Connecting over a cuppa

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 25 April, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 25 April, 2012, 12:00am


One thing Chengdu will never give up, no matter how many developments are built, or how many Fortune 500 firms move to the city, is the afternoon tea session.

Even with hundreds of teahouses in the city, there still aren't enough. On sunny afternoons, of which there have been many this spring, every one is full to capacity.

Teahouses in Chengdu are the great equaliser, the grease between the wheels of commerce and the special space reserved for living that locals cherish and need.

A local phrase, 'setting up the dragon gate formation', captures the philosophy of the afternoon session succinctly; it means they are engaging in a freewheeling, yet complex discussion that has its own special structure.

For any visitor to the city, be it for business or pleasure, the teahouse presents a great opportunity to connect with the people. Deals are sealed over sunflower seeds, tea and card games; relationships gain depth when, after hours of chatting, the group gets up and heads out to a meal as night falls.

The many new developments around the outskirts of the city - the Tianfu New District, various greenbelts and ecological parks - all have space reserved for teahouses and tea culture. Part of Chengdu's modern garden city concept stems from the innate need of the people to preserve this vital part of their social and cultural identity.

Other provinces, namely Fujian and Zhejiang are famous for the high quality teas they produce.

In Sichuan there are several excellent tea mountains, Mengdingshan south of Chengdu, Ya'an to the west and Qingcheng Mountain to the north, but the teas they produce do not undergo the same arduous processes that exemplify east coast oolong teas. Sichuan teas are simple, pure and easy to drink. All one needs is a tall glass and some sunflower seeds and the session can begin.

This is due largely to the different tea-drinking cultures of the various tea-producing areas of China.

In Sichuan, tea drinking is communal, public and designed to assist discussion.

Gong Fu teas are more private, more involved and revolve around the tea itself and the complex pouring procedures required to bring out the best of those teas.

This difference contributes to the description of Chengdu as a leisure city and also to the people, who are often described by outsiders as open-minded and friendly - always ready to chat.

Despite the movement towards more hi-tech cities with grand boulevards and soaring skyscrapers, Chengdu is attractive to outside investors and businesses looking to relocate.

Nevertheless, the culture of the people, teahouses, remain - relaxed, open and dedicated to living life to the fullest.