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Laoshe Tea House
    2007-01-17 11:28:59     CRIENGLISH.com

Broadcasting Time: 16:30-16:55 GMT+08:00 2007-01-17

Beijing, the fascinating capital city of China, is an amazing blend of tradition and modernism. This metropolis has something for everyone. For history buffs, Beijing is a living museum, filled with countless historical heritages left from centuries of imperial rule. For tasteful epicures, Beijing greets you with her rich culinary culture. For art lovers, Beijing offers a diverse set of unique folk performances. On next/this week's China Horizons, we set off for a cultural journey around this ancient city, where you'll be amazed with what you can find. For all the details, join us on China Horizons next Wednesday/tomorrow/at the latter half of this hour.

Hello and welcome to this edition of China Horizons. I'm Wang Lu. With today's time, we'll rediscover the city of Beijing. Serving as the capital for two ancient dynasties and today's China, the best part of Beijing is C there's always more to explore as the city is constantly changing and evolving. You could spend a year in the capital city and still find that you've only scratched the surface. Well, I hope today's program can somehow help you refresh your knowledge about Beijing. In the first segment, we'll sample the local tea culture and visit two traditional-style teahouses in downtown Beijing; then, we'll learn about a folk art unique to BeijingBajiaogu. In our travel segment, On the Road, we'll continue to explore the cultural myth and natural beauty of another ancient capitalShenyang. For all this, stay tuned. .

Tea culture has been a deeply-rooted part of the daily lives of Chinese people since it first rose to popularity in the Tang Dynasty more than 1,000 years ago.

It's also become one of the most highly esteemed Chinese traditions and one most visitors are keen to partake in.
And the place to witness Chinese tea culture at its finest is, of course, a teahouse.

Join our reporter Shen Ting on a trip to sample the fragrant leaves at two unique teahouses in Beijing.


Customers watch traditional Chinese tea art performance at Laoshe Tea House in Beijing. [File Photo: bjd.com.cn]

A waiter dressed in a traditional long gown and skullcap warmly welcomes every visitor to the Lao She Teahouse in pure Beijing dialect.

In line with the traditional costume, all the waiters here go by their traditional name: Xiao'er.

The Lao She Teahouse is in Qianmen, about 10-minute's walk from Tian'anmen Square.

It's named after one of China's literary giants, Laoshe.

One of Lao She's most famous dramas, called "Teahouse," gives a vivid portrayal of the social dimensions present in old Beijing.

Decades have passed and the archetypal teahouses in Lao She's book no longer exist, but customers can still journey back to the past in the bustling Lao She Teahouse.

Jasmine tea is the favorite of many old Beijingers, with its pure, clear taste and strong aroma. It's definitely on the menu at the Lao She Teahouse.

But the teahouse boasts an exclusive "art" tea as well as traditional jasmine tea.

It's quite an incredible sight.

When boiling water is poured in the glass, the seemingly ordinary tea ball blossoms into an ethereal flower.

The teahouse manager shows us how to create this kind of magic.

"Usually, we use a thin thread to string about 160 tender tea shoots together with a bloom, such as jasmine flower, camellia flower, sweet osmanthus flower or lily flower. It's good to drink tea of these flowers often, especial for ladies, as each one helps to maintain beauty in a different way."

But China's rich tea culture is about much more than just sipping.

People flock to the teahouse to watch folk art and you can find a variety of vaudeville shows on at the teahouse on any given day, like Beijing Opera, acrobatics, shadow puppets or martial arts.

But it would be a pity to miss the performance of the Xiao'ers while you're watching the shows.

Every Xiao'er at the Lao She Teahouse carries a special copper pot with a meter-long spout.

And they handle the scalding pot without spilling a single drop of water.

Why is the spout a meter long?

Xiao'er Xu Dawei says that's the only way to make sure the water is poured at the proper temperature.

"The long-spouted pot is a special heirloom in an old Beijing teahouse, particularly designed for brewing green tea. Water in the pot is about 90 degrees Celsius, but green tea tastes best at 80 degrees. Through this long spout, the temperature of the water decreases to the correct 80 degrees, so customers can enjoy the best fragrance."

Dawan tea is just as famous as the long-spouted teapot. The Chinese name means "inexpensive tea in a big tea bowl" and it was another old Beijing teahouse specialty.

It's said that the founder of Lao She Teahouse, Yin Shengxi, started his business by serving Dawan tea for just two cents each.
And today it's the only teahouse still serving Dawan tea for two cents a bowl, even though there's no profit in it.

After visiting such a traditional old Beijing teahouse, let's move on to a relatively fashionable, modern teahouse C the Wufu Teahouse, which has opened many chain stores around Beijing.

In contrast to the bustling Lao She Teahouse, the Wufu Teahouse is much quieter. It has developed a reputation for its elegant tea ceremonies.

The celadon flagstone floor reinforces the tranquility of the Wufu Teahouse and its leisurely atmosphere relaxes all visitors, like the carefree goldfish swimming in the pond on the floor.

The teahouse is decorated with rare antique furniture, including an over 100-year old stone table inlaid with shells and an elm wood cabinet carved with dragons and phoenixes.

The teahouse gets a special charm from the precious tea sets displayed on its shelves, including purple granulated teapots and celadon.

Our eyes are dazzled by one attractive cabinet in particular, because it houses hundreds of delicate purple granulated teapots. It's said that these teapots belong to the members of a tea club in the Wufu Teahouse. Every member is presented with a free teapot for his or her own use. Day after day, each teapot gleams with the polish of tea.

But we've come to enjoy fragrant tea and the elegant tea ceremony, not to admire the dcor.

The Chinese tea ceremony sets high requirements on the quality of water, tea and tea set. You have to follow the proper tea brewing techniques to achieve the best taste.

The masters at the Wufu Teahouse are happy to introduce you to the fascinating world of tea.

Under their guidance, you'll be exposed to the world of top class tea.

As a master of tea, Li Yanyan highly recommends a tea called Tie Guanyin, or "Iron Goddess of Mercy."
Tie means "iron" in Chinese, while guanyin is the Goddess of Mercy.

Li Yanyan says Tie guanyin is a medium-roast oolong tea, characterized by a silky-smooth liquor and strong orchid fragrance.
She also tells us the interesting legend behind the famous tea.

"Once upon a time, a tea farmer accidentally planted the seed of a rare leaf in a pan. To his surprise, the seed shot up and grew into a flourishing plant with plump blades. The leaves sent out a strong aroma after being roasted. The farmer believed it was guanyin helping him. And because of the iron pan, he named the tea Tie Guanyin."

There's quite an art to the Chinese tea ceremony.

Different people can get distinctly different tastes out of the same set of leaves and the taste can even vary according to the maker's mood.

The art of tea requires both effort and understanding.

A devoted fan in the Wufu Teahouse, Yu Yamei, believes the tea ceremony helps her refine her sentiments.

"The tea ceremony is part of traditional Chinese culture, reflecting traditional Chinese aesthetics and morality. Wufu Teahouse is really nostalgic, elegant and serene, where you can feel free from your busy days. You also have the chance to refine yourself. It is very interesting."

The Wufu Teahouse organizes a number of events in addition to tea drinking, like lectures, ikebana shows and performances of kunqu opera and Guzheng, the Chinese zither. You even get to keep your very own purple granulated teapot.

Thank you, Shen Ting, for taking us on that mellow trip through the tea world. China Horizons will continue right after this.

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