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  Beijing Scene



Beijing Scene, Volume 6, Issue 9, December 10 - 16


SIPPING AND SWINGING
Taiwanese Tea-Shakes Hit Beijing

On the eastern edge of the bustling Wangfujing shopping district nestles a quiet Taiwanese teahouse. On first glance it is easy to mistake it for just another shopfront, with its large glass windows and neon green placard. But a closer look in the window reveals an unusual sight: a crowd of people drinking tea, while leisurely playing on swings.

Entering the Xianzonglin Teahouse (literally: 'Forest of the Immortal Footprint' Teahouse) is like stepping into Alice's Wonderland. The decor is simultaneously fantastical and kitsch. Both the trees planted around the room and the plastic vines winding up the walls are intended to impart the atmosphere of a forest. The rabbit logo of the teahouse and the forest furnishings all have something to do with a traditional tale of a rabbit in a forest and its relationship to a man growing tea, although none of the waitstaff can elaborate on the fable.

Teahouse culture in Taiwan is more popular than ever, and it is not uncommon to discover four or five teahouses in one small neighborhood. But like everything else traditional, teahouses - with their long-established tea ceremony (pin cha) - are giving way to radical modern counterparts. Abandoning stiff etiquette, the Taipei teahouse is now a bright and lively place where young urbanites can wile away the hours. Not only have the interiors been revamped to suit a younger clientele, but the tea served nowadays has adopted a variety of new tastes and colors, mixing milks, syrups and 'pearl sago' balls in a cocktail shaker to create a frothy concoction that is a combination of tea and milkshake. The majority of these teahouses stay open from midday to midnight, and provide respite to a steady stream of late-night customers.

Xianzonglin falls very much into the post-modern teahouse category. It is a bustling place which caters not only to weary shoppers in need of quick refreshment, but in the evening it is full of trendy young Chinese seemingly quite comfortable in the plastic forest that surrounds them. Then again it is easy to forgive the tree branches and plastic bamboo chairs when you see the swings which hang over a gravel area next to the large shop windows. Serving as bench seats and placed on either side of a picnic table, it is an easy way to spend a good hour or so swinging while sipping tea.

Xianzonglin offers a wide selection of reasonably priced, multi-colored teas ranging from a simple Hot Black Tea (RMB14) to a large jade green Galaxy Tea (RMB24) which arrives in a pint-sized cocktail glass. The menu is divided into a number of categories including the more conservative Tea With Milk Series, the de rigueur Taiwanese Pearl Sago Series, and the trendy Generation X Series. The variety of flavors and colors is so overwhelming that it is easy to forget you are drinking tea at all, and the waitstaff make their contribution to national security by keeping the ingredients top secret.

From the Salsa Series I try the Dreamy Delight - Strawberry Flavor, a creamy tea milkshake with a hint of fresh strawberry, and the Cantaloupe Delight, a bouquet of fruit flavors underpinned by a strong Cantaloupe essence. The Green Apple Green Tea and a Passion Fruit Green Tea are featured in the Black/Green Tea Series. The Apple tea arrives brilliant emerald green in color and with a strong, but not too sweet, apple zest that makes it thoroughly refreshing. Similarly, the Passion Fruit Tea is fruity and tangy.

The real test of an authentic Taiwan 'tea-shake' is a selection from the Pearl Sago Series, a creamy beverage with a handful of sago balls at the bottom of the glass. 'Sago', a starch derived from a tropical Asian palm included more for substance than taste, has become a staple of Taiwan tea culture and on this occasion I am not disappointed. On tasting the coconut variety, I am transported back to the two-stroke motorcycle whine of Taipei's busy streets.

The Generation X Series consists of a variety of themed teas in a veritable rainbow of hues. A turquoise-colored Blue Coral Reef is bright and cheery and will enliven even the greyest Beijing winter day. Unfortunately the vibrant color does not make up for the intensely strong perfume flavor and it is left virtually untouched. However the Lucky Dip, a fragrant orange-flavored drink and the Pink Lady, a tea-shake with a tangy strawberry zest, are slurped to the last drop.

A small selection of entrees and xiaochi (snacks) are available, including a range of marinated delectables such as Taiwanese Marinated Chicken Kidney and Taiwanese Marinated Egg, all at around RMB6. Hash Browns, Fried Bean Curd and toast with a variety of syrupy toppings are also offered. Although not the strongest feature of the menu, they are a perfect accompaniment to a glass of tea or for late night munchies.

The Xianzonglin is not the kind of place you would go for dinner, but if you are looking for light entertainment and tasty refreshments then it makes a pleasant change from the multitude of Western-style coffee shops that have sprung up around the city. And of course, you get the additional fun and exercise of going for a swing.

 

Restaurant Guide


Book's Cafe

French Cuisine en Chine

Green Tianshi Vegetarian Restaurant

Smoothly Sweet
T-Bone at St. Mark's Steakhouse

Imperial City Old Mom Chafing Dish

Celestial Court

Red Capital Club

The Blue Lotus

Club Vogue

Le Beccassine

Triumphal Arch

Hotline 1950

Timbuktu

Coffee and Books at Sculpting in Time

Rotary Sushi

Jintaiyuan Restaurant

The Mother of All Theme Restaurants

Waterside Cafe

Sushiya

Tian Gen Yuan Authentic
Beijing Restaurant

La Place

Havana Cafe

Alamuhan Authentic Xinjiang Cuisine

Scandanavian Food

Real Spring Rolls
Real Beijing Food