The quaint and tranquil world of Chengdu's tea culture
You’ve done the panda reserve and tasted the legendary spicy Sichuan cuisine, so what’s next? Why not visit one of the many teahouses featuring the centuries old Chengdu teahouse culture that local residents enjoy on a daily basis.
Chengdu teahouses are both indoor and outdoor and are open year round in spite of the chilly winters. The ambience of the teahouse is just as important as the quality of the tea. CNNGo visited numerous teahouses that dot the city and unearthed the most interesting, eye catching and fun of the bunch.
A stroll through Wenshu Monastery area is home to a hidden gem of a teahouse. The Lao Dianying (Old Film) Tea Garden is located on Bai Yun Temple St in the heart of Wenshu Yuan. Wenshu Monastery is the largest and best preserved Buddhist temple in Chengdu and is home to the Buddhist Association of Chengdu and Sichuan Province.
The Lao Dianying Tea Garden is set in a quiet, lush courtyard. Visitors read books and newspapers, play mahjong and cards and talk amongst themselves. Even a rainy overcast day doesn’t stop the tea drinking faithful from coming out and enjoying their favorite tea while listening to the pitter patter of the rain on the roof of the tea house.
Which glass of this Zhu Ye Qing (Bamboo Green Tea) tastes the best? If you guessed the middle, you would be right. The key to a fragrant tea is to make sure that the water level does not get too low or else the bitterness will be concentrated at the bottom. It is good etiquette to pour more water into a friend’s glass before the water level gets too low. Green tea is at its best when water that is approximately 85 degrees Celsius is used -- not boiling water like other Chinese teas like Iron Buddha and Pu’Er.
For a truly unique Chengdu experience, march down to People’s Park (Renmin Gong Yuan). While there are various outdoor teahouses in the park, our favorite by far is the He Ming Teahouse. Enter the park from the main entrance and hang a left when you see the bronze kettle opposite the photo stand.
The Liu sisters, originally from Yibin in Southern Sichuan province, discuss their family issues over a cup of tea overlooking the largest pond in People’s Park. The sisters have been coming to the park for tea at least twice a week for the last 30 years and their children and grandchildren frequent the park as well.
Didn’t you know tea is best enjoyed with clean ears? Professional ear cleaners roam People’s Park and offer to scrape out your ears for a decent price. They use metal tweezers and feathered sticks as well as tongs that they vibrate to get the wax out of your ears. You would be surprised by the amount of wax that they can extract, and yes, the cleaners will hand over your ear wax so you can take it home as a souvenir.
The Milliga family from California enjoyed another of Chengdu’s teahouse favorites, a relaxing massage right at their table. While the Milligas enjoyed their tea and massages, surprisingly, none of them took up an offer for ear cleaning.
The Shun Xing Ancient Teahouse in the Sha Wan International Exhibition Centre (3rd floor) is one of the most famous and elegant teahouses in Chengdu. However, a visit to Shun Xing isn’t only about tea, it is also an art gallery, restaurant, opera theatre and a folk culture museum.
Shun Xing’s tea offerings run the gamut from local Sichuan teas to the finest teas in all of China. The tea menu is printed on bamboo and prices reflect the quality of the teas available. Sichuan tea is synonymous with green teas, so stick to such teas as Zhu Ye Qing, Su Mao Feng, and Hua Mao Feng.
Although the teahouse is housed in a modern building, careful attention to detail has been made to recreate an authentic Chengdu teahouse. The wood carvings, artwork, lighting and flooring are all reflections of traditional Sichuan teahouse design.
Shun Xing is also a cultural and culinary destination in itself. With its exquisite western Sichuan interior design, artwork and cultural and historical artefacts on display, it’s best to stroll through the displays of this fine establishment just as Chengdu people live life… at a leisurely pace.
Chengdu is a backpacker’s paradise as well as the business gateway to Western China. There are numerous high quality hostels, mid-priced hotels and five star business hotels as well.
Cheap hostel beds: Sim’s Cozy Garden Hostel, No.211 North Section 4, First Ring Rd. Chengdu
Mid-Priced Hotel: Ibis Chengdu Yongfeng, No 1 Section 4, Southern Second Ring Road, Chengdu
Splurge: Shangri-La Hotel Chengdu, No.9 East Binjiang Road, Jinjiang District, Chengdu