There is an infamous scam in Shanghai where seemingly nice Chinese “college students” invite hapless tourists to practice English with them at a tea house. There are variations to the set up, but the result is always the same: the tourists are forced to pay outrageous sums of money.
But not all tea tastings are scams.
After a recent tour of Shanghai’s fabulous Yu Gardens, we strolled through the bazaar, shopping and taking photos. A uniformed woman with a “volunteer” patch on her arm approached us and started chatting. She told us it was possible to visit the upper level of one of the nearby buildings for terrific – and free – views. She also mentioned there was a teahouse where we could do a tasting for 30 kuai (about five dollars), but there was no obligation. I had some trepidations, but she seemed like a legitimate guide so we followed her.
I had no idea that tucked inside the entrance to the Yu Yuan Stage photo studio is an elevator that whisks visitors up to the top floor. We exited the elevator into a small garden and went up some stairs to a balcony overlooking the bazaar. The view was incredible!
Since it was a blustery day, we decided to partake of the tea tasting after confirming that it was indeed only 30 kuai. We got to taste six different teas, each prepared with a flourish. They ranged from a grassy green tea to a sweet oolong and lychee blend.
Three of our teas were varieties of jasmine. Two, referred to by our server as “Romeo” and “Juliet,” began as big wads that burst into flowers. It was very dramatic!
We chose our sixth and final tea we from a menu of medicinal blends. Tea plays a role in Traditional Chinese Medicine and can help with any number of ailments. We opted for the tea used for relaxation, allergy problems and headaches. We were warned some of the medicinal teas can be bitter but fortunately we chose a pleasant one.
There was a shop, of course, where you could buy tea and all the implements used during the tea ceremony. It was fun to poke through the shop and look at the different kinds of tea available, but the prices were exorbitant so we didn’t buy anything, nor were we pressured to. The space was definitely geared towards tourists, but it was a fun experience and I would go back with visitors in tow.