While in Vancouver, we hopped on the Skytrain over to Richmond on a rainy Saturday and paid a visit to the legendary and apocryphal, The Best Tea House Company, the only North American, Non-HK branch of a store(s) based in Hong Kong (sadly, I was unaware of it when in HK, and not even particularly up on pu-er at that time, being still infatuated with Taiwanese oolongs, blast it–not that I had any money at the time to spend on anything good).

Like it’s hyperbolic and somewhat funny name, it’s safe to say that The Best Tea House is probably the best tea shop I’ve been to outside of Asia, and echoes the great ones in China and Taiwan, in which knowledgable proprietors with decades into the business combine with excellent products. We were the only non-Chinese in the store. The head of this branch, Michael Fung, only opened up to me and allowed me to start tasting once it was clear that I was serious about tea (probably being able to speak some Chinese and reference my time abroad in China and Taiwan didn’t hurt, either). Amazingly, there is not a single yelp review for this place. Yes, this is the current state of tea outside of Asia; still so behind the times compared to how it is at the source, people here don’t even recognize the real thing when they see it or even know it’s there. There is much work to be done.

As more and more “guests,” arrived at the tasting table, English, Cantonese, and Mandarin were all spoken, and I felt as if I was back in Taiwan or China. I probed Mr. Fung’s mind for information and experience. Among other interesting tidbits, he told me some members of his family/company (the two are often separable when it comes to Chinese businesses) are currently pressing white tea cakes in Fujian,
“Just to see how it will turn out,” he wryly told me.
Exactly the sort of thing I like to hear.

Upon seeing a lone bing on the shelves imprinted with “Cloud’s Tea Collection,” I asked him about the famous tea blogger.

“That’s the only one we have, he gave it to us–he was a student at our store,” Mr. Fung plainly stated.
“Here, or in Hong Kong?” asked Chris.
“In Hong Kong. He is known for always walking around with a camera hanging from his neck, he would take pictures of everything!”
We laughed.
“And what about the cakes that he’s produced? What do you think of them?”
Mr. Fung slowly took a sip of his tea.
“A little better than average.”

I asked him about storage: Is it too dry in California, in his opinion, to store pu-erh well, compared to a more wet environment like British Columbia?
“I think by the coast in California is good, because you have the water, so there will always be some moisture in the air. You don’t need to do anything special..the best storage is just natural,” he emphasized.

At the end of it, tea drunk as we all were, (“If you drink too many teas at once, you will become lost, and forget where you are!”), he handed me his business card.
“Please come back when you are here and call me if you have any questions.”

Fond memories. And now I am making many more new fond ones with the bings I purchased.

First, the 2006 Mengku Da Xue Shan. I can find absolutely no information about this particular cake on the internet, nor is it even listed in The Best Tea House’s online store; searching for “2006 Mengku Da Xue Shan” in either English or the Chinese equivalent will only pull up images of a much lower priced, apparently much more common (and I assume, comparatively humdrum) cake, available at Yunnan Sourcing, among other vendors. This is most definitely, NOT that cake. No, this is a wonderful, magical cake, that retails for $170 Canadian and is well worth it.

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It smells of camphor and pear, and has a full body that permeates the whole mouth and down to the stomach, only mildly bitter, a bit sweet. Deep orange color. After my first session at home, I wrote, “I feel calm, happy, energetic, lingering taste.”
I found myself simply smiling out the window with every sip, at nothing and everything in particular. Are plants not miraculous?

The initial taste is almost reminiscent of good dancong or gaoshan cha, before becoming ever deeper, and sweeter and rounder as time goes on. Even after 10+ infusions there is still a powerful depth to the taste. When brewed longer than ideally, it doesn’t get unpleasantly bitter, just thicker, and slightly astringent.
Despite being the highest price bing I’ve ever bought, I’d say it was entirely worth it, and one of the best purchases I’ve made. This is a wonderful tea.

Then, the oddly named, 2007 五餅二魚 “5 Cake 2 Fish,” from Lincang material, made by The Best Tea House Co. itself, and a steal at $96 Canadian.

This unique tea is presented and recommended by Mr. Vesper Chan, Puer Quality Specialist

reads the text wrapping around the bottom of the wrapper. The quaint British-inflected Chingrish prose definitely transports me to Hong Kong, as does the taste:

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Bittersweet, alternately bitter and sweet-甘 “gan,” as Mr. Fung pointed out.
“For a long time I was searching for the right English words to describe this taste, bitter, and sweet. Then someone told me it is just ‘bittersweet,'” he chuckled.

It stays in the mouth for long time, and I can feel undulating waves of taste moving through me. A sweet scent comes from the cup, and strong warmth/qi enters the body like passing through a gate, entering and dispersing. At one point in sampling at the store, a lively member of the tasting table started removing multiple layers of clothing and wiping his bald head with a cloth, “very warm!” he said, and I also removed a sweater. Calm high.

I’ll be enjoying these two for a long time to come and looking forward to my next visit back to Vancouver and that special tea shop with the silly yet well-deserved name, The Best Tea House Company.

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