Old Shanghai Teahouse
385 Fangbang Zhong Lu
The first thing you must know about the Old Shanghai Teahouse is that it's an unapologetic tourist trap. You will rarely see any locals inside. And the ones you do, are there in the company of their western guests, trying hard to prevent the latter from looking too foolish. Which is not easy to do, given that most visitors are attracted by the building's ornate design and not a knowledge of Chinese teas.
When a cup of Lung Ching or Jasmine tea arrive, in a fashion that is typical in this part of China, it contains hot water and leaves, with very scant measure for separating the two. For visitors accustomed to tea bags, this presents quite a conundrum. And may even turn a few off loose tea for good.
But tea is not the main reason for visiting the Old Teahouse. If one is searching for a great cup, this is certainly not the place. The quality of tea here is simply average, and prices exorbitant, at least by local standards. No, the reason to come here is ambiance. And a chance to relax from the hoards of people outside.
The Old Teahouse is situated in the heart of historic Shanghai, across the entrance to the Yuyuan Gardens. This is a very popular part of town, and is teeming with people. The Teahouse is a welcome respite for many after the many hours of beating the payment. And it offers nice views to boot.
The ornate exterior is nicely matched by the brightly decorative interior. Lacquered wood surfaces stretch as far as the eye can see. And framed prints adorn virtually all wall and ceiling spaces. With red lanterns providing warm glow from above. And tons of natural light streaming in from the panoramic windows that circle the seating area. Comfy booth line the circumference. And offer great views of the colorful procession of people outside.
The multilingual menu offers all the staples of Chinese teas: Keemun, Jasmine, Lung Ching, Ti Kuan Yin and a few decorative items. For group orders, a gong fu service is available, with an elaborate tabletop presentation. This gets lots of "oohs" and "aahs" from everyone in the vicinity. And triggers tons of camera flashes. Once again though, the central task is to impress your eyes, not taste buds.
But that's the tea-snob in me talking. A visit to the Old Teahouse is highly recommended. And given its central location, virtually unavoidable. Shanghai will almost certainly be the highlight of your trip to China. And the Old Teahouse will figure prominently in the pleasant memories this amazing city is likely to bestow.