22 March, 2010

A Tale of Two Teashops

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.

12 comments:

Kim said...

What a cute wrapping for tea :)...

Have you had time to start digging into our teas, yet :) ??

Asiatic Fox said...

Wow, I have to agree with Kim. That's a pretty fancy wrapping.

P.S. I ordered some samplers from Hou De:
85~88 Xia Guan "Black-Labelled CIB" Jia-Ji Toucha, 10g sample

and

70's Aged Liao Fu San Cha, Loose Uncooked, 20g sample

I hope it doesn't take them long to get here. Probably 2-3 weeks because the US mail is slowww. Can you tell me anything about the kinds I ordered? I don't really know tea like this (what I refer to as 'real' tea). I'm curious to know whether I chose good teas.

-Fox

Kim said...

Fox,

I know the Liao Fu, it's not a real
fake because it doesn't claim to be
a yunnan pu, but for me it is a kind of a "wannabe"...it's bitter
and in no way like a real old pu (how could it be for THAT price ?!)

Hobbes said...

Dear Kim,

It is a pretty one! It's only 100g, so I feel scared to open it.

As much as I long for a good tea session at home, it remains elusive. Maybe the week-end after next... we're getting so very dangerously close! I have so very much tea to catch up on, and couldn't help but eye the new Houde Xizihao samples...


Dear Fox,

My notes on the Xiaguan can be found here - it's a good place to start. Age has been kind to it, and I'm sure that you'll have a great session or two out of it.


Toodlepip,

Hobbes

Kim said...

Hobbes,

well, well...although I promised my soon-to-be-wife and
Even more myself not to buy any more tea or tea stuff
before our wedding, I couldn't resist and bought
the XZH Samples :)...

If they are as promised I will try to fetch them in
Taiwan where we will have our Honeymoon...

Matt said...

Hobbes,

Didn't yet get a chance to congratulate you on all the wonderful change in your life. A new house, degree, a baby on the way, and even a new look for the Half-Dipper.

Wonderful change indeed!

Peace

corax said...

dear hobbes

thanks for your kind words about CHA DAO; as i hope you know, the admiration goes in both directions -- THE HALF-DIPPER is tip-top! and, i might add, more beautiful to behold than ever.

cheers
corax

Hobbes said...

Dear Kim,

"Every law and every positive injunction
is broken every day without compunction
for love."

This includes injunctions against buying pu'er!

If you're buying XZH directly from Taiwan, you know I'm interested. :)


Dear Matt,

Thanks very much! "A change is as good as a rest", they say. While I'm not getting much rest, I am getting a lot of change. I'll drink to many good changes for all of us.


Dear Professor,

Most kind, and far too generous, as always.


Toodlepip all,

Hobbes

David said...

Hello,

Being a french tea fan, my last stay in London gave me the opportunity to go and visit both Teasmith and PostcardTeas.

I totally agree with what you say about Tim's place. I happened to spend a wonderful afternoon other there, tasting his wonderful selection of Wuyi yan cha, among other things. I also witnessed the arrival of the new bings of Menghai 7542 from 1993. Exquisite.

The atmosphere other there is very friendly. It is a pleasure to discuss with Tim. He has, as you mention, the utmost respect for his colleagues and tea in general. A real pleasure.

By the way, I love your blog, always have.

Bye.

Asiatic Fox said...

Hobbes,

I emailed your gmail address. It autoresponded saying that it was your secondary email address and that you don't check it very often. Would it be possible to get your main email address?

Thanks,
Fox

Nicolas said...

Hello,
I lived in Belgium.
What is the second teashops whom you visited in Belgium?
Thank you
Nicolas

Hobbes said...

Dear David,

Thanks for your generous comment - it's a distinct pleasure to come across a first comment from a long-time reader.

I'll have to go back to Postcard Teas to try the 1993 cakes, as they weren't around when I was there. It sounds like something to which I should look forward!


Dear Asiatic Fox,

Thanks for the note - I'll reply from my main account. Your e-mail was sitting there in my gmail account, accurately filtered out from thousands of spam messages by the rather good Gmail filters!


Dear Nicolas,

Stay tuned! I'm working on that article :)


Best wishes,

Hobbes