In the 1990s teahouses of a modem sense sprang up in Beijing. Called tea art house, they are elaborately decorated with an atmosphere blending Chinese traditional culture with modem life. They mainly serve oolong tea, brewed with meticulous care and served by waitresses in solemn ceremony including rinsing the tea set with scorching water, smelling the tea and drinking the tea. In the more elegant tea art houses there are performances of ancient instruments of music to accompany the tea. They are very attractive for the good tea and a luxuriant environment. Some tea art houses also sell tea leaves and kung fu tea sets.
Though called tea art house they are a comprehensive entity of Chinese traditional culture. Their emergence has stimulated the business of tea leaves, tea sets, calligraphic and painting works. Their more positive role is displayed in the exploration, promotion and innovation of the ancient tea culture of China. In these places people appreciate tea, make friends and discuss doctrines concerning life, and during the process they absorb the essence of Chinese traditional culture and modem concepts.
There are two dozen such tea art houses around Sanlihe in Xicheng District, They form the famous "Street of Tea Art House" in Beijing.
Actually the “Street of Tea Art House" indicates a round area with a radius of one kilometer. On Yuetannanjie Street from east to west are the tea art houses of "Mingren", "Daqushe", "Green Water and Crimson Hill" and "West Lake"; on Fucheng-menwai Street there are "Five Fortunes" and "Tea Capital". Within the sphere of the "Street of Tea Art House" there are also "Mingfuyuan", "Deer Garden" and "Black Tea House".
Teahouses concentrated in one place makes it easy for people to enjoy tea. A veteran tea drinker says, "I like quiet places. In old days teahouses were always crowded. Now there are several tea art houses nearby. If one is full I will go to another."
The most famous tea art houses are "Five Fortunes", and "West Lake".
A decade ago tea art houses and tea ceremony were unknown to Beijing residents who were used to jasmine tea. They have become accustomed to modem teahouses where they meet friends and talk business. The art tea house "Five Fortunes" played the vital role in the birth and growth of tea art houses. In old Beijing people believed a perfect life should enjoy five fortunes: "peace, wealth, good virtue, longevity and natural death". Explained in modem words the live fortunes mean "understand happiness,feel lucky to have happiness,cherish hairiness, enjoy happiness and create happiness."
The "Five Fortunes" opened its business in 1994 as the oldest tea art house in Beijing, Its main business is to serve tea with meticulous ceremony based on ancient Chinese culture. It has set up a dozen chain teahouses.
The "Five Fortunes" is different from other teahouses in their original sense and its tea ceremony is different from that of Japan. The tea ceremony of "Five Fortunes" has been evolved from South China with elements of the tea ceremony popular in Taiwan and Japan. This teahouse divides its tea sets into the functions of tea steeping and tea drinking. It uses different varieties of tea leaves in different seasons,and keeps oolong tea leaves in vacuum packages at a temperature between 5 to 20 degrees centigrade. The tea is brewed with purified water of state grade one. The waiters and waitresses are required to brew the tea according to vigorous procedures and explain them to the customer.
The interior decoration is a combination of the Chinese and Japanese styles. A glass shelf between two booths displays elegant teapots, plates and cups for sale. Light music lingers in the air. All the noise on the street just outside the teahouse gale is kept away. Customers feel they were in a fairyland with all the worries and restlessness gone.
"Five Fortunes" serves 18 kinds of tea, among which are the green tea "Dragon Well" and "Spring Green Snails", oolong from Taiwan and "Iron Guanyin" from Fujian Province, The teahouse also provides tools of Chinese chess and weiqi go free of charge. But card play is not allowed in it.
"Five Fortunes" has on display and for sale over 1,000 kinds of tea sets, including boccaro teapots from Yixing and a great variety of smelling cups and tea appreciating cups. Yixing handicraftsmen demonstrate the making of boccaro teapots in this teahouse.
"Five Fortunes" often holds various ceremonial events such as scenting, ordering tea, flower arranging and putting paintings up.
"West Lake" Tea Art House is located on the second floor of Huaiyangchun Restaurant at the crossroads of Chang'an Avenue and Yuetannanjie Street in Xicheng District. The illuminated box with the store's name imprinted shows a photo of the "Moon on the Three Pools" ,the symbol of West Lake. The teahouse has a space of nearly 1,000 square meters decked out with bridges over streams, bamboo groves and a high tree, a typical natural scene in South China.
The main part of the teahouse is enclosed by a bamboo fence. There are also ten single rooms named after the "Ten Scenic Spots of West Lake". There is no extra charge for the single rooms. The charge is 48 yuan per person. The teahouse serves fresh and dried fruit and South China snacks to go with the tea. During lunch and supper time there are free steamed buns, boiled dumplings, rice with vegetable and steamed corns for the customers.
The "Dragon Well" tea leaves come from Meijiawu in Hangzhou,the genuine growing place of "Dragon Well". The teahouse uses the water from the "Running Tiger Spring" in Hangzhou. It transports 1,400 kilograms of the "Running Tiger Spring" water with tank trucks every month. It takes such pains just for providing authentic "Dragon Well" tea to the customers.