Tea has been a central part of China’s heritage for over 4,000 years. First attested to the legendary pioneer of Chinese agriculture, Shennong, tea preparation in China is an artistic ritual requiring the utmost etiquette, attention to detail, finesse, and hospitality. Nanjing is one of China’s tea capitals, with specialist tea markets brimming with hundreds of aromatic varieties, a signature tea leaf so difficult to prepare that only a handful of masters can produce it by hand, and a culture of tea-serving that is as intoxicating to observe as the tea is delicious to drink. Carefully brewed, meticulously prepared, and expertly served, here is why Nanjing’s traditional teahouses will leave you humming in delight for weeks to come:
Yu Hua - Nanjing’s Premier Tea
Nanjing’s most sought-after leaf, Yu Hua, originates from the surrounding Jiangsu province. Its name translates to “Rain Flower,” and is a nod to a legendary local Buddhist monk whose teachings caused flowers to fall from the sky. Yu Hua has a complex taste that intensifies as it brews. Refreshing and flowery, your first sips will be light and silky, before the hot water unlocks sweeter, more floral flavours.
Yu Hua holds a special place in contemporary Chinese society. It is traditionally given as a gift and is the tea of choice for many government officials. Perhaps Yu Hua’s most distinctive aspect is its elongated, curled shape that resembles a pine needle. The shape is the result of pinpoint firing for just over an hour. So difficult is it to prepare by hand, that only around ten masters are able to brew it traditionally. To celebrate its harvest, come to Nanjing in April where a festival in its honour leaves the streets fresh with the revitalising aromas of freshly-brewed teas. To satiate your Nanjing-born tea addiction, many local teahouses will sell full tea sets for proper brewing, as well as freshly prepared leaves by the gram.
The Chinese Tea Ceremony and Where to Experience It
Principally associated with Japan, the highly meticulous and ordered tea ceremony actually owes its origins to ancient China. The Chinese tea ceremony, in its most basic form, is a scientific operation designed to maximize the flavours of the tea leaves being enjoyed. Specialist tea-ware is a must, with shapes painstakingly designed to retain flavour. The ceremony itself is a complex series of brewings, each set of leaves undergoing as many as seven to unlock the full spectrum of their flavours. To experience the majesty—and resulting delectability—of this ceremony, visit Nanjing’s best teahouses:
Lao Cui teahouse is perhaps Nanjing’s most famous. Located inside the historic Nanjing city walls, the teahouse has a speakeasy vibe that wouldn’t be out of place in the East Village. That said, the interior décor speaks traditional, with elegantly carved, low-set wooden tables and xitan horseshoe chairs. For those preferring a more modern aesthetic, Tao Hua Yan is housed in a marble-and-glass hall overlooking a verdant forest in the hot springs complex just out of town. Its interior, faithfully bamboo, modernises the tea ceremony with bold ox-bow tables and spacious vistas provided by floor-to-ceiling glass panes.
The historic Muslim-style teahouse, Kui Guang Ge, which used to entertain those who passed the imperial civil service exams at the Confucius temple across the street, and Tianyu teahouse, whose serene interior and tome-like tea menu will provide the ideal tea for any occasion. Or there’s the Wo Cha teahouse, prettily perched on the top floor of Nanjing’s Xin Hua bookstore, whose in-house team of tea experts will brew you fresh leaves to blissful perfection.
To explore Nanjing’s Traditional teahouses, stay in the stunningly designed Jumeirah Nanjing, located on the south bank of the Yangtze River in Nanjing’s new Hexi Central Business District.