Wednesday March 29, 2006

Aside from having Tea Heaven, Beijing is also home to lots of teahouses of various kinds. The one I went to near the Confucian Temple is one of them, but there are many others. On the street outside the archives, for example, there are three. I’ve never been to any of them, and from the looks of it, neither has anybody else. They always look perpetually closed or empty. That also seems to be the case at the majority of teahouses around the city.

While they do share the common trait of being almost perpetually empty, they do differ a lot in substance, I think. I say I think, because aside from the Confucian Temple teahouse, I’ve never actually taken tea anywhere else. I have went into a few, only to come right back out for one reason or another.

The most common reason is that they are simply WAY TOO EXPENSIVE. There’s a teahouse in Jianwai SOHO (yes, the location should tip me off that they charge extortionate prices). It’s nice decorated, with a cute menu made in the style of those Han Dynasty scrolls. The prices, though, isn’t so attractive. The cheapest thing you can get there is over 100 RMB, and the most expensive, which is some sort of aged puerh (no specification) is 1688 RMB a serving. Now, say they give me 7 grams for that serving (rather generous). Then, say the cake is 360 grams total. That prices the whole cake at a cost of about 86000 RMB. While good, aged puerh does cost a lot, at 86000 RMB you gotta give me a real Tongqinghao 同慶號 or Songpinghao 宋娉號 teas for it to be worthwhile (these are really old teahouses that are no longer in existence but made fantastic teas — or at least became fantastic as they aged for over 60 years). That is probably not what they’ve got in store for me though, so no go.

Another problem is smoking. I went into this teahouse near where I’m staying, and it looks nice and all. The prices are high, but not as high as the place in Jianwai SOHO. The biggest problem is that the people who were there were all smoking, and they all look like your typical suits in China who have more company money to spend than they know what to do with, so they go tea drinking. Needless to say, smokes really detract from the experience, so I left pretty quickly. It didn’t help that the menu was even more ambiguous than the place at Jianwai SOHO. They want 800 RMB for a “puerh tea king 普洱茶王”. What’s that? No idea…

So, I guess I should go to more teahouses and look at them and find the ones that are actually nice, serious about tea, and don’t charge you an arm and a leg. That might be hard to find though.


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