Yuanchanghou and Zhangyiyuan are the most famous tea stores in Beijing. Old Beijing residents particular about tea often buy tea leaves from these two stores.
Yuanchanghou was opened in 1912. Sun Huanwen, its founder, was an expert of tea and a good manager. His store did a brisk business. The store's name "Yuanchanghou" means "Beginning with One, Everlasting Source and Solid Foundation", words deprived from the profound meaning of some philosophical doctrine.
Yuanchanghou Tea Store adheres to the principle of "honest service". People feel assured to buy tea leaves from the store. The store often sends its clerks to buy tea leaves from other stores and compare them with its own. If they find the tea leaves of other stores better than theirs they will stop selling their tea leaves and improve their quality. They also solicit opinions from customers. Once a customer came in to complain the tea leaves he had bought contained too many broken pieces. The manager apologized and compensated at double the original price. He told the store clerks a time-honored store must be honest to its customers. It will suffer if it cheats.
New employees at Yuanchanghou are first told about the history of the store. The store today provides service of ready tea, hot water, and mail and home delivery. It also holds regular consultation sessions, at which veteran technicians answer question from customers and distribute pamphlets popularizing knowledge about tea. Many customers still come to buy tea leaves from this store after they have moved to a far place to live. The store enjoys a high reputation among tea drinkers in Beijing.
In 1999 Yuanchanghou moved from Xuanwumenni Street to 98 Xidanbeidajie Street. The new store sells more than 300 varieties of tea leaves from all over the country and Yixing boccaro teapots and cups. An extra-large boccaro teapot, 1.5 meters high and weighing 80 kilograms, is the stored treasure. The second floor of the two-story building serves as the store's teahouse decked out with classical and also modem tastes. Customers can enjoy a cup of tea in this lovely, cozy and comfortable place.
Yuanchanghou operates 37 branch stores in Beijing. Its ambition is to make every household in Beijing as its customer.
Yuanchanghou has retained its tradition: to purchase raw tea leaves, to process them and to sell them by its own people. Its reserved merchandise are "Small Leaf ", Green Snow" and "Peony Ball" brands, all its own inventions. They have been loved by tea drinkers for nearly a century for their high quality.
Recently an advertisement has appeared in Chinese news media frequently. It goes: "Human character is like the character of tea. A good person is as clear and pure as good tea. A promise of one hundred years from Zhangyiyuan for its Chinese tea leaves." Zhangyiyuan is the most famous tea store in Beijing.
Zhangyiyuan was founded by Zhang Wenqing in 1908 almost 100 years ago.
There are two explanations about why the store is named Zhangyiyuan. One says that the name was deprived from the philosophical words: "All things have come from one source."
The other explanation bears some legendary flavor. It says Zhang Wenqing was originally a merchant. After he had saved some money he began to gamble. He lost a lot in only several days. In desperation he put all his property on the table. But he lost again. It seemed there was no way out for him. He took out the last dollar from his pocket and bought some tea leaves with it. Back home he flavored the tea leaves with some jasmine flowers, made some tea and sold it on the street. His tea was much liked and soon became popular. He had stopped gambling. With the savings he opened a tea store at Dashilan. He hated himself whenever he remembered those days when he had lost all but one dollar in gambling. So he named his tea store "Zhangyiyuan", meaning in Chinese "The Man Named Zhang with One Dollar".
Zhangyiyuan has its unique operation characteristics. In 1925 the tea store set up its own tea plantation in Fujian Province and began to process tea leaves picked at the proper time and flavor them with jasmine flowers. Its jasmine tea became poplar soon in Beijing for its "clear water, strong aroma, fragrant and lasting taste". That made Zhangyiyuan "Number One Tea Store" in Beijing.
The tea plantation of Zhangyiyuan in Fujian Province has been expanded to nearly 700 hectares. The store processes the pollutant- free tea leaves itself in order to maintain quality. In 1995 when the term "pesticide residue" was still unknown to the Chinese public, Zhangyiyuan took the initiative to send its products to the State Tea Quality Testing Center for assessment.
Zhangyiyuan today sells tea leaves processed by itself and also other famous brands such as "Dragon Well", "Spring Green Snails" and "Silver Needles from Junshan" and other popular varieties such as oolong tea, black tea and health tea. It sells a total of 200 kinds of tea leaves.
Among the many branch stores of Zhangyiyuan is the one at Caishikou, specializing in oolong tea. One can get the best oolong tea there. It has the most complete variety of oolong, including the most famous varieties from Guangdong Province and Fujian Province. Oolong tea has a large market in Beijing. But the quality, grading and price are often skeptical. Customers are often deceived by a nice appearance. They will not be deceived if they buy oolong tea at Zhangyiyuan. The salespersons there tell them how to appraise the quality and how to drink oolong tea.
From the sale volume of Zhangyiyuan and Yuanchanghou, we can tell Beijing tea drinkers prefer the following five major tea varieties, except oolong.
Jasmine tea. It can be divided into 20 to 30 particulars. Among the best of them are "Cloud and Fog on Mengshan Mountain" "Divine Tea from Mengshan Mountain", "Phoenix Brows from Huangshan Mountain' "Double Processed Plum Stamen", "Double Processed Young Shoots", "Aged Bamboo Pressed Leaves" and "Iron Tree Leaves".
"Dragon Well" green tea. This variety is named so because it is produced in Lingjing (Dragon Well) by West Lake in Hangzhou. But the place called "Dragon Well" is only one hectare in size. Not many tea bushes can grow there. Many brands of the "Dragon tea on the market are fakes. Even those living in Hangzhou can rarely get genuine "Dragon Well".People should buy it at trustworthy stores. The "Dragon Well" tea is divided into several grades. The best variety is "Supper Dragon". Next to it are "West Lake Dragon Well" and "Mingqian Imperial Tea". Other green tea varieties include "Spring Green Snaisl" from Dongdng Lake, "Melon Slices","Shining Needles" and "Spring Tea", except the "Spring Green Snails", the others all come from Liu'an.
Black tea from the Wuyi Mountains. Black tea is one of the fermented tea varieties. People drink black tea to expel the chill in the body and warm the stomach, ft is not popular among ordinary Beijing residents. In Beijing today, there are many diplomatic organs and companies from Western countries. Westerners like black tea with sugar and milk in it. Some Western-style restaurants in Beijing serve black tea instead of coffee. That has inspired some teahouses to serve black tea too. Some whitecollar and middle-class families drink black tea. The best varieties are "Iron Guanyin" and "Upper and Lower Rocks", Next to them in quality are "Dragon Whiskers" ,"Whiie Fluffs", "Red Longevity", "Nine-Twists of the Brow", "Red Brows of Osmanthus" and "Red Robe".
Flower tea. Chrysanthemum is the most popular flower tea. That sold in tea stores is more refined than that sold at a pharmacy. A more expensive flower tea variety dendrobium stems. There are also other flower tea varieties such as wild rose and young shoots of mulberry leaves. Jasmine tea and bead orchid blossoms are also called flower tea.
Puer tea. Most of the Puer tea sold in the tea stores comes from Yunnan Province. Among its many varieties "Young Pine Shoots" is the best. Puer tea leaves are pressed into compact forms of a brick, a tube of toothpaste or a ball. There are big balls and small balls, A big ball weighs about three kilograms. The small ball is catted "Purer Sim Cluster". Puer tea is brewed in boiling water. Sometimes ginger slices am put in the brew, It is nice beverage for travelers.