Teahouses In Sichuan Province
by courtesy of Mr. Qiu Huanxing and Mr. Lu Zhongmin,
the authors of Folk Customs Of China
When I was in Chengdu, I saw teahouses everywhere on the streets. There is a saying,"China has the best teahouses in the world and Chengdu has the best teahouses in China." It really has a well-deserved reputation, not only because of the numerous teahouses, but also because the special way of serving and drinking tea.
As soon as the guests enter the teahouse, the waiters or waitresses greet them with a smile on their faces and with teapots and cups in their hands. After the guests have sat down they set the cups on the table and pour the water from behind the guests or from above their heads. When the cups are almost full, the waiters or waitresses raise their hands high suddenly, but not a drop of water is spilled.
Chess players in a teahouse in Chengdu.
The cups which look like antiques have covers and saucers. The cup sitting on the saucer looks like a boat floating on the water, hence the name of "the tea-boat."The cover keeps the water warm and also adjusts the steeping speed of the tea. If you want to drink it immediately after the tea has been made, you can use the cover to strain the tea. So the tea can be soaked well quickly and then it can be drunk. Or the tea can be drunk with the cover on the cup. In this way the tea leaves won't go into the mouth.
People who go to the teahouses are not really thirsty. Retired people pay 20 cents to go to the teahouse and sit there all day long to chat with each other. Sometimes, people bring guests to the teahouses. They eat melon or sunflower seeds while they chat and return home when they are tired of sitting there.
Teahouses are also places for people from various businesses and organizations to get together to hold trade talks or make deals. In recent years, more and more people go to teahouses for business talks. Some of the teahouses also have theatrical performances, such as storytelling, crosstalk (comic dialogue) and Sichuan opera.
In addition, sometimes when people quarrel a mediator will bring them to the teahouse. When their dispute is settled, the person who is in the wrong will pay for the tea. It is interesting that as soon as the quarrellers enter the teahouse and sit down to drink tea, they almost always cool down. With the help of the mediator their disputes can be easily settled. So the teahouses in sichuan also have special social functions.