Tea is another thing that the two Vancouver chinatown offers a lot of. The tea culture is an age old culture, and lots of study goes into it. In fact, the old stories from China always portray old wise men drinking tea and playing chess. I wonder if tea is in fact associated with wisdom, and the more tea you drink, the wiser you become. Have to admit though that they rarely talk about women drinking tea, so I don’t know what that really means. Well, one doesn’t expect much from a culture that is so predominantly patriarchal.
In the old Chinatown, the Ten Ren tea company operates two stores just one block apart, one on Pender and one on Keefer in the heart of Chinatown. The tea shop is set up with one or two tea counters, where servers offer tea for your tasting, absolutely free. The tea is served in the traditional style, that is, very condensed, where a minuscule tea pot will be filled with tea leaves, then topped with just a small amount of water. Just to give you a point of comparison—usually, my tea server uses a whole bag of about 2/3 oz. of tea leaves for a sitting. At home, I can use the same tea bag about 5 times, each serving 4 individuals. The process goes as follows: the tea server heats up water, then pours hot water into the tea pot to warm it up (you don’t want to use cold tea pot as it won’t bring out the full flavor of the tea). She then pours in the tea, then close the lid and shakes the leaves inside the hot tea pot. She opens the lid, and asks each of the tea drinker to smell the tea. At that time, the heated but still dry tea leaves emits a distinct aroma that is characteristic of its where it was planted, the temperature and water content of the soil, the fermentation process, and the type of tea. In fact, tasting tea is not much different than tasting wines.
To be authentic, the first extract is used to coat the cups and to heat them up, and then thrown out. Then hot water is again poured into the little tea pot, and immediately poured into cups. The tea at first might taste a bit bitter, but invariably, a sweet aftertaste is your reward. It will give you a jolt like no other, well maybe for those of us who drink straight espresso—not the latte or mocha—it comes close. The server will keep serving as long as you are interested in drinking the tea. The sales pitch comes after you have indicated that you have had enough. But by that time, I can’t think of many who would leave without buying. And the tea prices in Vancouver are fairly favorable when compared to the same quality offered in the U.S.