To truly fit in with the Fujianese, you’ll need to raise your tea game. First, get to know the players. All tea comes from the same plant—camellia sinesis—but where it grows, how it’s picked, and how it’s processed makes all the difference. Some of the best in China are grown in regions not far from Xiamen: nearby Anxi 安溪 is celebrated for tieguanyin oolong 铁观音乌龙茶, while the area around Wuyishan 武夷山, one of China’s sacred mountains, produces some of the world’s finest black, oolong, and “rock” teas. You can sample prime varieties by exploring Xiamen’s smaller tea markets. First stop: the Tiancheng Market. We like to start things off at Yundun, where you can sample that light, verdant tieguanyin oolong. The brewer will typically offer the gaiwan lid (as a wine sommelier would hand over the cork) to let you inhale the scent, then examine the leaves. An aerated slurp reveals the tea’s intricate flavors and tannins. (It really is quite similar to wine tasting.) A few doors down, turn up the intensity at Tanchun, known for heavier, smoky rock and black teas. If you’re buying tea to bring home (and you absolutely should), allow time for your leaves to be packed up. While you wait, have the shopkeepers escort you to Xinbolin and search for a traditional tea set worthy of your finds. Continue your exploration of venerated Chinese art forms at the Yuxin antique mall, just a short ride away. It’s housed in an older, somewhat dingy-looking building, and doesn’t look like much at the outset, but give it a few spins on its multiple levels, where 120 vendors display precious jade, porcelain, and calligraphy. Once you land on a find, insistent bargaining is de rigeur, albeit with a friendly smile.
Tiancheng tea market is 20 minutes by taxi from Conrad Xiamen, and the antique mall is just a short taxi ride from the tea market.
TIANCHENG WHOLESALE TEA MARKET天成茶叶市场: Wushipu Nanlu, Huli district 湖里区乌石浦
YUNDIAN TEA (for oolong tea) 韵典茶业: 96 Wushipu Nanlu Zhonggang 1 Huayuan; +86-1366-603-9355; open 9 a.m.–10 p.m.
TANCHUN TEA (for black and rock tea)探春茶业: 100 Wushipu Erli Zhonggang Garden 1, Huli district; +86-1835-999-3337; open 8 a.m.–10 p.m.
XINBOLIN WHOLESALE TEAWARE 鑫博霖茶具批发: 66-67 Wushipu; +86-0592-525-9100.