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.
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.
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?
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.
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:
View Buying Tea in Chengdu in a larger map