"Tea Ceremonies and the Mid-Lake Tea Pavilion" Shanghai Shi Things to Do Tip by RockyDaniels
Shanghai Shi Things to Do: 95 reviews and 155 photos
Tea ceremonies are tied to a lot of scamming of tourists; go to the wrong tea ceremony and you're likely to end up with ridiculous bills and angry shop owners hoovering over you when you protest. It's easy to get caught up by these operators; all it takes is your willingness to be friendly to friendly strangers that approach you on the street. My experience is that the Chinese of Shanghai are NOT very friendly nor are they at all outgoing with strangers. So a friendly person who strikes up an unsolicited conversation should make you more wary. If that friendly person invites you to a "special tea ceremony", I'd skip it. You've just encountered one end of a wide spectrum of tea shop experiences.
At the other end of the spectrum are the neighborhood tea shops where people gather, talk and play board games (Maj Jong, most likely).
Moving back towards (but well shy of) the other end of the spectrum are the tea shops in popular tourist locales (like Shanghai Old Road or the Yu Yuan Bazaar). These tea shops offer free tea tasting in return for your sitting through a sales presentation. They're trying to sell you tea and they have some compelling presentations; there are a LOT of different teas which they claim have miraculous medicinal value. You could spend a few 100 RMB for 1/2 a kilo of tea which might or might not be the type of tea they claim, might or might not have the medicinal benefits claimed and might or might not be entirely legal to import. Who knows what you're getting? But it is a fun and educational experience.
I went to 2 tea ceremonies and recommend both. The first was at the Mid-Lake Tea Pavilion (Huxingting Teahouse) in the middle of Yu Yuan Bazaar. This cost me 120 RMB and was well worth it. It offered a place of calm and (relative) quiet to sit down in the midst of the riot that is the Yu Yuan Bazaar. For reasons unclear (120 RMB?), there weren't many patrons the morning I was there. But, for 120 RMB, I enjoyed a tea service in a place visited by Bill Clinton, Queen Elizabeth and Jimmy Carter. That was high enough endorsement for me to give it a try. It also gave me a nice view of the Yu Yuan lake crowds. And I learned how to make Chinese Longjing tea. I've been a tea dolt for the past 2 years trying to make it at home. The experience of watching how it is done eliminated the nasty tannins of my home brew. There are tricks. It was fun and educational experience that, for 120 RMB, included a nice pile of odd looking but very tasty tea tidbits. See the pictures.
My second tea house experience was closer to the opposite end of the spectrum in that it was a sales pitch for blended medicinal teas. This tea house is in the Yu Gardens and claims to have been a tea house for 100 years and more. They do a free tea service/ceremony which included an English guide who explained to me what I was trying and what the medical benefits would be. We started off with a tea to benefit obese people, the nicely named "Obese Peoples Tea". Then we moved on to a combination of a Nepalese tea and something else that, combined, would prevent brain hemorrhages and enliven your day (I guess, eliminating the 1st benefits the 2nd). The Nepalese tea was a flower tea where 1 bud was dropped into water which was agitated repetitively until the flower rehydrated a bit and opened up into the original blossom. I'm really not much of a tea person but I was duly impressed. It was quite pretty. They offer 10 different medicinal teas. Based on the benefits you're seeking, they'll combine whatever you wish into 500 gram batches for 200 RMB (about $35). I didn't go for it (though the obese people tea was tempting) but did come away with a greater appreciation of the ceremony and purposes surrounding tea.
A tea ceremony is definitely worth experiencing. At the very least, you'll learn what specific teas are really supposed to taste like.
Address: Yu Gardens
Directions: It's at the rear, west-most corner of Yu Gardens and would be pretty easy to miss if you're not looking for it (and the sales people wandering the gardens don't find you).
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