It was everything a semi-secret Chinese supermarket should be.
It sat quite a way back from the roadside, down a side-street, with a non too obvious, small, advertisement encrusted door that you could quite easily miss if you didn’t already know it was there.
Once over the threshold you found yourself inside a cavernous space, dimly lit by a lonesome skylight and a few low wattage light bulbs.
The staff almost always seemed to react with surprise when you went in, half astonished that their premises had been found.
Almost every single square inch of the floor space was used, hosting a maze of ground-to-ceiling shelving that left just enough room to squeeze by.
During one visit on a red-hot May afternoon, once my eyes had adjusted to the low light levels, I noticed something that had been pushed behind a stack of plates and bowls. I knew what it was, and yet to this day I cannot adequately explain how I knew what it was.
It was a Chinese tea bowl, a gaiwan.
After a cursory check to make sure that it wasn’t damaged in any way, I placed it into my basket.
I made my way to the tea section, and trusting to pot luck (pun intended!) dropped a packet of Oolong and a packet of Pu-erh alongside the gaiwan.
I now had to figure out how to use my new gaiwan.
After a bit of googling and rummaging around on YouTube, I happened across a gaiwan how-to instructional video by Zhuping Hodge of the Seven Cups tea house, which was enough to get me started…
…and the rest, as they say, is history.
That gaiwan was used every day, and played an integral part in my post-work, evening wind down routine.
Sadly, the story of my first gaiwan does not have a happy ending. It took a direct hit from a jar of turmeric that fell from a high shelf as a cupboard was opened. The lid was smashed, and the bowl badly chipped.
By this time the supermarket had relocated to new premises, a brightly lit sterile looking business unit, that felt like a hospital ward in comparison to the old place.
They no longer sold gaiwans.
Looking back, I have great affection for those days when I learned to handle Chinese teaware, and to appreciate Chinese teas. I will always treasure those memories of peaceful tranquillity when the sun began to set, and the only sound was the chiming of the lid on the bowl, as it gently coaxed out and evened up flavour from the waking leaves.