It's been a busy few weeks, but it's great to be back in Blighty. Today, some notes on one of a couple of teashops that I've recently visited (one in London, one in Belgium).
Some excuses to go to London are more pleasant than others
I recently found myself in London, which is traditionally an excuse for me to visit TeaSmith. However, I understand (from Nada, I think) that there is a second teashop in London that sells real tea: Postcard Teas. Happily, it being situated in the very centre of London, I found myself being sent to an engineering event just around the corner from Postcard Teas.
While TeaSmith operates in the guise of a "tea bar", at which you can pull up a bar-stool and enjoy some gongfucha, Postcard Teas is geared towards just selling tea - it's more of a tea merchant's shop, rather than a teashop. Happily, the owner (Tim), was more than happy to fire up the kettle, get out a gaiwan, and make me feel at home. In fact, it's not really fair to say that it's not a teashop, as some of Tim's friends both before and after my arrival were sitting down at the shop counter drinking tea. Rather, it doesn't cater towards catering, if that makes sense.
It was great fun to visit Tim's shop. I was struck by just how small the teaworld really is - Tim knew TeaSmith's owner, John, and plans to sell Nada's pu'er cakes. I was impressed with the sporting, generous language he used to describe other tea-merchants; essentially, they represent his competition, and yet he referred to them as friends and colleagues. This struck me as very healthy, given the internecine struggles that characterise some markets (and in some areas of the tea-world).
Postcard Teas, and Tim, aren't really set up to sell pu'er, which Tim told me straight away when I asked for shengpu. Given the nature of off-the-street sales in London, this isn't surprising. Those few brave souls who ask to try pu'er are often nonplussed by its apparent aggressiveness, and invariably prefer the accessible delights of wulong, lucha, and the usual favourites.
That said, Tim previously spent a week in Yunnan, sourcing cakes from a local family (by the name of Liu). I am now the proud owner of a xiaobing (pictured below), of a very decent 2005 production. Thanks also to Tim's generosity in providing some fine samples to go alongside the cake.
(Tim: forgive me, I still haven't had time to box up your samples, though hope to do so within the next few week-ends. This goes for everyone else who is awaiting samples from me - apologies, as ever.)
In summary, Postcard Teas is a very decent place to get wulong and lucha. Of course, being in the centre of London, it's customer base isn't the usual Internet crowd, and it has overheads to support - and hence its pricing runs in accordance with that market. You won't find a great bargain (with respect to Internet sources) in a real teashop in the centre of a Western nation's capital, but you might find some good tea - and I did. Plenty of good tea, in fact.
More importantly, I enjoyed a highly pleasurable afternoon with Tim's good company.
Edit: Fans of the mahogany-upholstered, oak-panelled Chadao blog (and who isn't a fan?) will remember an article on Postcard Teas.