After spending our afternoon at Olympic Park and Tiananmen Square, John, Kaitlyn, Tara, and I walked towards Qianmen 前門 to eat dinner and drink tea at the famous Lao She Tea House 老舍茶館。
What the place looks like from the outside.
There was some initial confusion upon walking in. The front desk worker thought that we wanted to see the Peking Opera upstairs and was trying to ask us where we wanted to be seated. After she figured out that we only wanted to eat dinner, we were led to the restaurant on the first floor.
After we were seated, our waiter brought us the menus. Since we were tea-drinking newbies, we asked him for recommendations and chose his top pick. After that, we ordered food.
There was a live performance going on as we ate and drank our tea. Because of the opera going on upstairs, we were one of only three tables in the entire restaurant. We were the only customers remaining in the end, and they played an exclusive show for us.
The waiter then brought us our tea and the brilliant night began. John and I had a type of jasmine tea, while Tara and Kaitlyn had chrysanthemum tea. The four of us had a flower pod that bloomed upon exposure to boiling water. He first cleaned our cups, put the flower inside, then poured the water around the cup in a counter-clockwise motion. He explained to us that tea drinking is a culture, and that the counter-clockwise motion signifies that you are motioning for friends to come together. If you were to pour the tea clockwise, it means that you want them to leave.
The flower bloomed slowly, and after a couple of minutes it was fully bloomed. The fragrance smelled pleasant and I couldn’t wait to try it. Chrysanthemum on the left and jasmine on the right.
The waiter, whose name is Tian Ai Min 田愛民 then informed us not to point the tea kettle towards anyone. He said that it’s best to point it outward, because pointing it at someone signifies having a dilemma with that person. He gave an example that, suppose a married couple had a tea kettle pointed at one spouse, they had serious relationship issues. We laughed at his humor and enjoyed learning about the culture.
Tian Ai Min 田愛民 giving us a rundown of how to properly drink the tea.
Our food eventually arrived and we ate and drank away. Ai Min would check up on us often, and we eventually started conversing. We talked for a long time, and I learned that he had been working in the tea house for eight years. He went through an intense month-long training program and learned about the history of tea. Moreover, due to the overwhelming popularity of the tea house which attracts people from all over the world, he’s learned several languages on a conversational level to deal with them – even sign language!
Cold sliced beef, chicken something, handmade rolls, fried rice, mochi, and green bean cake.
Ai Min informed us that the flower expends flavor for 15 cups worth of tea, and the taste is different each time. Because we were having such a good conversation, we each refilled our cup ~10 times; he turned out to be absolutely right. It was the best tea I’ve ever drank in my life, and I’ve tried all sorts of expensive Taiwanese teas. The tea was more expensive than the dinner itself, being 200￥ compared to 168￥.
He gladly accepted my offer to take a picture with us and be on this blog!
Due to having worked in the restaurant for a while, Ai Min has developed seniority status and was allowed to take guests up to private sections of the restaurant for tours. We gladly accepted his offer.
I wish I could show pictures, but there is no photography allowed. The ambiance of the second floor was completely different. After passing through the doors, a lady was playing the Chinese guitar in a small fountain area. There were several rooms sporting luxury tables and seats that are rented out by politicians, businessmen, and other VIPs who want to conduct private matters in a quiet area. Many high government officials and famous people from all over the world have been to the tea house, including former US presidents like George H.W. Bush.
After touring several rooms, he then showed us original tea sets that the house had accumulated over the years. Some were for sale, some even surpassing $20,000 USD! He then showed us model sets of ancient bars, slaughterhouses, theatres, and other buildings.
He was the best waiter that I’ve ever had, and we exchanged contact information. We went back with the school program to watch Peking Opera and tried to eat there beforehand, but due to time constraints, we were forced to eat elsewhere. I promised that we would come back to visit him and eat there again.
Lao She Tea House would have been an ordinary dinner, albeit amazing tea. With the amazing treatment from our waiter and the subsequent tour of the place, it turned out to be tenfold better. I’ll never forget that night.