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Find Tranquility in Shanghai's Tea Houses

Jessica Esa

Contributor

For over five-thousand years taking pleasure in a cup of tea has been at the centre of Chinese culture and tea houses have been entwined in this ancient tradition for almost as long. While the number of coffee shops far surpass the tea houses in China these days, Shanghai’s tea houses continue to bustle with life. In a good tea house, the menu is often as extensive and detailed as you might expect the wine list to be in any fine French restaurant. Whether you’re looking to try the dark and earthy Pu’er tea, a tea from Yunnan province that grows in value with age, or are perhaps ready to delve into the subtle flavours of oolong you’ll soon discover ‘cha’ is very much an art form in China. So take it slow, enjoy the aroma, and delve into years of Chinese history at these Shanghai tea-houses.

Mid Lake Pavilion Tea House

One of the oldest teahouses in Shanghai, serving tea since 1855, Mid Lake Pavilion Tea House (also known as Huxinting Tea House) can be found at the entrance of Yu Gardens. It certainly looks the part with its two-storey traditional wood design, the zig-zag bridge extends deliberately from it in an attempt to keep out demons who prefer a straight route in. Many famous visitors to Shanghai have sat for tea within, including Queen Elizabeth II and Bill Clinton. 

The tea served here is of the highest quality; the flowering teas such as the Jasmine and Chrysanthemum blossoms are a particular draw and you’ll always find traditional rice cakes and preserved plums served daintily on the side. Mid Lake Pavilion also houses a resident orchestra meaning you can enjoy traditional music while you drink. Elegantly placed at the centre of the Ornamental Lake, visitors can enjoy views of the traditional Yuyuan Garden on one side and on the other a stark contrast, the Huangpu river and the distinctive skyscrapers of modern Shanghai.


Address: No 257, Yuyuan Lu, Yu Garden, near Fuyou Lu

Huxinting Tea House in Shanghai, China

Photographer: Travellight

Tingtai Teahouse

To imagine all of Shanghai’s teahouses as dark, wooden affairs would be a mistake, and this is never better-demonstrated than in the stylish Tingtai Teahouse. A contemporary space designed to encourage contemplation and reflection, features elevated tea rooms, a floating staircase, and private ‘rooms’ to drink tea in. They specialise in rare teas from around China, Pu’er fans will be excited to find teas that have been aged for thirty years onwards including the notable banzhang and bingdao teas. A tea ‘sommelier’ is always on hand to help customers pick the perfect drink and will prepare it in front of you in the traditional way. They also help pick the ideal snacks, always seasonal, to go with each choice of tea making this is an ideal experience for those who want to deepen their knowledge of both tea and drinking etiquette. A trip to Tingtai is a sensual experience above all else.


Address: 1/F, Bldg 3, 50 Moganshan Lu

Tingtai Teahouse in Shanghai, China

Photographer: Linehouse

Wanling Tea House

This multi-faceted tea establishment can be many things depending on how integrated you want to be with the tea culture of China. Named after the owner Wan Ling, who moved to Shanghai from Fujian and used her expertise from the tea-rich province to open Wanling Tea House. Set in a romantic lane house in the former French Concession, the tea house is separated into three rooms: the tea room itself which works with local farmers and offers some of the finest quality tea in China, a VIP room for tea lessons and pre-booked tea ceremonies, and a public tasting room. Many connoisseurs come to Wanling for their speciality oolong Tie Guanyin which goes through a long nine-step process before being ready to drink. They’re very happy to talk you through this process as they serve you meaning you leave not only refreshed but more knowledgeable than when you arrived. If you find a favourite here, then you order internationally from their online store allowing your tea journey to continue long after you leave.


Address: No 1, 619 Jianguo Xi Lu, near Gao'an Lu

Gun Fu Cha Tea Ceremony

Photographer: Alina_Stock

Zenjoy

Tucked within the romantic French Concession, this atmospheric tea house incorporates lush greenery in its design and looks out onto a tranquil garden and pond scene. The seating within Zenjoy is particularly unique as you can request booths partially submerged in the koi fish pond for a relaxing experience that transcends most tea house offerings. If you prefer your tea with a meal, rather than small snacks, Zenjoy is an ideal choice as they offer a select menu of traditional meals like tea eggs, beef noodles, and delicious tea-related desserts. The drinks menu is varied and house specialities include Longjing, a pan-roasted green tea from Hangzhou and Baihao Yinzhen, a particularly prized variety of white tea.


Address: 396 Dagu Lu, Near North Chengdu Lu

Chinese tea in a traditional ceremony

Photographer: Subbotina Anna

Old Shanghai Tea House

The Old Shanghai Tea House is everything you picture when you think of a traditional tea establishment, the striking antique wooden interior conjuring visions of Shanghai long past, helped along by shots of Shanghai during the colonial era lining the walls. As servers glide by, tray in hand, dressed in a traditional qipao, the intoxicating scent is second to none. Old Shanghai Teahouse has one of the widest selection of tea menus in Shanghai, with some less traditional choices like watermelon green tea alongside the more classic offerings. This is a popular haunt for visitors to Shanghai due to its central location and well-preserved aesthetic, so you’ll find that the menu is bilingual and they even offer alternative drinks for non-tea fans. Side-snacks include traditional pickled plums, sweet treats, and quails eggs mixed but also a wide choice from other parts of Asia.


Address: No. 385, Middle Fangbang Road

Chinese dried tea

Photographer: Vera Petruk

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