On Saturday I ate lunch at Mei Long Village, then visited a tea shop praised by C. Thi Nguyen in "Magic Pots," an article devoted to Chinese teas and tea vessels that appeared in the food section of the Los Angeles Times on Wednesday, 17 April 2002. Valley Tea and Coffee, run by Lin Maoxiang and her husband, is quite unprepossessing: the number of teas sold is small, all are from Taiwan, no gaiwans were for sale, the place is unornamented and drab. But as best I can tell the teas are quite fresh and of very high quality. (And the shop should have some gaiwans for sale in a fortnight or so.)
Maoxiang is a tiny Taiwanese woman of Hakkan descent who started out working in the tea business in Taiwan but has been living in California long enough for her children to grow up here. (Her daughter is a high school senior with her sights set on UCLA.) Alert, vivacious and utterly unpretentious, Maoxiang admitted that she had briefly attempted the use of the gaiwan ("The experience of drinking fine tea out of a gaiwan," enthused Thi in his article, "is extraordinary.") but found it awkward ("My hands are too small," she explained); she uses a cheap aluminum teapot with a removable strainer that makes cleaning easy. My questions about appropriate temperatures for green teas and oolong struck her a bit much, I think--like all Chinese tea drinkers I've ever met, she pours boiling water right into her pot. She has yet to get used to having Vietnamese philosophers sit on her counter.
The following green and oolong teas are sold at Valley Tea and Coffee: jasmine (xiangpian), pouchong (qingcha), iron Buddha (tieguanyin), dragon well (longjing), oolong. In virtually every case there are two grades, one priced at twenty-one dollars per pound, the other at forty-two. I bought some especially expensive pouchongI think it cost sixty-some per pound. ("Cup" wrote that this tea has a "beautiful pure sweetness," but Ive never encountered a Taiwanese tea that Id call sweet. I find pouchong to be quite close to oolong in flavor.) Such prices are not cheap compared to the price of 99 Ranch tea but they are well below what one pays for the very fancy teas at such places as Chinatowns Wing Hop Fung (727 North Broadway, second floor; Los Angeles, 213.626.7200), an excellent tea shop where I bought very good Fenghuang dancong milanxiang (a delicious black tea) in March.
For a good, but not comprehensive, list of Chinese tea shops, consult www.chinese-e-search.com or pick up the printed version of the 2003-2004 Chinese E-Search Yellow Pages. I got mine in front of the 99 Ranch Market in the big mall at Del Mar and Valley (northwest corner) in San Gabriel. There is also a list of tea shops at the end of This article.
Valley Tea & Coffee (Chinese name Hua2 tai4 ming2 cha2)
1101 West Valley Boulevard, No. 103
(just west of the southwest corner of Atlantic & Valley)
The meal at Mei Long Village was good. Steamed vegetable dumplings (#159; $4.95 for eight), house special beancurd (#117; $7.50), fried beancurd with black mushroomthis is kaofu (#3; $6.50), eggplant with basil (#108; $7.50), fried beancurd skin with double mushroomthis is shuang gu fuzhu (#123; $7.50), and Shanghai chow mein (#130; $5.50). Best of the lot were the dumplings, suffed with finely chopped greens and mushrooms, and the eggplant, which was almost meltingly soft and pleasingly sweet. Note that the flavors in all the dishes listed are restrained and that the kaofu was oddly dry (Ive never eaten kaofu in Shanghai, so I cant judge this versions authenticity).
Mei Long Village
301 West Valley Boulevard, No. 112
(between New and Del Mar, on the north side of the street)
Open seven days 11:30 am to 9:30 pm
The numbering system for Valley Boulevard begins over again each time the street enters a new municipality. Alhambra has its own East and West Valleys, as does San Gabriel; as a result, Mei Long Village and Valley Tea & Coffee are much further from each other than youd expect. When looking for an address on Valley Boulevard, always keep in mind which city the address is in.