One of China’s most relaxed big cities, Sichuan’s capital Chengdu is full of old-world teahouses and quirky cafés. Its leafy parks are perfect for sipping endless cups of green tea, and its youthful residents adore a coffee with a theme. These are our picks for some of the best teahouses and cafés in Chengdu.
Chengdu knows how to sip a beverage. In many ways, Chengdu culture is café culture. The city has been the veritable capital of Chinese teahouses for centuries. It was one of the major cities in the region surrounding the Tea-Horse Road – a trading route that fostered the exchange of Central Asian horses for Chinese tea grown in the lush southwestern valleys of Yunnan and Guizhou. The route passed through Sichuan and up over the Himalayas, and Chengdu’s love of tea grew naturally by proxy. By the Tang dynasty (618 to 907 CE), there were over 400 teahouses in the city, most of them situated in the many shaded parks where locals gathered (and still do) to socialise, exercise and rest from the steamy Sichuan weather.
A number of historic teahouses still operate much as they did back then, today offering menus of green, black and fruit teas with huge thermoses of hot water for endless refills. This is one way to experience Chengdu’s café culture, but recent decades have also seen the rise of numerous modern cafés that fill up with the city’s hip young population in search of macchiatos, blended tea and brunch.
He Ming Teahouse for an afternoon of endless cha (tea)
One of Chengdu’s most traditional old teahouses, He Ming Teahouse goes back more than 100 years and offers the classic Chinese teahouse experience. Situated inside People’s Park, the teahouse consists of open-air tables and chairs overlooking a pond from wafty pavilions. There are dozens of types of tea on the menu, along with a few snacks of dried fruit and nuts – teacups come with loose tea and a huge thermos of boiled water for refills. On weekends, you might see a traditional tea-pouring ceremony, and everyday you will see another Chengdu tradition: professional ear cleaners wearing head torches and wielding extra-long cotton swabs.
Laozhaiyuan Teahouse is a 200-year-old institution tucked away off of busy Wide Alley. The teahouse ticks along serenely to a soundtrack of calming guzheng music and water splashing into delicate teacups, much as it has for centuries. Don’t expect flashy performances; this is a place to sit in studied contemplation.
Origins is a cosy American-style coffeehouse that offers a taste of home for international visitors and expats. The menu runs from classic lattes and flat whites to specialty tea, blended drinks, iced teas and American-style sodas (including root beer). Foodwise, there are pastries, sandwiches and salads. Everything is served in a bright, brick-and-wood interior with comfy banquettes and big windows.
Part coffeehouse, part laundromat, Enjoy Laundry is the ultimate in quirky Chengdu cafes. It’s a fully functioning launderette where you can use the self-service washers and dryers, with a hipster-style, bare lightbulb and oakwood table coffeeshop inside. The whole thing comes together in a remarkably charming and nostalgic atmosphere, for coffee, clothes washing or both.
Spot this lovely little café by its pink awning and front porch, which in good weather is lined with potted plants. Inside is just as quaint – there are two rooms barely big enough for six tables, all surrounded by cute crafts and country flourishes, as well as more houseplants. Coffees, teas and blended drinks are all on the menu.
This airy café inside the swish Temple House Hotel offers luxurious pastries, French-style coffee and light bistro meals, as well as a formal afternoon tea service. The hotel is within a converted Buddhist temple complex and the café offers a mix of modern interior dining areas and bar seats along the floor-to-ceiling windows.
For a posh brunch, hit up this modern café in the upmarket Tai Koo Li district. A boutique Chinese chain that started in Shanghai’s French Concession, it offers a huge range of authentic pastries and baked goods, including homemade sourdough and rye breads, scones and croissants, as well as top-notch coffees. There are also more substantial options like roast beef sandwiches, salads and Asian-inspired dishes, and the vibe transitions in the evening, when you’ll find imported wines and beers too.
For real proof that Chengdu is the capital of China’s hipster café scene, head to the Budapest Café, named after and themed around Wes Anderson’s iconic film The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014). The interior of the café utilises the Wes Anderson aesthetic: a minimalist, Mid-Century-inspired design. Think rounded doorways, sea-foam green walls and pink throw pillows. The menu is equally minimalist, mainly consisting of freshly brewed coffee, mixed juices and blended tea drinks. You might find a solitary line of sandwiches in a glass case and wonder if they are a piece of modern art.