Yesterday's tradition becomes today's cup of cha
"If I'm not in the teahouse, I'm on the way there" is a popular Chinese saying.
Chinese teahouses are the traditional ancient cafes of the east, for getting together and chewing the fat and generally passing the time.
In recent years the tradition has been revitalized, becoming fashionable in modern cities.
"The teahouse has become a place for people to not only sip tea and relax, but also to experience Chinese culture, hold social activities, host private parties and conduct business negotiations," said Wu Xiduan, secretary-general of the China Tea Circulation Association.
He is a regular tea drinker at the Laoshe Teahouse, named after the famous Chinese writer and one of his works, "Teahouse."
The teahouse is where customers go for a traditional, old-Beijing taste. They can watch all kinds of Chinese performances and nibble Beijing-style snacks and delicacies the likes of which were eaten by Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) emperors, says Yin Shengxi, general manager of the Laoshe Teahouse.
"The teahouse recreates the charm of old Beijing, which makes it a must for foreigners, who, from around the world, may come to appreciate Beijing Opera, drama, acrobatics and other Beijing folk arts, as well as sip tea," he said.
In general, it costs around 100 yuan (US$12) to drink tea and watch a performance in the Laoshe Teahouse, which is in Qianmen, the most prosperous commercial area of old Beijing neighbouring Tian'anmen Square, the world's largest square.
In contrast, the ambience in the Wufu teahouse (five kinds of happiness in Chinese), the first chain teahouse in Beijing set up in 1994, is much quieter and milder, with girls dressed in traditional Chinese clothes performing tea ceremonies for customers.
The chain's General Manager Tan Bo says Wufu was the first teahouse to introduce the Chinese tea ceremony to Beijing, showing the public the ancient ritual for the preparation, serving and drinking of tea.
As well as providing a tea service, Wufu sells high-quality tea, hand-made tea sets and books. It even organizes tea forums and lectures.
Wufu now has 12 outlets, 11 in Beijing and one in Northeast China's Changchun, capital of Jilin Province.
"Foreigners are frequently seen in our stores, as they are so interested in the traditional tea ceremony and are curious to know more about the history of Chinese tea," Tan said.
Chinese people use the word pao (spending a long time in ease and comfort) to describe life in a teahouse, while the emergence of Hangzhou-style teahouses elaborates more on the meaning of the word.
These teahouses offer what could be described as a tea buffet. The average charge per head ranges between 48 yuan (US$5.78) and 68 yuan (US$8.19) and patrons can enjoy various tea, snacks, fruit and even dinner to while a whole day away.
One typical Hangzhou teahouse in Beijing is Xizihu - West Lake - a famous scenic spot in Hangzhou, in Zhejiang Province.
General Manager of Xizihu Li Yue said the model came from Hangzhou and is now popular around the nation, affordable for ordinary people and with drinks and food that cater more to the tastes of Chinese eaters compared with cafes and bars.
Yue Fengmei often idles the weekend away with her family in Xizihu, where, sipping a variety of tea depending on what season it is. They can chat, play cards, read books and enjoy delicious delicacies.
"The atmosphere here is rather like that in a big family - kind and relaxed, not as serious as in the high-profile teahouses," said Yue.
Teahouses are mushrooming everywhere in large cities, in large temples, travel resorts, hotels and office buildings.
"The permeation of teahouses in modern society is partly due to people's needs to escape life's hustle and bustle and recharge themselves during holidays," said Secretary-General Wu.