Wuyutai

by Arina on January 12, 2012

in Tea Shops

Wuyutai Wangfujing Store Entrance

 

A popular place to buy tea in Beijing, Wuyutai (吴裕泰)has over 180 stores across the city. You’ll find them in the popular tourist shopping streets like Qianmen or Wangfujing. But most, discreet and unpretentious, are seamlessly blended into the capital’s urban landscape. They seem to have been there forever. Well, almost. The first shop was opened 125 years ago, which, for the ever-changing Beijing, is almost an eternity. The notion of the “Old Beijing” is quite elusive for me, as I came here during the pre-Olympics construction boom, when major surgeries on the city’s face had been already operated. Nevertheless, I do feel this shop has a certain old Beijing flavor and do think that the status of “China time-honored brand” (中华老字号) fits it well.

Tea is among the necessity goods for Chinese, which means:  it has to be readily available, of consistent quality and not overpriced. I think Wuyutai shops cater precisely for that.

Inside the Wuyutai Wangfujing store

No wonder that Wuyutai’s bestseller is jasmine-scented tea, or Mo Li Hua Cha (茉莉花茶), the preferred drink of local Beijingers. Jasmine tea makes up a good deal of Wuyutai reputation and almost half of its sales. In the stores, jasmine fragrance dominates all the rest. Jasmine tea here comes in all possible shapes and grades, with prices that can fit every budget.

Besides jasmine tea, Wuyutai has a good generalist selection of all major tea types. Nothing too fancy, just consistently good.

Their offer of green teas is quite standard, but it goes a bit wider than the ubiquitous and quite pricey Long Jing, Bi Luo Chun and Huang Shan Mao Feng. You can find here green teas like Zhu Ye Qing竹叶青, Xin Yang Mao Jian (信阳毛尖) and An Ji Bai Cha (安吉白茶). The selection of black teas is limited to Qimen from Anhui and Dian Hong from Yunnan, as well as Zhen Shan Xiao Zhong (known to foreigners as Lapsang Suchong), but this is understandable: black tea is not the most popular tea among locals.

For oolongs, they sell Tie Guan Yin and Da Hong Pao, as well as some Taiwanese oolongs. But in no way are oolongs Wuyutai’s specialty.  Pu Er tea is there as well, but the offer is not spectacular. Last but not least, at Wuyutai you can find prepacked tins of white tea Bai Hao Yin Zhen and Bai Mu Dan all over the year. Otherwise, they have tea snacks, gift boxes and usual tea paraphernalia.

Xi Hu Long Jing is a star at Wuyutai too

Basic English is spoken in the shops in the tourist areas. Tasting is not systematically offered. On the last visit to Wuyutai Wangfujing store, the tea house on the first floor seemed to me a bit gloomy and uninviting. If I were a tourist, I would rather go to their Qianmen store. Impossible to miss it – it’s just next the gate of the northern entrance of the street.

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Ten Fu’s Tea

by Arina on December 10, 2011

in Tea Shops

Ten Fu's Beijing Flagship Store near Novotel Peace Hotel

If you are looking for a random tea shop in Beijing, chances are high that the first shop you stumble upon will be Ten Fu’s tea (天福名茶). With 74 shops in Beijing only and over 1100 across the mainland China, Ten Fu must be the country’s biggest specialized tea retailer. And this is only the tip of the iceberg. Behind is a real tea empire with own plantations  Zhejiang, Fujian and Sichuan, tea processing and food factories and even its own University. On the way the tea leaf makes from a tea tree to a tea pot, every process is under control and no renminbi is lost. Ten Fu’s tea is big. But being big has both its advantages and flip sides.

The variety and the quality are uniform across the shops. It is reassuring, like a BigMac that tastes the same across all MacDonalds shops. But a bit boring as well, once you become more familiar with Chinese tea. Ten Fu’s Tea shops mainly sell just a few tea “blockbusters”, but in different quality and price ranges. For green tea, it is LongJing and BiLuoChun; wu long are represented by Tie Guan Yin and Da Hong Pao. There is plenty of jasmine tea for all budgets. They do have Pu Er tea cakes, but those that I tasted were not too exciting. That’s about it. This leaves little room for surprise, but at least you can be reasonably sure that price/quality ratios are adequate.

Exhibition on the second floor of the shop

The shop assistants are friendly, they warmly welcome you with a cup of fragrant jasmine tea. They are quite open to brew a particular tea for you to taste, even if your pick is among the expensive ones, but be expected to buy something in return. English is often spoken, but in most cases, it’s very basic.

With all the mixed opinion I have about this chain, I must say I owe my first encounter with Chinese tea to Ten Fu. On my very first trip to Beijing in June 2007, I stayed in the Novotel Peace hotel, close to Wangfujing shopping street. Ten Fu’s Tea flagship store happens to be just next door. You can recognize it by the teapot fountain just in front. One smoggy afternoon, I had some time to kill, waiting for my husband stuck in Beijing traffic. So I went to this tea shop. The guy who welcomed me turned out to be really passionate about tea. Besides, he spoke perfect English. We tasted multiple teas, and for every tea he had a story to tell and patiently answered my endless questions. That was brilliant. When you are a foreigner and enter a Chinese tea shop for the first time, knowing nothing about Chinese tea, such a passionate and patient English-speaking guide is just what you need. Of course, his approach paid off, and I did not leave the shop empty-handed. But I was truly happy about the discovery I had just made. It is a shame I lost his business card: when we returned to Beijing to settle in, he was no longer in the shop and no one seemed to know where he moved.

What else to say? My preferred goodies at Ten Fu are tea snacks – they come handy when you have unexpected guests. I also like individual packs with the mix for Eight Treasures Tea (八宝茶), as well as chrysanthemum flowers. And for sure, you can find there plenty of different tea sets and tea trays. A visit to the flagship store next to Wangfujing can be an interesting learning experience: on the second floor they have a sort of tea museum where all the steps of tea processing are well described. They even have “toy” versions of some tea making machines – and they move!

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