Nothing better than a cup of tea for a coffee junky

10:16, January 05, 2011      

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When my plane touched down in Guangzhou in early November, I had no idea what time it was. My clothes were wrinkled, I was exhausted, and my side throbbed after being jabbed by my seatmate's sharp elbow for 17 hours.

I was hungry and groggy, and more than anything, I needed a cup of black coffee.

I am a caffeine junky. Without the jolt of coffee in the morning, and again in the afternoon, I flat line. And, having visited China twice before to study in Tianjin and work for the News Service at the Beijing Olympics, I knew that finding a genuine cup of black coffee in China can be tough.

So, when I landed in Guangzhou, I was prepared. I brought a jar full of caffeine pills and an expensive box of top-grade instant coffee.

An outgoing Asian Games News Service organizer greeted me at the airport and led me to a black Volkswagen. The driver was waiting, ready to take us to the media village, where I would work as a sub-editor and sports information specialist at the Asian Games.

The village was 75 minutes away on the flat, smooth road, and I spent the whole ride nodding off and jerking awake, desperate for a caffeine fix.

When we pulled up to the meticulously manicured media village, we immediately made for the cafeteria. The breakfast spread was vast. There were toast and eggs, shrimp dumplings, diced watermelon and rice porridge. There was a well-stocked juice-bar and coolers full of yogurt. What there wasn't, however, was brewed coffee.

Instead, there were instant coffee machines that spat out black sludge that might count for coffee in a pinch, but is far from premium. So, with the cafeteria counted out as a coffee spot, I made my next stop.

The McDonald's in the media village was always busy. When journalists were pressed for time, they'd grab a burger and fries or a chicken sandwich to take on the run. The cashiers spoke careful English and laughed, probably at the desperation in my eyes, when I asked them if they had coffee.

They did. They poured me a cup, stuck it in a long plastic carrying bag and topped it off with about four creams and sugars. I dumped the cream and sugars, took the coffee out of the bag and took a sip.

It was coffee, but barely. Maybe the coffee bean to water ratio wasn't golden or the pot had been warmed for too long. Either way, I knew my search had to continue.

And, for two more weeks, the frustration continued. I'd keep my eyes peeled for places that sold genuine coffee, but, inevitably, after trying a cup, sometimes costing up to 50 yuan ($7.59), I would be disappointed.

I drank all my instant coffee and began taking caffeine pills to keep steady.

But, even as I searched, I began drinking more Chinese tea. In a one-room teahouse near downtown skyscrapers, I bought a tin of Longjing and a round of Pu'er. I sipped the loose-leaf from a metal tea cup I'd bought for 20 yuan in a noisy alleyway.

Inside the main press center, there was a tea exhibition accompanied by beautiful ladies clad in qipao who would flatter me and let me drink cup after steaming cup of mellow red tea, its delicate, smoky flavor luring me in.

Slowly, my craving for coffee waned and at the end of my three weeks I was drinking nothing but tea.

And now, back in the United States, where coffee shops are a dime-a-dozen, I would kill for a clay pot full of true Chinese tea.

Source: China Daily(By Nick Compton)

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