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.
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!