Wanna a cup of tea?
Tea is definitely the national drink in China and the Chinese trust its healthy properties. Traditionally, regions where you will find the best quality re mainly located in the South-East part of China, where the ate is milder, which guarantees a high quality tea. According to the varieties of quality, rarity, essence, and price, several types of tea are distinguished.
Tea categories are divided as follows: black tea, green tea, white tea, oolong tea, pu’er tea, etc.
But how to choose the right one? There are some suggestions which may help you in choosing one:
Generally, new tea-leaves look fresh and may be light or dark green. If some of the tea-leaves have dark brown colour, it may mean that the tea inside is oxidized and it is old tea.
New tea has nice fragrance and a strong fragrance suggests a high quality of the tea. Normally, when tea is considered “old”, its fragrance and scent are quite weak
Each type of tea has its organoleptic properties, thus the flavour varies according to the type of tea. New tea is extremely clear and transparent while old tea normally has brown colour and weak taste.
Every tea-leaf has its own shape: you may find dried leaves, rolled leaves and there is even a very scenographic type of tea called “hua cha” (花茶) where tea flowers open up when pouring hot water into the cup.
Take into account that you may be approached by some local people who offer you a free taste session of Chinese tea. If you do not intend to be charged a huge amount of Renminbi, it is better to decline this kind offer, since it is not a fair one.
There are quite a few legends about the smuggling of silkworms from China to Western countries. The most reliable one says that two monks stole silkworms by hiding them in a stick and travelled to Europe (5th Century AC). The Chinese were very jealous of silk which guaranteed long and large-scale commercial exchange, and therefore heavy trade traffic, with western countries.
Nowadays, Chinese silk is a more common commodity, but it remains a nice present to bring back. Make sure to purchase good quality silk. You can identify good silk fabric by taking it into your hands and observing the colours: good quality silk has bright shine (not too glimmerng) and strong but moderate texture. Moreover, the pattern is visible on the front side, while on the back side it only has the outline of the pattern. Last but not least, you may also find someone who will intend to show you the good quality of his/her shop products by burning a corner of the fabric: the fibre of real silk will burn and it will smell like burning hair, while synthetic fabric will burn by producing black smoke and smell like burning plastic.
A piece of ancient China at home
It would be nice to bring home souvenirs that are valuable and original pieces of Chinese art, but right now it is quite hard to find a product that can be purchased legally: prices are rising and the original objects are rare.
Make sure to buy a souvenir from a shop owned by the government and that the antiques you bought carry a wax seal indicating that it is authentic and authorized to be exported from China.
Remember that antiques dating from before 1795 cannot be legally exported, since they are a part of Chinese heritage; therefore keep the receipts for your purchases and show them to the customs when leaving China.
You may purchase porcelain, cabinets, frames but always keep the receipt of the purchase that contains the declared value.
Almost all around China you will also have the chance to purchase authentic pearls and jade, but you won’t find the price as cheap as you might think.
Chinese pearls are mostly cultured pearls that normally are exported all over the world and as a matter of fact the cost can be 5 to 6 times cheaper in comparison to European prices.
You can also find sea pearls, which usually come from Japan or Polynesia (and even from Chinese sea), but their price is quite high.
Shapes, colours and dimensions vary so significantly that choosing the right pearls for yourself will be difficult.
Obviously, you will find good quality pearls all around China: the most famous place in Beijing is Hongqiao Market 红桥珍珠市场, but we recommend that you ask a trustworthy persons about where you can find a reliable shop.
You may recognize jade by its colour (which should be rich and pure), translucent (bight, but the colour may turn from pale to dark green), clarity (it should have as little spots and scratches as possible)
The most famous jadeite is Hetian Jade from Xinjiang region, and high quality jade is also from the Yunnan region.
In any case, don’t feel uncomfortable to ask for a different product or a customized product. The shop assistant will show you products according to your request.
Pianyi yi dianer ba! 便宜一点儿吧！
Bargaining can be considered as a national sport in China. Be ready to bargain in most of the shops on any goods you want to buy.
Normally the price is quite high, so expect to spend at least 15 minutes of your time to obtain a reasonable price, but do not forget that if you ask for a huge discount, the shop assistant will have to ask the owner for an authorization.
When the owner does not agree on the price you proposed and remains firm on the price he asks for, then the bargaining session is closed: it is up to you whether or not you want to accept it. Just keep in mind that it may be only a matter of a few yuan.
Last but not least, sometimes in the shop windows you may find advertisements referring to discounts and sales, but the Chinese system of discounts is exactly the opposite of the western system. This means that the discounted items are marked with numbers next to a Chinese character (折) which indicates the true percentage of the original price that you have to pay. I.e., if the original cost is 100 Yuan, on sale you will find the text “8折”, which means that you have 20% discount on the original price (100-20), thus you need to pay just 80 Yuan.