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Savoring the past at Old Shanghai Teahouse

Updated: Jan 12,2015 3:23 PM

At the Old Shanghai Teahouse, an exquisite attraction for tourist and locals alike, centuries of history and tradition can be seen and tasted.

The Old Shanghai Teahouse is situated near the Yuyuan Gardens, and the streets are always bustling with activity outside the tea house, but inside there is a different story.

The ornate exterior is well-matched by the decorative interior. Frame prints and paintings adorn almost all of the wall space, and the windows allow plenty of natural light and offer great views of the colorful procession of people outside.

Visitors can take a stroll down memory lane with all the paintings and furniture that reflect life in Old Shanghai.

The ornaments are presented in chronological order. They range from the late Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) to the time around the founding of the People’s Republic of China (1949).

“I consider the teahouse a kind of installation art. Now for me, art is about inspiring and touching people’s hearts. The teahouse is four dimensional, apart from the usual three dimensions, time serves as a fourth dimension. With our interior decorations we take people on a journey through time. Now to one side, are items from the times past, while on the other side we have the present outside the window below us. It is quite inspiring. And people have had wonderful experiences here. Many of them have expressed this in the notes from visitors,” says Zhang Jianming, Old Shanghai Teahouse’s owner.

Some of the most interesting items include typewriters and refrigerators used in the 1940s. Shanghai was already a very modern city back then, as seen in posters of film stars and a painting of a famous swimmer.

Old Shanghai snacks are also available. Visitors can choose from a great variety of snacks, including spicy noodles, veggie-stuffed wontons, rice dumplings and Shanghai-style steamed buns.

“We want to present a comprehensive experience for our visitors and we pay great attention to our food. They are made strictly using traditional procedures and there are no artificial flavoring. That’s why many people from overseas also really love to come here,” Zhang said.

But the most important thing at the teahouse is always the tea. The menu offers all the staples of Chinese tea: Keemun black tea, jasmine, lung ching and tie kuan yin.

An elaborate tabletop presentation of making tea is also available. Called a “gong fu service,” it involves a handful of procedures before taking a sip including smelling the aroma of the tea.

“This is my first time here, but I’ve been going to teahouses with my father and grandfather since childhood. This place is truly one of a kind. I don’t think you will find a teahouse like this anywhere else in Shanghai,” says a visitor.

The owner, a collector of old objects and antiques, has a wide array of items for selection to be displayed in the teahouse, and he is constantly adding to his collection. Perhaps it is this interesting combination of old — yet new — treasures that makes the Old Shanghai Teahouse so alluring.