Tea on the Train in China

I often travel by train throughout China, and it's an interesting experience every time. The best way to travel is by soft sleeper class, or ruan wo (軟臥). Then, you can travel in style in a 4-bed cubicle compartment. But that's if you're lucky enough that there are still seats available. The next best is hard sleeper class, or ying wo (硬臥). Then, you will share bunk space with a whole train car of Chinese travellers - which is quite exciting - because you never know who you are going to meet. And often, you can pass the time chatting it up with your fellow travelers.

Just about every train car has at one end a hot water dispenser. And there are thermal carafes of hot water in each compartment for travelers to use. These are very handy - since food on the train is a little expensive; and most travelers prefer to bring their own instant noodle cups to eat on the train. And many travelers also bring their own travel cups - which they fill with hot water from time to time - to steep whatever kind of tea they happen to be drinking. Some people who travel as a group will even bring a piao-i cup and steep tea for the group.

Before travelers board the train, each thermal carafe in each compartment is quickly filled by the train attendants. Most travelers seldom use these though. Instead, they prefer to go directly to the water dispenser, and get piping hot water themselves. It's a little tricky to negotiate the aisles with a noodle cup full of hot water though.

If you're filling up your tea cup, always make sure to bring the lid along, and secure it tightly. The interesting trick though, is to not scald your fingers as you open the tap on the dispenser. With the jerking movements of the train, it's kind of hard to not scald the fingers.

Each train seems to be different in how the water temperature is adjusted on those water dispensers. Some trains have a dispenser with a lower water temperature. When I traveled from Longyan, Fujian to Beijing, I brough along a really good packet of tieguanyin. And every steep just wasn't very good. The water temperature was too low.

But every time I traveled from Fuzhou or Longyan to Shenzhen, the water temperature on that train was quite hot. And tieguanyin would steep nicely.

Whatever the train, don't expect the tea to taste as good as a round of gongfu tea. In fact, it's best to bring along a cheaper, but still quite nice kind of tea to enjoy on the train.

Of course, if you get bored, or if you get hungry, you can always go to the dining car, and check out what they have on the menu. And if you're nice and ask for tea, the attendants will fill a cup for you to enjoy while waiting for your meal.

And if you're just not able to bring any tea or a travel tea cup, watch out for the snack cart. The girl comes around pretty regularly, and you can buy a bottle of iced tea or iced green tea. Of course, it's not really iced, and was never refrigerated. So don't expect a cold drink.

A bottle of tea typically costs 5 yuan. A noodle cup from the snack cart also costs 5 yuan.

A breakfast of rice congee, peanuts and pickled vegetables and a mantou (饅頭) is about 15 yuan. In the mornings, look for the cart of congee to pass by - if you want to eat breakfast.

A meal in the dining car is pricier. Expect each dish to run you about 35 yuan per dish. A bowl or two of rice is an extra cost.

And hot water from the water dispensers is free.

Fare on the trains is not the finest cuisine, but still palatable. The menu has a limited selection. But you can find dishes like stir-fried cabbage, steamed fish, fried egg omelet, mushroom soup, stir-fried beef and vegetables, etc.

Train stations also have a hot water dispenser for you to enjoy a noodle cup or two, or a cup of tea as you wait for the train to arrive in the departure hall. Look for all the people carrying noodle cups, and see where they're going to or coming from.

1 comment:

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