Tea Culture in Old Beijing


The so-called tea culture is, in short, the sum of tea-related material and spiritual wealth created in the process of social and historical development. Tea culture is a product of a high degree of harmony and unity between material and spiritual civilization, with the material as the carrier, reflecting a clear spiritual content. Tea culture is extensive and profound, and contains a broad range of contents, such as the historical development of tea, the cultural environment of tea area, tea technology, tea types, tea sets, tea drinking customs, tea ceremony, tea art, tea paintings, tea poetry and other cultural and artistic forms, as well as the spirit of tea ceremony and tea virtue, and the influence of tea on social life. Drinking tea can be regarded as a common thing in daily life, but also as a spiritual pursuit of lofty and delicate life.

Beijing has been the capital city of China for hundreds of years. Tea was enjoyed by common people, literati, dignitaries and imperial relatives, while people from different social classes had different tea customs, making the tea culture of old Beijing rich in multi-level diversity. The old Beijingers love jasmine tea. The feelings of old Beijingers for big bowls of tea and the distinct features of teahouses all highlight the popularization of the tea culture in old Beijing and the style of the imperial capital. 

Teahouses became the most prosperous in the Qing Dynasty. At that time, there were teahouses, tea parks and tea shops all around Beijing’s streets, full of tea guests from day to night. Teahouse is a social place, where all kinds of social information gather and spread, which is actually the same as the western coffee shops. Customers often spend a half day discussing tea, birds, household stuff, current events, meeting friends, and talking about business. Without spending much, they learn a lot. In order to attract customers, some teahouses set up stages, and add big drums, storytelling and Beijing Opera, making the teahouses entertainment places.

At the end of Qing and the early years of the Republic of China, the social environment changed. And the teahouses of large scale gradually depressed and shut down, replaced by all kinds of small and medium-sized teahouses. These teahouses served different customers by classifying into green teahouses which provide tea only, book teahouses where guests could enjoy storytelling and drum-playing, and chess teahouses which set chessboards. Moreover, there were some seasonal tea booths, among which Shichahai (a famous lake in Beijing) was the most famous. Every year from the Beginning of Summer (around May 6th) to the Autumn Equinox (around September 23rd), a corridor of tea booths formed along the north bank of Shichahai. Afterward, these booths kept growing and moved into some major parks, for example, the Laijinyuxuan Tea House in Zhongshan Park, the Yilan Hall in Beihai Park, and Houhe in the Ancestral Temple.

The tea-drinking culture in Beijing is all-encompassing, which integrates the tea-drinking culture of various places and then derives its own unique characteristics. With the development of history, the old Beijingers are also constantly learning and absorbing the essence of other cultures, and further promoting the development of their own one.