China’s 352-year-old TCM clinic Tong Ren Tang has taken a page from the Starbucks playbook and launched an upscale coffee shop – and surprise: it’s really good!
The granddaddy of all Chinese medicine shops has a history that stretches back to the 1600s, and many of its locations look like they were last renovated about then.
Even their dolled-up storefronts in tourist areas are designed to appeal more to the granny set, with glass cases filled with priceless ginseng roots on velvet pillows and dusty jars filled with dried leaves and flowers (and occasionally a deer penis or two). The air is often redolent of some concoction of herbs that has been boiling all afternoon and smells like my old college buddy’s dorm room after he spilled bongwater on the rug.
Suffice it to say when I heard they had opened a coffee shop, I had very low expectations.
But boy, was I wrong. A late afternoon visit found the place packed with fashionable millennials and not a yeye in search of moxibustion herbs in sight.
They’ve given it some serious thought and made this into a classy place fitting for the brand’s entry into its 36th decade of business. It has the look and the high-end equipment on par with any of the fancier cafes in the city, with baristas that know their way around a fancy Italian espresso machine and are trained in latte art.
The compressed cafe area is tastefully decorated with the standard dried roots, herbs, mushrooms, fruits, and flowers you’d see in a TCM dispensary, but all arranged in a bright, modern feel. An additional seating area spills into the atrium of the building and has all the comfort and style of a Starbucks, but with a distinctly Chinese twist.
Coffees are a bit on the expensive end, from RMB 24 to RMB 48, and most are concoctions of an espresso drink with one familiar element of Chinese Traditional Medicine: for instance the Goji Berry Latte (枸杞拿铁苦, RMB 32); the Turmeric Oatmeal Latte (姜黄燕麦拿铁, RMB 38) or the American Ginseng Cold Brew (西洋参冷萃, RMB 38).
I tried the Preserved Orange Peel Latte (陈皮拿铁世, RMB 32). It was lightly sweetened and the aroma of the peel complemented the mild brew surprisingly elegantly.
One word of warning: the menu is in Chinese, so if you can’t read bring a friend who can or use your WeChat image translator.
If you’re a caffeine fiend, have an open mind and you’re in the mood for a pleasant surprise, this is the place to visit.
There are two locations, one in the northeast corner of the “Darth Vader” building just south of Chaoyang Park and another in Shuangjing.
Tong Ren Tang Zhima Jiankang 同仁堂知嘛健康
No. 2-1, Unit 10, Bldg 2, Chaoyang Park South Road
B-1-7, 1 Tianli Jie (west of Renaissance Hotel)
Images: Michael Wester
“A late afternoon visit found the place packed with fashionable millennials and not a yeye in search of moxibustion herbs in sight.” (unquote)
God forbid your upscale laowai eye should be stained by aught unfashionable or premillennial. What do you suggest? Perhaps you can invent an app. It displays the customers DOB and bank balance. “No post- 1990 birth, no six-figure income? NO SERVICE!”
Metero Mike, “Shopekeeper? I say shopkeeper!”
Fawning Manager: ” At your service, Taipan!”
M.M. “You see that grotty little man over there? The one in brown shoes and (sniff!) gray trousers. I should say he’s not quite our sort, is he? Something about him distinctly smells of scarcely sufficient income.”
F.M.: “Yessir! Yessir! I shall unleash the hounds!”
M.M. “Great Jove, man! That is utter cruelty! Wasting purebred mastiffs on middlling-class man’s meat. A simple revolver bullet will do the trick nicely, I should think.”
“The Huns who will destroy you, O America, have been bred by your own institutions.”—Lord Macauley