you 1 similar quality 2003 ripe pu cake (357g).
b) you must know your tea and the relative prices. If you are going to the tea centre and are looking for a tea, you must have some understanding of that tea you intend to buy and the relative pricing associated with the tea. Tieguanyin (tgy), which is sold in many shops in Fangcun comes in a myriad of varieties. You can buy aged Tgy, or new TGY. They come lightly roasted, or with more floral characteristics, more robust or even specific grades/quality/seasons or areas/farms from Fujian province. You have this problem of time management when you are there. If you are looking for Tgy, you will realize there are many shops there offering tgy and the tea merchants are more than happy to let you sample their tgys. Spend an hour at each shop (Fangcun is open from 9am-about 6/7pm), and you only cover about 9 shops a day. This may posed a challenge and be frustrating (humorous if you think about it) if you are a 1st time visitor.
For myself, I went there looking for some new, high quality ripe pu erh and lao cha tou. I did a little homework researching on the various companies that were in Fangchun prior to my visit. As most of these companies participate in Taobao.com, I did get a inkling of the type of products offered as well as customers' feedback on the company on the web. More on my purchases in later blogs.
The last pix show a less crowded mall with few customers as there was a heavy rain while I was there and it was already late in the evening (about 5pm).