Tianjin Teahouses, Shanghai Fuchaguan Teahouses and Guangdong Tearooms
Tianjin became a city after the Jin and Yuan dynasties to service the Great Canal. It has been an important industrial and commercial metropolis in North China in the modern times. Because it is close to Beijing, the capital, Tianjin teahouses imitated those in Beijing to meet the needs of industrial and commercial development, as well as those of ordinary people. In old China, besides formal teahouses, the public places for tea-drinking included public baths, brothels, restaurants and tea stalls.
As in the large Beijing teahouses, the formal Tianjin teahouses sold refreshments, accompanied by the singing of opera arias, storytelling and dagu (a versified story sung to the accompaniment of a small drum and other instruments). Every customer was served with a teapot and cup, while groups of customers were provided with a teapot and several cups. People of various trades drank tea while eating refreshments and appreciating performances. Some of them came to teahouses to look for jobs, such as lacquering, bricklaying and woodwork. Teahouses were often antique trading floors. In the Sandexuan Teahouse, craftsmen drank tea and looked for jobs in the morning, while at noon, storytelling and dagu were performed; in the Donglaixuan Teahouse, cooks sang opera arias in the morning, while in the evening, actors/actress and amateur performers sang together. Some famous Beijing opera performers often went to the Donglaixuan Teahouse. People from all walks of life killed time, read newspapers, exchanged information or played chess in the teahouses. Unlike Beijing teahouses, which were carefully classified, Sichuan teahouses or Hangzhou tearooms, which have their unique local features, most of the Tianjin teahouses met the needs of business people from different parts of China.
In the old days, customers in Tianjin restaurants would be greeted with a cup of top-grade tea as soon as they arrived so that they could-refresh themselves and whet their appetite. After that, formal courses would be served. Tea would be served again after the meal so that customers could rest for a while before leaving. It was a good tradition. In such a way, Tianjin teahouses gave full play to the social and economic development of the city. The old local residents drank tea three times a day. The cultural atmosphere of the teahouses, however, was not strong, which was a common characteristic of the teahouses in North China.
However, the teahouses in Shanghai, another modem industrial and commercial metropolis, had a stronger cultural atmosphere. In the past, the tearooms in gardens were often filled with guests and friends. Many sons and daughters of the rich went to tearooms to learn civilized manners and mingle with men of letters and scholars and to pose as lovers of culture. Although, compared with Beijing teahouses where tea was served without refreshments, Shanghai tearooms had a less literary atmosphere, they could be regarded as learned and refined places in Shanghai. The most typical teahouse with local features was situated in the old Chenghuangmiao (Temple of Town God) area. For example, in the old Deyilou Teahouse, the customers on the ground floor were small tradesmen, porters and other laborers, and the stalls at the gate sold sesame seed cakes. The second floor, where customers drank tea while listening to storytelling, had a greater cultural atmosphere, and the third floor, where bird connoisseurs gathered, was full of the joy of life. The most quietly and tastefully laid out tearoom was situated in Yuyuan Garden, neighboring Chenghuangmiao. Though inferior to Suzhou gardens, the traditional zigzag southern private garden was very beautiful. The tearooms close to ponds and bamboos were very elegant. Shanghai people called teahouses fuchaguan to express their longing for leisure. We can thus see that teahouses were popular in modem cities.
The teahouses in Guangzhou, another modem city, looked grander. The local people called breakfast zaocha (morning-tea). If a Cantonese said "I would like to invite you to drink tea tomorrow," he meant to invite you for a meal. The old Guangdong tearooms were inexpensive. Regular customers would be served with a cup of tea, and two steamed buns stuffed with diced grilled pork, steamed dumplings with the dough gathered at the top, or dumplings with shrimp stuffing. However, present teahouses are different. A waitress serves customers with a pot of strong tea as soon as they arrive, and asks them to select from a great variety of refreshments on the food cart.
Some small village teahouses in Guangdong were like little and dainty waterside pavilions with bamboo or bark fences. Customers were served with a cup of tea with thick stalks and large leaves, and two steamed dumplings with the dough gathered at the top or other refreshments, but compared with the teahouses in Guangzhou and Hongkong, they had a stronger cultural and artistic ambience. Though not as learned and refined as the tearooms by the West Lake, the simple and unadorned teahouses were full of the appeal of waterside villages. The villagers drank tea three times a day in the waterside teahouses. In the morning, they appreciated the rising sun and misty morn; at noon, the passing boats setting sails or sculling; in the evening, the moon rising in the east, which was reflected in the water. As a result, their weariness dissolved. The waterside teahouses in Guangdong were called tancha. Tan meant to enjoy. People could learn tea's taste, and the joys and sorrows of life. Compared with the teahouses in large cities, they were rich in the philosophies of life and nature.