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Hankou Tea Market

Source: Changjiang Weekly 03/18/2016 04:03:52

Everybody knows that China is famous for tea. Significantly less people know that Wuhan has served as a wholesale tea market for centuries. The local tea trade traditions can still be seen at the Hankou Tea Market located near Exit A and Exit B of Metro Line 1's Chongren Road Station. The market starts at the exits and can be easily identified by the decorative archways and doorways of the small shops packed with tea.

The Hankou Tea Market is one of great historical significance. After Hankou opened as a port for international trade in the nineteenth century, it quickly became one of China's most important points for the export of high-quality tea. At that time, a number of piers along the Han River were dedicated commercial tea ports. Hankou's central location and convenient access to major trade routes made it possible for Hankou to acquire tea from many different provinces and send them out to distant ports and trading centers. Using the Han River and the Yangtze River, as well as advantageous land-based trade routes, the Hankou Tea Market was able to send tea to Xinjiang, Russia, and a number of places in Europe.

Today, the Hankou Tea Market is an exhibition, a tea tasting site, and a vending spot. Unlike the big markets in my country, there is no grand pavilion. The Hankou Tea Market is a collection of small shops that sell tea leaves, dishes, toys, and other tea paraphernalia. The pride of the various vendors are their individual tea collections, which feature carefully-selected tea from different manufacturers. While some of the leaves are fresh, some are old; I believe that tea, like cognac, tastes better with age. Prices vary greatly depending on the type of tea you hope to buy and how the shopkeeper feels about the size of your wallet. For people on a budget, it is still possible to get what you need. One jin, 500 grams, of decent tea sells for RMB 150-200. The required amount of tea for a tea ceremony composing about two to three people is only five to eight grams. This means that tea for a single tea ceremony can be purchased for just RMB 2. You can make tea in a small ceramic bowl with a lid, gaiwan (prices start at around RMB 20), or you can choose to make it in an "easy pot," which has a button that allows water to pass from the upper part to the lower part (prices start at around RMB 35). Cups vary in price. I'll leave it to you to find out how much they cost. I hope you are feeling curious!

High-quality Chinese tea is considered as an excellent gift for partners, colleagues, and employers; it is regarded as a luxury item. To make sure that consumers have time to pick out the perfect gift to solidify the intended guanxi, shops remain open from 10:00 A.M. to 10:00 P.M. The streets nearby are filled with karaoke bars and massage parlors; there are also a few hotels for those who want to stay overnight. As a frequent Taobao user, I noticed that many online shops temporarily suspend their services during the Spring Festival. Many offline shops, after selling out the last of their inventory, do the same. The Hankou Tea Market is different. It stays open throughout the Spring Festival. One of the shopkeepers told me that business was just too good to close.

The shopkeepers at the Hankou Tea Market are friendly to everyone. It doesn't matter how much you buy or if you buy at all. If you choose to visit, you will most likely spend the majority of your time tasting tea and exchanging smiles and pleasantries with the vendors. All the shops are equipped with tea tables, which are used to introduce the various products to customers. Don't be shy. You are welcome to sit and drink. Sampling the tea doesn't mean that you are required to buy it. If you don't find what you are looking for, you can leave. What makes this place great is that it offers visitors the chance to enjoy Chinese culture in action.