Few aspects of Chinese culture are as easily identifiable or universally appreciated and enjoyed as tea. But with a history spanning more thousands of years, and so many types, it can be a little intimidating to know where to start learning more about it.
As with most things of course, the best place to start is usually talking to an expert. Cultural Keys took time to drop by Gengxiang Tea, a well-known tea shop in Beijing’s Chaoyang District to say hi to owner Johnny ‘New’ Niu and get his insight on many aspects of all the tea in China.
Read on to see what Johnny had to share with us, plus see how you can save money the next time you visit Gengxiang Tea!
According to legend, tea was discovered by Chinese Emperor Shen Nong in 2737 BC when a leaf from a nearby shrub fell into water the emperor was boiling. The oldest known tea was found by archaeologists near Xi’an in the tomb of Emperor Jing Di (188 BC – 9 March 141 BC), but in fact it’s likely tea was used long before this, perhaps medicinally. Tea was produced for sale and also tribute, and was sold loose and in bricks, which made tea leaves easier to transport. Now, tea is the most widely consumed drink in the world after water!
While many people just buy their tea in boxes from the supermarket, there are places where people can get their tea loose, the traditional way. Johnny ‘New’ Niu is the proprietor of one such venue, Gengxiang Tea. A familiar face to many expat tea lovers in Beijing, eligible bachelor Johnny spends most of his time either in his store, learning about the history of tea and the latest developments in the industry, or fluttering around the city’s heaving social circuit, making friends and introducing people to the delights of Chinese tea culture.
CK: Hi Johnny, thanks for taking the time to talk with us. For the people reading who might not have met you in your shop or around Beijing’s social and cultural scene before, can you tell us where you are from, something about your history and what you do now?
JN: My full name is Niu Zhangyi and I’m from Sanlitun in Chaoyang District. I have been operating a tea house since I graduated from college! We went from one tea house to three tea houses in Beijing, but later unfortunately had to close two of them because of the rapid increase in rents. There is still this tea house (which I’ve been running for 18 years!).
CK: What need did you see in the market that encouraged you to open a tea shop?
JN: Our tea shop has always been operated and managed well. Of course, as the market changes, it also brings more changes and challenges!
CK: How many kinds of tea do you offer and where are they from? What kind of people are your customers? Who is tea good for?
JN: We now sell 210 types of tea! Our customers come from all over the world and we serve everyone like old friends! Tea has many different health benefits for different groups of people (except children) and can be consumed in many different situations!
CK: For people who might not know, what are some of the benefits of drinking tea?
JN: Drinking tea can effectively improve immunity and enhance resistance! Vitamin C and catechins in tea can effectively enhance the body’s anti-viral ability! Drinking different teas also has different benefits. For example, black tea can warm the stomach and expel cold, and green tea can effectively prevent oxidation and improve immunity!
CK: Why is tea drunk differently in China, compared to the USA (iced tea) or England (tea with milk and sugar)?
JN: The way of drinking tea in China is relatively traditional, whereas the way of drinking tea in the United Kingdom and the United States is mainly derived from the influence of Lipton’s promotion and sales model. Of course, this is also to do with the impact of modern tea bags, which are easy and convenient to use!
CK: While tea and tea drinking is very much part of the ‘Chinese brand’ and easily identifiable, have you ever met challenges or obstacles in convincing foreigners of the benefits of tea drinking?
JN: I personally think that there is no inevitable relationship between a drink and nationality. Of course, I also believe that more and more people will start to like different Chinese teas!
CK: Obviously you’ve dedicated your life to the study and promotion of Chinese tea. But at the same time, do you have any personal experience with tea from other countries? Do you like it?
JN: First of all, thank you very much for your positive evaluation and affirmation, but I dare not say that I have devoted my life to tea. I am just a student in the tea industry, and I only know a little bit of tea knowledge! I still have a lot to learn from the true experts.
I don’t know much about tea from different African countries, but what I do know is that the taste and aroma of black teas from Sri Lanka and India are very different from the tea produced in China. Which is good, as everyone’s preferences are different!
CK: What tea do you most recommend to people at this time of year?
JN: I recommend some green tea for everyone at this time every year, because green tea is just coming onto the market at this time, so the tea leaves are very fresh, and the taste and aroma are also very good!
Thank you so much to Johnny for taking the time to tell us a little something about his views on Chinese tea culture! It’s a fascinating subject and like most aspects of Chinese culture, one you really need to experience for yourself to appreciate.
Gengxiang Tea has recently reopened and is a great place to not only try a new flavour of tea, but learn more about it. Not just that, but next time you go there, show this article to Johnny to receive a 10% discount off your next tea purchase!
Gengxiang Tea | 更香茗茶
Contact details: Telephone – 13581818689
WeChat – johnnynewchinesetea
Opening Hours: 8am – 9pm
– Johnny Niu, Gengxiang Tea
Disclaimer: This is not a sponsored post. No company or individual we interview were they paid to be included. Some of the organisations whose submissions are used are partners of Cultural Keys, some are not. Each company was invited to share based on their own opinions and experiences, Answers have been lightly edited for length and clarity.
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