Tianshan Tea Market is a sprawling three-story market. The three floors contain mostly tea but there are also some random art and curio shops on the third floor.
Tea sellers are eager to talk to you about tea so if you can, go with a Chinese speaker. If you can't, just allow yourself plenty of time. Some of the vendors do speak a bit of English, at least enough to be understood. Be sure to sit and sample the teas, ask questions and learn about the different varieties. Among some of the famous teas available are Long Jing (green) tea from Hangzhou and Pu'er tea from Yunnan but different varieties and mixes abound. Prepare to bargain.
How to Visit a Tea Market
You can learn quite a lot about Chinese teas from tea-related tours. If you're interested in tea and learning about Chinese tea in particular, then it's very worth it to sign up for a tour with a tour agency that specializes in educational and cultural tours. If you just have an afternoon and want to browse around a market, then Tianshan Tea Market is a good one to start in.
Prepare Ahead of Your Trip
Do a little bit of homework before you visit - if you have time, it's not a bad idea to read a little about the different teas that come from China. It would be kind of disappointing if you go expecting to try Darjeelings and Pekoes only to find they're not available when you go to the market because they're not from China!
There are a lot of delicious teas that come from China. All have health benefits. Here are a few for your consideration:
- Oolong Tea: Oolong, also spelled Wulong, is a kind of black tea that has a number of varieties. Famous varieties come from Fujian Province.
- Green Tea: You've not had green tea until you've tried delicious loose-leaf hand-roasted green teas from China.
- Fermented Tea: Pu'Er Tea is considered the first tea in China and is processed using fermentation.
- Flower Teas: these are fun blends of teas that are sold in little balls. They open in hot water and form a kind of blossom. You might see them in glasses on the displays of the tea vendors. These aren't considered classic teas but they are fun and tasty souvenirs.
Allow Enough Time
If you're just making a dash for some souvenir tea, then maybe the market isn't the best place to go as it really does require a bit of time. Vendors expect customers to sit and taste the teas, even have a little chat. So if you can manage this, do allow 2-3 hours to wander through the market, taking your time to stop into shops and sitting down to try.
While there is some expectation that you buy something if you've sat for a long time, it's not required. But take this into consideration. When you've figured out what kind of tea is for sale, then make a decision first before you sit down, if you're at least interested in buying that kind of tea. If you know you're not, then don't sit. But if you think you might, then do. Sit, try the teas and decide what you like. It is likely that the tea vendor will serve you tea gongfu cha style, which requires a little ceremony.
Decide What You Like and Make Your Purchases
Teas are sold loose (except for some Pu'er teas which are sold in round disks) so you'll buy tea by the 50g or 100g. So the price the vendor will quote will be for the minimum unit. You can bargain in these stores, and there's no harm in trying. But some premium teas, like da hong pao oolong tea (大红袍乌龙茶), are quite expensive, so if you find the price astronomical, you might ask if they have a lower grade of the same tea.