How to Buy Tea in Chengdu

We always hear about the countless teahouses in Chengdu and how everyone here is too busy sipping tea and playing cards to do anything else. Everyone in China refers to Chengdu as the leisure city, and Chengdu reinforces the stereotype by trying to nudge out the other cultivated cities – like Suzhou and Hangzhou – as the teahouse capital of the country.

But what about buying your own tea? Does anyone ever say: “Man, you sure can buy some awesome tea in Chengdu!” I haven’t heard anyone say that. In fact, back in a past life when I thought myself a budding tea merchant, I remember telling Cantonese traders that Sichuan had some of the best green tea in the world.

They looks on their faces reminded me of black people watching a white person trying hard to be black. Bemused liptilt, slightly astonished eye-widening, sigh, and a shake of the head to cap it off. They almost called their friends over to let them hear me go on about Zhuyeqing and Ganlu teas.

And Now

This actually happened to me again last night, in Zhengzhou of all places. I mentioned Mengding Teas (from Mending mountain in Sichuan) and a tea guru from Fujian didn’t just shake his head at my ignorance, he verbally smacked me down in front of a group of people.

“If one drinks Longjing, it must be from (some obscure gully behind a temple) outside of Hangzhou,” he declared. “If you’re going to have Huangshan Maofeng, it can only be from the eastern peak, where the sparrows congregate in spring. If one drinks Taiwanese oolong, it can only come from Lishan, everything else is to be dismissed out of hand.”

And so on.

Fresh tea

So maybe you have some Cantonese buddies – or worse, Fujianese – coming into town talking big about their tea and sniffin’ at the local stuff and you want to avoid being publicly ridiculed. I am uniquely positioned to help. Not only have I experienced the blunt end of a tea guru’s wrath, but I have also bought and drank tea in Chengdu for almost 10 years.

Who Sells Tea in Chengdu?

Chengdu tea shop

A Chengdu Zhuyeqing tea shop

There are several chain stores that sell tea in Chengdu. There are also small little shops all across the city that sell different types of tea. Some teahouses also double as tea shops. The best one was Lian Hua on Yulin Xi Lu, but they moved to San Sheng Xiang – you can head out there and check out their place, just a few doors down from Orange in Hong Sha Cun.

Of the chain stores, the best ones are Tian Fu’s Tea, Zhuyeqing, and Shu Tao. Tian Fu’s sell mid-grade teas from all over the country. They have Zhuyeqing – a green tea from Emei Mountain – as well as Tieguanying, an oolong that grows in Fujian and in Taiwan. The prices are not bad, the tea is not bad, and they can be found all over the city. Perhaps the most convenient one for expats would be the shop on Consulate Road, just west of McDonalds on the corner. There are more on Da Ye Lu, Hong Xing Lu Section 2, and Gaoshengqiao Bei Lu.

Zhuyeqing is the chain store for the Zhuyeqing green tea mentioned above. They sell a few different grades of green tea, and also some organic strains as well. I like the tea. According to snobs, it pales in comparison with other greens (Huangshan Maofeng and Xihu Longjing being the major greens), but I drink Zhuyeqing almost every day and it suits me fine. Prices here range from 30RMB for 25 grams all the way up into the hundreds. There is a good Zhuyeqing store on Nijiaqiao Road, right in Yulin, and another in Zhai Xiangzi, Kuan Xiangzi’s less famous partner alley.

zhuyeqing tea

Zhuyeqing green tea from Emei Mountain, near Chengdu

Shu Tao is similar to Tien Fu in that they sell all manner of teas, but focus on greens and oolongs. They have a little more of an eclectic supply, but all in all its a mid-grade tea shop selling 100 yuan bags of tea to the average consumer. Good for a nice bag of green or an oolong. There are Shu Tao shops on Hong Xing Lu Section 4, Shuangqiao Nan Zhi Lu, and Zhimin Dong Lu.

Also, Tien Fu and Shu Tao have a small selection of pots, cups, and convenient cup-pots on sale.

Chengdu’s Northside Tea Market

But I would be a lying bastard if I told you I went to these shops to buy tea. I don’t. If I buy tea I either head to the mountains around Chengdu, or I go to the Northside Tea Market – also known as Wukuaishi Tea Market.

You can buy basically any kind of tea here. Even the best and rarest kinds are around here somewhere. You can find Fujian oolong, Yunnan Pu’er, Tibetan teas, Sichuan teas, teas from Guangdong, Taiwan and Zhejiang. There are cheap teas, expensive teas … even cheap teas sold as expensive ones.

The best part of the market, for me, are the hundreds and hundreds of utensils on sale here. Tables, pots, pickers, scoopers, cups, glasses, water boilers …

The market is big and getting bigger each year. It is located just northwest of the train station, but if you tell any cabbie “Wukuaishi Chaye Shichang,” they will be able to find it. If you are on a bike, just ride around the northside until you find it. Or consult this handy Google Map below:


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About Sascha

Sascha Matuszak is a writer and commentator on domestic and international culture and politics. He's lived in Chengdu on and off for twelve years and currently makes his home in the South of Chengdu.

16 Responses to “How to Buy Tea in Chengdu”

  1. Finally! I always feel like an idiot when I buy tea. I have no idea what I’m doing.

    Thanks Sasha!

    • well. if you want a bit more info, you can check out this series i wrote about teas.

      http://www.skrewtips.com/author/sascha/

      I am an amateur pretending to know what I am talking about. The Fujianese dude last night was a prick, but he really had some very interesting things to say about tea. He quoted the Essence of Tea off hand like it was Star Wars or something.

      keep drinking and asking around, you’ll find the good stuff.

  2. Really got into the teas when I was living in Beijing. Can never get them to taste quite the same here sadly!
    My favourite green was one from the ‘Li river’, from a plantation owned by the owner of the shop.
    And that was only my favourite one year, as the next year it didn’t taste as good.
    But yeah, plenty of room for pretentiousness in that world haha. Just like wine really.
    I liked the teas in Chengdu, but never got much further than the 10 kuai bottomless cups type in renmin park!

    • I love the 10kuai Renmin Park greens. All along the south side of the river, from Renmin Road to Qingyang Gong, are teahouses serving the 10-15kuai greens (with jasmine) that is the staple of Chengdu teahouses.

  3. Sascha,
    You always write the clearest, most straightforward and heartfelt posts I’ve read in Chengdu Living. You put so much passion into your work, and your voice really shines through. I hope I have a chance to meet you next time I am in Chengdu. For now, just consider me a fan.

  4. Ray

    being uncultivated, i’ve always preferred the cheapest, weakest teas (5 kuai at Wenshou temple is my favorite). I was given a packet of Pu’er a few yars ago and found the taste too strong. later was told by a friend that i should have kept it as an investment and sold it later…tea speculating?

  5. Hey Sascha, that link to the series you wrote on tea is dead. Do you have another one?

  6. http://www.skrewtips.com/2009/08/05/oolong-breadth-and-depth/

    Here is a link to one of the stories, from here you can browse the others as well …. Cheers

  7. Not to be picky, but you didn’t say much about how to choose tea, how much to pay, the differences in quality, different benefits of different varieties.

    • True, I have links in this comment thread to a series of stories I wrote about tea in general, that would be useful so please follow them. I guess i have to do a follow up …

  8. I felt mildly aggrieved at the verbal smack down you received from the Fujian “guru”. Especially as mending huangya was an imperial tribute tea dating back to at least the Han dynasty and possibly even further back to the Zhou. Furthermore Mengding Gan Lu is oft served at official banquets for foreign dignitaries, surely a signal of it’s perceived quality. But hey don’t believe me Lu yu mentioned Sichuan tea in his classic text the cha dao.

    It seems to me that it was much more indicative of the ignorance of People from the eastern seaboard who constantly herald the superiority of anxi’s tie guan yin, mao feng or longjing.

    Not dissimilar to how new world wines are consistently underrated by old world connoisseurs.
    In my opinion you were most correct to bat for Sichuan as it were….

  9. 上千年来我们成就专业品质 山林与风雨 汗水与阳光 我们缔造天人合一的有机生态 历经长久岁月,我们收获健康饮品!http://www.tea942.com/

  10. Nice and instructive series of articles you linked in a comment, at least to me, a novice in the tea world. I’ll be going to Chengdu in few days and I am curious about the tea market, not only because of the tea but also about the market itself…love markets ;) And I was wondering if is it possible to…buy ‘consumer’ amounts of tea? buy tea without speaking a word of chinese? And, are the prices more competitive than a tea shop?
    Thanks in advance!

    • Hi Josep,

      Yes, you can usually buy any amount of tea that you’d like. Without speaking Chinese I think you’ll be able to manage, although I wouldn’t expect many people there to speak English. I imagine there must be a few, though. Even if not, everyone is pretty friendly and I think you’ll be okay.

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