A Tea Addict's Journal


June 25, 2007 · 5 Comments

One of the things that I never really said much about in the 10 months I’ve been here is Tenfu, also known as TenRen, or in the States, Ten Tea. For those of you who don’t know them, they are a very big organization, and at least in China and Taiwan, they’re everywhere.

When you walk into TenFu here, you’ll be greeted by a salesgirl (they’re all salesgirls) who will ask you what you might need, and especially if you look foreign (as I, mystifyingly, apparently do sometimes) they will be presenting you with a cup of jasmine tea. On one wall you will see an array of those golden colour tea canisters, with name of tea on them and their price. On the other wall will be a slew of teaware.

The array of teas that TenFu sells basically goes something like… a few kinds of green, some with a few levels, a few kinds of other oolongs, and maybe a million different varieties of tieguanyin, all of the relatively green kind. Prices range from the 100 RMB/500g to the 20000RMB/500g (or even higher, I think). Their puerh are extremely overpriced, and so are everything else, for that matter.

They are ubiquitous in China. Everywhere you go, as long as you’re in a reasonable sized city, you will see at least one. I’ve seen them a few times in Shenyang already, usually in the most central shopping areas, or next to certain sites, or… next to the provincial government, in this case (for the gift-buying crowd). They are one of the few tea stores in China that will sell tea in packaging that is one level up from the ugly foil bags, and they are also a place where they will actually let you taste whatever you want, pretty much (a lot of smaller tea stores that are not in tea markets are a little reluctant about that, sometimes).

The good thing about them is that they do introduce a lot of people who otherwise don’t care much about tea a first entry to decent tea. My friend L, who now runs a tea business, got started with TenFu. He said his family, two generations ago, were tea merchants in Tianjin. Then came the revolution and communism, through which they lost their company, but he picked up interest in tea again when he got involved in tea lessons at TenFu. He’s just one example of many people who are like that. TenFu is actively involved in giving lessons to people in tea, and they have a nice community going. The amount of work they do in promoting tea is certainly worth commending.

The downside is, of course, their price. They are expensive. Everything they sell is overpriced. When I first got to Beijing, I bought a small set of teaware from them that cost me 100 RMB. I probably could’ve bought everything in that package from Maliandao for about 20. That was a lesson learned. A lot of ex-TenFu customers I know now no longer buy stuff from them, because over time they have learned that TenFu sells them stuff that are way overpriced. Far more people, however, just keep buying from them because they just trust them, somewhat blindly, I think. I think it is mostly because it is just too much trouble sometimes for what isn’t really that much money, or uncertain quality, or something like that. Many are happy with what they provide, and that’s that. At the end of the day, I suppose it’s just a matter of “to each his own”, regardless of what it is, where it’s from, or how much it is. So long as TenFu doesn’t lie about their teas (which I don’t think they do), it’s not really a problem. I think when lying starts happening, it’s a different matter entirely.

I do blame them for popularizing the ever lighter oxidation/roast of tieguanyin though, making it hard to find the higher roast stuff. Oh well.

Back to Beijing tomorrow. I think while Shenyang is nice… it’s enough to spend a week here especially with the lack of tea. The archives are not too useful here, for me anyway, although it’s a good thing I finally got to see the old palace here and some unexpected cultural treasures.

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5 responses so far ↓

  • shichangpu // June 25, 2007 at 11:23 am | Reply

    funny–the ten ren shop in the mall in richmond (near berkeley) actually sells some darker grades of tgy. not great, but not green.

    also, i don’t know what their corporate structure is like in china, but i wonder whether it’s a franchise type operation in the u.s. there’s a ten ren in san francisco chinatown that’s got an entirely different character from the ten ren here in east bay. can’t say much for their tea, but the folks in the richmond store are very nice, and it seems to be owned (or at least run) by a middle-aged couple who are very pleasant to deal with.

    i occasionally take newbie friends there–as you say, it can be a good intro.

  • MarshalN // June 26, 2007 at 11:55 am | Reply

    I think the TenRen stores in the US are franchises, whereas the ones in China are all directly operated.  I’ve talked to the Beijing area manager (who oversees something like 60 stores) and I know they are all run by TenFu here.

  • wyardley // June 26, 2007 at 2:42 pm | Reply

    Yeah – I’m pretty sure the ones in the US are individually owned – all 3 that I’ve been to in the LA area are pretty different. I have bought some random teaware at the ones here, but haven’t bothered trying any of the tea. The tea they offer you in the shop (usually either ginseng oolong, or some sort of light Taiwanese oolong, I think) is brewed really strong and doesn’t taste very good to me.

    But anyway, it’s the pushy sales people that really bug me (yeah – I know, it’ll probably be even worse in China). Makes me just not want to buy anything.

  • MarshalN // June 26, 2007 at 9:04 pm | Reply

    I agree — they are pushy.  Some people here dig that though, and my friend L thought at least they have service (whereas most tea shops here just stare at you blankly, at least in the bad old days).

  • h_ster // June 27, 2007 at 1:20 am | Reply

    Long time ago when we were pu-erh virgins, my husband and I went to TenRen in Richmond, CA. He asked the lady behind the counter for pu-erh. She brought out a bag and pointed at the Chinese characters. She shouted in my husband’s face in a classic China town holler, “PU-ERH! It says right here, PU-ERH!”

    It was a small bag of mini-toucha for ten bucks which I still have somewhere in the cupboard.


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