The Priciest Tea You’ll Ever Drink

If you’re not a world traveler, chances are good that you’ve never heard of the Beijing Tea House Scam. If you do ever journey to The Forbidden City, however, be on your guard: this notorious fraud attempt could cost you thousands.

A High-Level Scam

Well beyond the tricks of your average pickpocket or street-corner hustler, the typical Beijing Tea House Scam starts with a friendly face: a fellow tourist or likeable local who strikes up a conversation with you, the intended victim. The bait-scammer is often an attractive-yet-innocent-looking young woman, for obvious reasons: women feel safer talking to another woman, and men? Well, men have a hard time saying no to a pretty face.

But your new friend isn’t all she appears to be. Her actual job is to ferret out unsuspecting tourists to the area, establish a rapport, and entice them into a local tea house: an Oriental version of “Can I buy you a drink?”

Inside the café are private rooms where you and your brand-new BFF can chat about the area, the history…pretty much about anything BUT the price of tea in China: all mentions of cost are deliberately omitted from the conversation. Before you get a chance to become restless, a hostess will provide light snacks and a variety of teas to sample. Oh, how pleasant…

… at least until it’s time to leave.

At that point, you realize that friendliness had nothing to do with the whole set-up: the proprietors expect to paid, and the prices are so high they make airport pricing look like chump change. The cost of your visit will commonly run into the hundreds of dollars … a “steep” price for even very good tea (and it probably won’t be).

It gets worse, too: whip out a credit card to pay, the hostess ducks in the back and guess what? Now they have your card number … who knows how much you’ll end up owing by the time the receipt is actually sent to the bank? One added zero squeezed onto a line, and you end up owing 10 times what you actually signed for (which was already likely 10 times more than the tea was worth).

What Now?

It’s not a stretch to say that tea-lovers like us are prime marks for scams like this. We love tea, and that often leads to conversations during and about tea. What could be better than authentic local tea in an authentic local tea house with an authentic local? We’ve got one foot in the door before the bait-scammer even shows up!

Afterwards, of course, we’re rethinking our position. Your best bet here is to contact the bank that issued your credit card and file a chargeback, which gives the bank permission to check into the situation. Sometimes they will simply take the money back and return it to your account. Sometimes the actual card network (Visa or Mastercard, for example) will get involved, and the tea house could lose their ability to accept credit cards.

In some cases, you may not be able to get the charge removed on your own, and will need to contact a lawyer or a chargeback expert. The odds are good you can get your money back, but it could take days, weeks, or longer.

Of course, an ounce of prevention is a far better remedy here. Be leery of strangers who seem overly friendly for no good reason. If you do follow someone into a tea house, avoid private rooms. Don’t partake of anything without a price discussion (although this has limited effectiveness, as the scammer could charge you just for being there). Never use a debit card, and if you feel you must (for personal safety) sign a receipt, take a phone pic of it before and after you sign—evidence for a later court case.

Putting the “Tea” in “Teamwork”

Teamwork is the silver bullet, the secret sauce, the thing that “makes the dream work,” right? Even a casual internet search will return over 100 million posts, from building teamwork in the office to actual college courses to Oh. So. Many. Memes

If teamwork is such a great idea everywhere else (and we’re certainly not saying it isn’t), why not with tea?

Mastering the subtle art of teaming (or more properly, “pairing”) the right tea with food is no different than knowing whether to go with a safe Riesling or a light Pinot Grigio for a delicious meal, or even knowing whether to add basil or cut back on the rosemary when cooking.

Picking the right tea to go with your meal can turn an ordinary dinner into a unique culinary experience; you don’t have to be a sommelier to tell the difference – all you need are your taste buds.

Having said that, however, if you’re just starting to discover tea pairing, it’s easy to feel whelmed by the sheer volume of aromas and flavors that you can choose from: picking the wrong type of tea to go with a specific food can end up being like serving tartar sauce with biscuits instead of gravy. So we decided to put together a (very) basic guide to get you started creating your ideal team-ups.

Pairing with Black Teas

Black tea tends to have the strongest and hardiest flavor, which means it can hold its own when paired with other full-flavored foods. Think spicy dishes or meats. The more rustic, natural blacks, for example, are natural complements to blackened meat, jerk chicken, or other robust dishes; the same holds true for more smoky black teas. On the other hand, a few fruity black teas pair nicely with desserts, particularly less sugary ones.

Pairing with Green Teas

Greens already have a slightly vegetable-like taste, making them an excellent choice for pairing with mild-flavored dishes, like chicken, fish, or salads. A fresh melon-based salad goes great with a green tea, as does rice. Just as the black teas, however, there is a range of green tea base flavors, and some pair better than others. Some offer a more grassy zing (perfect for seafood), while others are more fruity and therefore taste really well alongside chicken dishes, sandwiches, or fruit salads. Most greens, however, have that underlying tinge of smoke that can stand up to the taste and flavor of potatoes, light stir-frys or even deep-fried or greasy meat recipes.

Pairing with Oolong Teas

Oolong teas range from darker, more robust flavors that pair well with stronger foods, like grilled salmon or trout, smoked meat, or even heavy sweets (anything maple-flavored is yum). At the other end of the spectrum are the lighter oolongs, with a heavier floral taste that can be brought out by foods like scallops, rich seafood, or lobster. That sweet fragrant flavor also works well with saltier dishes or salted nuts or crackers. You can even try potato chips with oolong, because why not?

Pairing with Pu-erh

Pu-erh teas have a robust, earthy flavor that goes well with a chicken or stir-fry dish. They can neutralize the oily and greasy tastes that go with deep-fried foods as well. The silky smooth swallow of Pu-erh helps soften heavier tastes like dim sum oils, cleansing the palate without taking away from the tastes of the meal. And because Pu-erh teas offer digestive benefits, they’re a great finish to a large meal.

Pairing with White Teas

Last but not least, the delicate nature of white teas mean they don’t pair well with many foods. A light vegetable dish, lightly flavored fish, or even an undressed salad are about as much as you can do without losing the taste of the tea. Anything with a strong aroma tends to overwhelm the subtle sweetness of the tea. Think of whites as more of an aperitif, a little something before the meal to get the taste buds excited.

Finding the teas that best complement your own meals has to go beyond theory. Feel free to experiment until you find those marvelous combinations that can turn dining into a serious TEAm event.