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Savoring Tea in Beijing

Time:2008-10-07   Source:

Chinese tea culture is among the best of Chinese culture. The tea ceremony is a very profound and complex thing, and it seems that only with a pure heart and few worldly desires can a man get its quintessence.

However, for the common people, at least those in Beijing, such a state free from vulgarity can never be attained. Therefore, the teahouses in Beijing, different from those in other places, have never been places of peace and quiet. Instead, they are always hustling and bustling. Perhaps this has something with the Beijingers’ disposition: fearful of quiet, and fond of communication, especially that of group chatting. Hence, the teahouses provide perfect venues for them to gather together and talk of everything under the sun with great gusto.

  Teahouses in Old Beijing

The Beijing teahouse came into vogue in late years of the Qing Dynasty(1644-1911), with a great variety, such as green-tea, book-telling, wild, and wine teahouses.

Green-tea Teahouse

The green-tea teahouses, which were among the best in old Beijing, served as resting places for the aged people and rich spoiled children after walking their birds in the morning, and for merchants to discuss business matters over a meal at noon.

Teahouses of this type were usually simply yet elegantly furnished, with square tables and wooden chairs, focusing their business on selling tea, which was usually served in a covered tea bowl. In spring, summer, and autumn, shelter would be set up outdoors or in the courtyard. As a rule, those regular customers sat inside the teahouse, while the infrequent guests sat under the shelter. Private seats were available in the courtyard. Only top quality Chinese green tea, such as the brands of Mao Jian, Yuqian (Before the Rain), and Queshe (the tongue of a sparrow), was served in this type of teahouses.

In the morning, most of the frequenters to these teahouses were aged people, who got up very early for morning exercise. After that, they would pay a visit to the teahouse, and have a small talk with other teahouse-goers. From time to time, the teahouse owners would come up with some creative ideas to attract customers. For example, some of them would organize the so-called "Meeting of Birds," and send invitations to those bird-raisers, who would often be willing to come and talk about their bird-raising experience.

By the noon, when the aged people had gone home for a rest, another group of customers, mostly business people, visited the teahouse, and talked about their business over a cup of tea.

Book-reading Teahouse

In old Beijing, book-reading teahouses were also very popular. In such teahouses, drinking tea was only a sideline, while listening to the storyteller (or book reading) or watching the Quyi(a traditional Chinese art form combining storytelling with music and performances) performances was the main event.

There were usually two performing periods: daytime and nighttime. During the day, the book reading or Quyi performance began at 3:00 - 4:00 pm, lasting for three to four hours until 6:00 - 7:00 pm. An hour later, the night shift started, which would last until midnight. Sometimes, there might be a mid-day performance between 1:00-3:00 pm.

Tea was sold prior to the beginning of the book reading or Quyi performances, but not after. Besides, it took money to listen to the reading, usually one copper coin for a chapter on average.

Acting as a link between tea and literature, the book-reading teahouses were most proper for the aged people, who could not only gain historical knowledge, but also achieve the purpose of entertainment and relaxation.

Wild Teahouse

Beijingers were fond of going on excursions to the suburbs throughout the year. In the places they most frequented, wild teahouses appeared. This kind of teahouses was almost always located in the suburbs bestowed with beautiful scenery, serving as a venue for both play and rest. The tables and chairs were usually very simple, with commonplace tea being sold instead of "Long Jing" or "Mao Jian." The enjoyable part about wild teahouses was the intoxicating countryside scene and flavor.

Wine Teahouse and Others

Wine teahouses, which, as the name indicates, sold tea and wine at the same time, were usually on a small scale, just providing a place for people to have a talk.

There were also chess teahouses, which were good places for play chess while enjoying tea. At any rate, people from all walks of life could find the proper teahouse for themselves. As a book once pointed out, the teahouses in fact had transformed from an entertainment venue for the rich people to a shelter from the reality for the perplexed and poverty-stricken people. For the most loyal of regular teahouse customers, enjoying each other’s company in a relaxing atmosphere counted more than anything else.

In the 1930s, the outdoor teahouses in Zhongshan Park becamewent extremely famous, gradually replacing the traditional indoor teahouses. Beijingers were allowed to enjoy their tea in the park, which used to be limited to the royal members.

Nevertheless, after the founding of the Republic of China in 1911, the teahouses in Beijing as a whole began to go downhill, due to the whole country suffering from a great economic depression and social turmoil. Under such circumstances, it was hard to maintain the teahouses, which were operated with a small capital and little profit. By the time of the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949, there were only several teahouses left in Beijing.

  Famous Teahouses in modern Beijing

Savoring tea is an absolute enjoyment. In recent years,teahouses have sprung up in Beijing and have attracted an increasing number of customers with their exquisite tea wares, pleasant surroundings, and fabulous tea ceremony shows. While indulging in the joy brought on by the color, fragrance, and taste of tea, one may also feel submersed in the traditions of Chinese tea culture.

Lao She Teahouse

Established in 1988, the Lao She Teahouse is named after the famous Chinese author, Lao She, and is a traditional teahouse that is characteristically old Beijing. Located at Qianmen West Street, where many time-honored shops and restaurants stand, it is endowed with a touch of antiquity. When one enters the teahouse, couplets of traditional Chinese paintings and calligraphy come into view. Palace lanterns are hung from the ceiling, and old-styled Baxian tables (square tables for eight people) can be found.

At Lao She Teahouse, not only can the customers enjoy top quality tea, but also can have a taste of the local flavor of old Beijing, experiencing one of the pastimes enjoyed by old Beijingers. Traditional snacks served at Lao She Teahouse include: sweet biscuits, sweet dough twists, crispy fried noodles, sweet ears, sugared glutinous rice cakes, and other delicious treats. There are altogether over 20 different types of snack for people to savor and enjoy. The teahouse also offers a variety of performances such as tea ceremonies, Beijing opera,acrobatics, and magic shows.

Wufu Teahouse

The Wufu (Five Happiness) Teahouse is the largest teashop in nowadays Beijing. Since its establishment in 1994, it has opened 12 chain stores, with every store having a tranquil setting, the aroma of tea, and the melodious music being played on traditional stringed and woodwind instruments, all of which charms anyone walking through the doors.

At Wufu, customers can taste various famous teas from around China. The tea is usually infused with purified water in purple-sand teapots, a kind of teapot unique to China. While savoring tea, customers can also enjoy tea ceremony performances and the making of purple-sand teapots.

Wufu’s chain stores are situated in different areas around Beijing, including Fuwai Street in the Xicheng District, Xueyuan South Road in the Haidian District, and Jianguomennei Street in the Dongcheng District. Opening hours are between 12:00 at noon to 2:00a.m.

MingrenTeahouse

The Mingren Teahouse, set up in 1997, has opened seven chain stores in Yuetan, Guanyuan, Chongwenmen, Hepingli, and other places in Beijing. The teahouse features quiet and elegant surroundings composed of miniature ponds and bridges, birds, fish, chessboards, paintings, and traditional Chinese stringed and woodwind instruments. Away from the hustle and bustle of the world, Mingren provides a locale for family gatherings, friendly chats, and business talks.

Author: Jessie