14 Apr Hong Kong’s Best Tea Shop: The Fukien Tea Company
Hong Kong tea shop Fukien Tea Company is exactly what you imagine a Hong Kong tea shop should be. Dusty, peeling tin canisters decorate the shelves. A chubby white cat stretches upon a checkerboard tiled floor. Faded black and white photos line the walls. It is as if you’ve walked through a door that time travels you back into 1963.
In the back of the long, narrow space is a table surrounded by a built in bench, a few mismatched wooden chairs, and the man who is the reason why Hong Kong tea aficionados have Fukien Tea Company at the top of their lists. Patrick Yeung, now in his 70s (but he looks much younger) is one of the most knowledgeable tea masters in a city long known for its tea trade.
We met Master Yeung (in Cantonese we say Yeung sifu) more than ten years ago. We had often wandered past his little shop on the Sheung Wan side street, but were always a bit shy to walk in. But it was raining hard that Saturday afternoon, and the damp pushed us over the threshold. Yeung sifu was in his usual spot, sitting at his chair at the head of the tea table. The silver electric kettle at his right hand hissed away, filled with the bubbling 95-100C water that is necessary to get the proper brew for Fukien’s famous Pu-Er and baked oolong teas. Three other people sat around the table, waiting for Mr. Yeung to begin the tasting.
We hesitated–but Master Yeung immediately invited us to sit down and join the group. It would be the first of many, many sessions, and the beginning of our education in the ways of fine Chinese tea.
Fukien Tea Shop is more than 60 years old, and it has been in hands of the same family–and located in the same one block radius–for all that time. As you might guess from the shop’s name, the family is originally from Fukien province in mainland China, an area famous for its oolong teas like Wuyisan (Wuyi mountain tea). The specialty of the house here is oolong that’s been roasted (in a nearby location) for 60 hours. Roasting the tea turns it a deep brown and completely changes the color, flavor and texture of the finished brew. One of the highlights of a trip to Fukien Tea is the comparison tasting that Mr. Yeung presents.
First he’ll brew and pour you small cups of “regular” oolong tea, which is green and thin, with a slightly flowery fragrance at the first pour. This tea, he explains, is only slightly roasted, for just six hours. As you’re enjoying the layers of flavor in the oolong, that change and open up with each successive pouring, he brews a second batch of tea, the same leaves and plant, but this batch has been roasted for 60 hours. A smoky, intense aroma rises from the tiny porcelain cups, and Master Yeung eagerly watches his guests’ faces to see their reaction as they sip the heady brew.
The contrast is amazing. It can’t be the same tea, yet it is. The taste is as different from the 6 hour oolong as a burgundy is from a pinot noir.
We count ourselves fortunate and grateful to have learned so much from Yeung sifu about tea in many sessions, over many years. Some of the things we’ve learned include: Why you shouldn’t drink jasmine tea with a meal (and why jasmine tea is a bad choice of purchase in a serious tea shop). What teas are most popular with Hong Kong people, and why. How tea is good for your health–but only if you drink the tea that is right for you.
The most important thing we’ve learned is that tea is a great way to share. It soothes and encourages people to converse, relax and laugh. It is an essential part of Hong Kong and its culture.
Visiting Master Yeung is a great privilege that we are honored to share with Little Adventures in Hong Kong’s guests. If you book our Essential HK tour, and are interested in making a stop at the remarkable Fukien Tea Shop, let us know when you make your booking.