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The Best Hidden Beijing Tea Houses

Article by Lost Plate Food Tours

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Before we get into our list of Beijing tea houses, here’s a quick guide on the history of this sweet leaf in China and the tea house itself. After all, it’s not Lost Plate without some history and context for you, which always magnifies the experience. The following list is not ranked, and the criteria to make it on here is to be noteworthy, provide a traditional tea experience, and serve up stuff that’s stupid delicious.

The History of Tea

Tea’s grand history makes it difficult to trace accurately. After all, tea is the second-most drank beverage in the world after water, beating beer (!!!) which sits at third. Early legends of tea embed it as an Asian tradition, both medicinal and mythical. For example, China’s deified Emperor Shen Nong was said to have discovered tea accidentally when a wild tea leaf fell into his cup in 2737 BC. As a physician, he studied and spread tea’s medicinal properties, bequeathing its distribution to the Imperial office of medicines. Tea was reserved for the elite and religious classes until about 1500 years ago.

And in India in 530 AD, Prince Bodhi-Dharma vowed 9 years of constant meditation and fell asleep towards the end, cutting off his eyelids in distress. Tea trees were said to have sprouted from where his eyelids hit the ground. Bodhi-Dharma’s gift then was tea, which was regarded as a medicine in monastaries- an important tool that gave focus and alertness in the pursuit of Nirvana. (He was also the founder of the Zen school of Buddhism, despite how un-chill his reaction to nodding off seems.)

Emperor Shen Nong Discovers Tea

Tea Was First Eaten

Sinologist Victor H. Mair traces the earliest recording of tea to 59 AD in his book, The True History of Tea. But it wasn’t until the Tang Dynasty (618-907CE) that tea became a social drink, or a drink at all. Before this, tea was eaten whole or ground up (and still is in Myanmar- tea leaf salad is delicious!) Consequently, the Tang dynasty was dubbed the “Golden Age of Tea,” as tea finally gains social prominence and a proper name, 茶, meaning bitter herb, before evolving into te in Min Chinese, and cha in Mandarin. Tea was popular throughout Asia before reaching the height of European fashion in the 17th century, and then proceeded to change the world.

A diagram from the Cutty Sark Trust. Cutty Sark is a type of clipper ship. William Parker (1870) - "There’s no body of men on earth who can fill a hold as full as a team of Chinese dockers. I wouldn’t normally bother to watch cargo being loaded, but this was a sight to behold."

Quick Clipper ships were invented and constantly reinvented to be as fast as possible, to outpace shipping competitors in the tea “gold rush”. One company, the United East India Company, was so successful slinging tea that they became the first company in history to offer an IPO, changing the nature of finance.

During this time, the British drank so much tea that their trade deficit with China prompted them to introduce opium, and later the opium wars, to the Chinese, to balance the trade deficit. The British also introduced tea to Indian colonies in an attempt to break the Chinese monopoly, and today India sells it right back under popular brands such as Tetley’s, Red Label, Marvel, and Taj Mahal. Tea was the en vogue diplomatic gift between rulers and the aristocracy. Later on, British taxation of tea resulted in the Boston Tea Party, the Independence of the USA and its eventual colonization of much of North America. In short, whoever controlled tea controlled the world.

Today, all of the world outside of China calls tea by either of the two Min or Mandarin names, depending on the trade route tea took when it first arrived. If tea arrived by land, it took the cha Mandarin root, as it did in Korean (cha), Japanese (ocha), Hindi (chai), Swahili (chai), Arabic (shay), Turkish (chay) and Russian (chay). If traded over seas it took the name Min root te, as it did in Italy (tè), Dutch (thee), Afrikaans (tee), Javanese (tèh) and Maoiri (tii).

Classifications of Tea

All Teas Come from the Same Plant

All non-herbal teas actually come from the same plant, Camellia Sinensis, which originates and grows wild through all of south, southeast, and east Asia. White tea, yellow tea, green tea, dark tea, and black tea all come from this one type of tree. Herbal tea actually refers to any teas that are not made with C. Sinensis. (Pretty cool right? That’s a fun fact you can drop over a cafe meet-up with friends or over dessert at your next dinner party. You’re welcome.)

Similar to wine, awesome variety in humanity’s favorite drink comes from the specific terroir of where the trees are grown. Secondly, variety comes about in how it is processed, creating different levels of oxidation. Green tea was the first version: the green leaves were plucked, steamed, and dried. Later on, more steps like toasting, crushing, or panning the leaves allowed more oxygen and complex flavors before they were dried, darkening the colors over time. Black tea was the latest introduction to the scene- and the most oxidized.

Further variations, such as Darjeeling vs. Assam teas, actually refer to the regions they are grown in (in this case, both in India,) and you can get Darjeeling or Assam teas in green, white, yellow, oolong, and black varieties.

Other variations, like Earl Gray, get their unique flavor profile from the blend or post-production: Earl Gray mixes in bergamot oil from a citrus fruit in southern Europe. English Breakfast Tea is simply a black tea blend of Assam (in India,) Ceylon (in Sri Lanka,) and Kenyan teas. Sencha and Matcha teas are both Japanese green, Sencha is just brewed using the full tea leaves, whereas Matcha tea uses ground up tea leaves.

A Quick Primer on Beijing Tea Houses

Generally, tea houses fall under 3 categories: traditional, modern, and themed. Regardless of the type, all teahouses are a place where local identities are forged and maintained through the lightning pace of change in China. Before the internet, this is where news was first heard and exchanged, and still is today. Much like café culture in revolutionary France, politics is discussed or begun in tea houses, and there is a greater ease of discourse here despite being in a country famous for censorship. In fact, tea houses were one of the first venues targeted for closure under the Cultural Revolution, and a common Chinese term for speaking to the police was “being asked to tea.”

Tea houses are integral in maintaining a continuity of culture in China; countless generations of elders have sat in traditional houses bemoaning the young, and vice versa. It’s a place for mahjong, gossip, and socializing. Every neighborhood will have one, making it a great place to see life lived authentically in China.

The Best Hidden Beijing Tea Houses

Cha Wei Cha She

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Beijing-Tea-Houses-cha-wei-cha-she-teacup-768x768

Cha Wei Cha She is located in a residential hutong nearby the Confucius Temple and Lama Temple. You might even pass by without noticing it because it is camouflaged against the area’s grey walls. However, once you find the little entrance, it will lead you to a beautiful traditional courtyard surrounded by old trees and the wafting scent of tea leaves.

They require a base fee of 198 RMB or 256 RMB (depending on what type of tea leaves you fancy) for 3 hours, and you can choose between 2 types of tea to drink. We recommend White Tea for autumn & winter, and Specialty Jasmine Tea for spring & summer. This white tea uses buds and leaves closest to the highly prized bud, or pekoe, of the plant. Check it out if you’re curious about the prized flavors in traditional tea culture. And though you’re likely to have had Jasmine tea before, their specialty brew will show you how broad a single category can be! Their tea refreshments are more traditional compared to other tea houses, and their Hawthorn Balls are some of the best in town. Pick this place if you want a traditional courtyard experience with some old-school teas and accompaniments. 

What to order:
1. Hawthorn Balls (山楂球)
2. Sesame Dessert Skewers (芝麻点心)
3. Red plum tea (九曲红梅)
4. White tea (白茶)

Opening Hours: Daily from 10 AM to 10 PM

Chinese Name: 茶味茶舍
English/Pinyin Address: 18 Guanshuyuan Hutong, Yonghegong. Accessible by the Yonghegong Lama Temple subway station on Lines 2 and 5
Show your taxi driver: 雍和宫管书院胡同18号院
Google Maps (VPN required in China): Click here
Chinese Map: Click here

Yi Zhuo

Joining our evening food tour? Then Yi Zhuo the perfect spot for you to hang out before you come and meet up with us! It is located at the end of Wudaoying Hutong, which is an up and coming hipster alleyway blossoming with new little cafés and shops. This teahouse is modern, interactive, and also basically a bar. It’s a great lens into the hipster side of Beijing. 

After you enter the small reception area full of tea leaves and tea sets on display, you will be led into a cozy little sitting area. Yi Zhuo specializes in alcohol infused tea. If you are visiting in the summer, definitely go for the Champagne Oolong Tea. In the winter, Brandy Black Tea is the one we love to warm us up on a cold day. They will light the brandy on fire and slowly pour it in your tea cup. Don’t be intimidated by the strong alcohol content – you will fall in love with it from the first sip. And if not, you will definitely after a second round. 

Their snacks are sweet and more on the fusion side, think little dim sum, (which is a Cantonese, not Beijing, tea accompaniment) cakes, and chocolates. Go for the Peach Cakes or the Lychee Black Tea Chocolate. Price here is about 95 RMB per person.

What to order:
1. Champagne Oolong Tea (香槟乌龙)
2. Brandy Black Tea (火焰红茶)
3. Little Peach Cake (绿豆糕)
4. Lychee Black Tea Chocolate (荔枝红茶巧克力)

Opening Hours: Daily from 11AM to 10 PM

Chinese Name: 一拙
English/Pinyin Address: 84 Wudaoying Hutong. Accessible by the Andingmen subway station on Line 2
Show your taxi driver: 五道营胡同西口84号
Google Maps (VPN required in China!): Click here
Chinese Map: Click here

CHA Maker

If you are visiting the bustling Nanluoguxiang or the Drum Tower, CHA Maker is definitely worth stopping by. You will be pleasantly surprised by the beautiful pebble garden and the cozy atmosphere that draws you in. Soon you will find yourself sitting in a cozy loft listening to the calm music and sipping on their Osmanthus Pu’er tea. This place is an intimate example of urban traditionalism, and provides a comfortable setting to challenge your tastebuds. They also have cakes you’ve definitely never had before, need we say more? 

They have a variety of teas starting from 98 RMB to 368 RMB, but if you are dropping by for a quick cuppa or are tempted to create a DIY tasting flight, they also offer teas by the glass. If you are feeling like something a little stronger (read: boozy,) the peach blossom rice wine is a great choice. This place is pricier than most of the other tea houses on this list, but what you’re getting for a few extra bucks is storied drinks and unique flavors. If you’ve already seen a few teahouses, then make it a point to try some new flavors here.

We recommend the Osmanthus Pu’er tea, especially because it will be hard to try it in other places. Osmanthus is a type of sweet olive, infused in teas for numerous health benefits, and has a sort of apricot-y taste to it. Pu’er tea is a fermented dark tea, and often confused with black tea due to its coloring. However, Pu’er tea undergoes fermentation and secondary free-radical oxidation, which means not only is the resulting tea different in flavor and texture, but even the chemical make-up of the brewed result is quite unique in comparison to other teas.  And the combination or Osmanthus and Pu’er together? You’ll have to see for yourself. 

What to order:
1. Jasmine Rose Black Tea (茉莉花玫瑰红茶)
2. Osmanthus and Pu’er Tea (桂花普洱茶)
3. Green Bean Cake (绿豆糕)
4. Jujube and Walnut Cake (南枣福桃酥)

Opening Hours: Daily from 1 PM to 8 PM

Chinese Name: 茶作  CHA maker
English/Pinyin Address: # 3, Nanxiawazi Hutong. Accessible by the Shichahai subway station on Line 8
Show your taxi driver: 南下洼子胡同3号
Google Maps (VPN required in China!): Click here
Chinese Map: Click here

Qi Sheng Cha Shi

Have a sweet tooth? Then this tea house is the perfect match for you. From madeleines and macarons to traditional refreshments and cakes, they have a great selection to choose from. What better excuse for a dessert parade than afternoon tea in Beijing? You have to ring the doorbell to open the entrance, giving it a vibe that’s not unlike a speakeasy, and just makes the experience a little more fun.  This place is a beautiful modern twist on a hutong house, near the famous Ghost Street.

Grab an outdoor seat in the courtyard and watch them prepare your tea set for you. They have a base fee of 80 RMB per person which includes one type of tea. We recommend the 70-year-old tree Lapsang Souchong black tea- likely to be the original black tea. Legend has it that during the Qing dynasty, the passage of the Emperor’s massive army interrupted the annual drying of tea leaves in Wuyi Mountain. To prevent the leaves from spoiling as they couldn’t be dried outdoors, residents smoked the teas to quicken the drying process. The resulting aroma was so delicate that residents continue to smoke the Lapsang Souchong leaves over pinewood today. 

When the British first wanted to break up China’s monopoly on tea (as mentioned in the brief history section above) they actually sent British spies into Wuyi to steal saplings of this tree, and smuggled it out to their colonies in Sri Lanka and India. Today the traditional Wuyi smoked variety of tea is in high demand, and as a result quite expensive as Wuyi is a very small mountain. So although a 80RMB base fee might seem a little steep (pun unintended) you’re getting some quality brews. 

We also recommend the duck dropping tea. And no, the duck dropping tea doesn’t taste like it sounds (at least, as far as we know, we’ve never tried duck droppings)- it has the aroma and flavor of almonds and various fruits and flowers, much like the diets of wild ducks. If you’re like us, a menu item like Almond Tofu piques the interest, we suggest you give that bad boy a chance. 

What to order:
1. Lapsang Souchong 70-Year-Old Tree Black Tea (正山七十年树小种)
2. Duck Droppings Tea (鸭屎香单丛)
3. Cinnamon Tea (肉桂)
4. Almond Tofu (杏仁豆腐)

Opening Hours: Daily from 10:30 AM to 10 PM. 

Chinese Name: 器生茶时
English/Pinyin Address: 37 Caoyuan Hutong, Dongzhimen Beixiaojie. Accessible by the Bexingqiao subway station on Line 5
Show your taxi driver: 东直门北小街草原胡同37号
Google Maps (VPN required in China!): Click here
Chinese Map: Click here

Shan Shan You Nian

The Shan Shan You Nian tea house is located on Andingmen Inner street close to Lama Temple. It’s architecture and design combines a Chinese and Japanese aesthetic while still remaining traditional, offering a relaxing ambience as well as exceptional views of the hutong skyline.

There’s also the option to book private rooms if you make reservations ahead of time. Otherwise, simply pick a nice spot for yourself and your friends in the courtyard. We recommend the Lotus Fragrance Black Tea and the Old Shoumei White Tea. Their desserts include a Cristal Zongzi dish; Zongzi is typically type of rice dumpling but the Shan Shan You Nian serves it as a dessert made of sweet ingredients such as sweet red beans or sweet potatoes. They also have desserts like cheesecakes and seasonal fruits available. Average price per person is about 120-170 RMB. 

What to order:
1. Lotus Fragrance Black Tea (黑茶荷香扶砖)
2. Old Shoumei White Tea (老寿眉白茶)
3. Dry Nuts (干果)
4. Cristal Zongzi (水晶粽子)

Opening Hour: Monday-Sunday 10:30-21:00

Chinese Name: 山山有念茶社
English/Pinyin Address: 174 Andingmen Inner Street, Dongcheng District. Accessibly by the Andingmen subway station on Line 2. 

Show your taxi driver: 安定门内大街174号
Google Maps (VPN required in China!): Click here.
Chinese Map: Click here.

Bu Xian Xiao Yuan

Located in Jinbao Street, Xiaoyabao hutong, this traditional tea house is decorated in a more simple way compared to the other traditional style tea houses on this list. Due to this simplicity, it’s probably closer to the archetypical tea house of days of old: stretch out on a wooden chair in their small courtyard, get intoxicated by the aroma of tea. 

It’s easy to feel the owner’s passion for tea through their hand-written tea menus, which occasionally have puns and other little tea-related jokes. The owner keeps a friendly cat around the tea house which adds to the homey feel. For all these reasons, it feels like the kind of tea house that’s always existed in China, and the kind of tea house that made this venue to popular as a community space all those centuries ago. 

We recommend their black tea category, which includes fruit fragrance, orchid fragrance black tea and old tree black tea. They also specialize on their fruit wines, which are all house-brewed with the passion only seen in owners who still hand-write their own whimsical menus. All wines are available after 7PM. The overall price is about 150 RMB per person.

What to order:
1. Orchid Fragrance Black Tea (正山小种-兰花香红茶)
2. 2013 White Peony Tea (2013年荒山白牡丹)
3. Flower Pancakes (鲜花饼)
4. Date Pastry (酸枣糕)

Opening Hours: Weekdays from 10 AM to 11PM, Weekends from 1PM to 10PM

Chinese Name: 不羡小院
English/Pinyin Address: 62 Xiaoyabao hutong, Jinbao Street, Dongcheng District. Accessible by the Dengshikou subway station on Line 5 
Show your taxi driver: 金宝街小雅宝胡同62号,距禄米仓步行460米
Google Maps (VPN required in China!): Click here
Chinese Map: Click here

Wu Yu Tai Wangfujing Teahouse

Wu Yu Tai can be found on Wafujing street close to Tiannamen Square.  It is a well known tea shop established in 1887 during the Qing Dynasty, servicing palace officials and pages alike as it is less than a kilometer away from the Forbidden City.  Locals have been buying their loose tea leaves here since-  the shop maintained a good reputation through their hard work since the days of Emperors. They started off as a tea processing factory, and their jasmine tea uses hand picked jasmines flowers from Anhui and Zhejiang provinces. With more than 130 years of history, this tea-shop-turned-tea-house is a must-try! It is also fantastic if you are a brew-head because if you like anything you can take a bag home with you, just like the locals do. 

You can buy their loose tea on the first floor, the second floor is a nicely arranged tea room. In recent years, they also started selling ice-creams. Only two flavors are available, vanilla and matcha. These ice-creams are famous for their slight tea taste. They are also not as pure-sweet as Western style ice-creams, a more balanced flavor profile allows for an appreciation of the creaminess and aromas in place. Overall price range is about 10-100 RMB, definitely making it the most affordable place on the list (unless you decide to bring some loose tea home with you!) 

What to order:
1. Jasmine Flower Tea (雪针花茶)
2. Peacock Tongue Green Tea (雀舌)
3. Tea Cakes (茶点)
4. Matcha Ice-cream (抹茶冰淇淋)

Opening Hours: Daily from 8:30-21:00

Chinese Name: 吴裕泰王府井茶馆
English/Pinyin Address: 2nd Floor, 186 Wangfujing Street. Accessible by the Wangfujing subway station on Line 1. 
Show your taxi driver: 王府井大街186号吴裕泰2层
Google Maps (VPN required in China!): Click here
Chinese Map: Click her

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