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August 8, 2010

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Tea houses where you can linger

THE art of tea is an intrinsic part of culture in China, the kingdom of tea. In fact, tea is a culture in itself, with its own rituals and aesthetics. Tea drinking is said to date back 4,000 years, when it was first used for its medicinal value (it still is).

Although almost everyone drinks tea, proper tea preparation, serving and drinking are a ritual, traditionally enjoyed while listening to Chinese music of the guqin, a seven-string zither-like instrument.

Savoring tea and talking with friends is an age-old pastime. Tea is associated with tranquillity, calligraphy, painting, poetry and music.

The tea house is also a key element of Chinese culture, a place to gather, and relax; some of them are tranquil, some of them bustling and offering entertainment.

Some tea houses present performances of pingtan, traditional storytelling to music (typically in Suzhou dialect). Excerpts of Peking Opera and other local operas may be performed.

A tea house offers a slice of life and is a good place for people-watching.

Many tea houses retain a traditional flavor, such as Hu Xin Ting and Old Shanghai Tea House, while modern tea houses are scattered around the city and serve other beverages.

Song Fang -- modern take on tea

This charming three-story tea house run by a French woman is the place to come for those who do not speak Chinese but would like to learn more about teas, learn how to brew them, appreciate them and buy them. Located in the former French Concession in an old Western-style house, it's stylish, white, bright and inviting. Beautiful gifts are available and there's free WiFi connection. It is run by French woman Florence Samson, whose Chinese name is Song Fang, and who has created gorgeous blue signature tea containers that line the walls. The first floor space offers 70 high-quality teas from China and France, with names like Dream of Shanghai and Spring of Tokyo. Friendly staff are happy to explain and let visitors taste. The second and third floors are a casual and elegant tea house with hardwood floors, white walls, simple rattan furniture and rural floral-pattern fabrics. Charming old Chinese biscuit tins and bird cases add to the appeal.

Opening hours: 10am-7pm

Address: 227 Yongjia Rd

Tel: 6433-8283Old Shanghai Tea House -- golden days

One of the best reasons to visit Old Shanghai Tea House is to soak up the ambience of old Shanghai of the 1920s and 30s. The cozy interior is decorated with period furniture, collectibles, vintage posters, photos of celebrities and street scenes, even an old American refrigerator. The songs of old Shanghai, recorded by stars of the time, are played in the background. On weekends the tea house presents performances of traditional instruments, including the yangqin, a kind of dulcimer, and erhu, a two-string "violin." The performers are all veteran artists. The tea ceremony can be enjoyed every day. Prices range from 35-150 (US$5.17-US$22.15). Small snacks are offered along with tea.

Opening hours:9 am-9pm

Address: 385 Fangbang Rd M.

Tel: 5382-1202De He Tea House -- garden setting

This tea shop offers a tranquil and traditional Chinese garden setting with meandering water, stone bridges and the sounds of southern China's musical instruments. The bridges in the garden are in Yuan (1271-1368), Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1644-1911) dynasties style. Guests can relax and take their time. Many varieties of tea are offered and a buffet includes soup, hot dishes and icecream. Guests can also enjoy the tea ceremony ritual of preparing, serving and savoring tea.

Opening hours: 9am-4:30pm, 5pm-1am

Address: 2/F, 135 Jianguo Rd W.

Tel: 5468-1117


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