Guangzhou style morning tea has been developing for more than 170 years. Why is it still a unique flavor that most Cantonese cannot resist?
There is a wonderful “contradiction” in Guangdong, where the economy has always been fast and life can be slow.
For example, the back of the country’s GDP that has led the country for 34 consecutive years is the unique morning tea culture engraved in the bones of “floating for half a day, enjoying leisure to drink tea”.
People often say that food in Guangzhou starts with morning tea.
Unlike other cuisines such as hot and hot Sichuan cuisine, Shandong cuisine with thick oil and red sauce, the pyrotechnic aroma of Guangdong morning tea is the aroma of a pot of green tea in the morning, a ritual experience brought by various exquisite pastries, and the bustle of the market in ancient tea houses.
“Have you had tea yet?” This daily greeting is an old friendship sighed by generations of Cantonese in the morning tea culture. As the world changes, what remains unchanged is the calm and serenity of sighing from morning to noon.
1、 “Eating tea and eating a bag”, spanning a century of dietary culture
The origin of Cantonese morning tea can be traced back to the reign of Xianfeng in the Qing Dynasty, and its development has generally experienced more than 170 years.
“Erli Pavilion” is the starting point of Cantonese morning tea. The commercial trade in Guangzhou has always been very prosperous, and some catering stores have begun to use bungalows as their stores, using wooden benches to set up small restaurants on the roadside to start the refreshment business. Due to the price of tea being 2%, they are known as “Erli Pavilion”.
The customers who come and go to the “Erli Pavilion” are mainly dock workers, stall vendors, and local residents. With a pot of tea, a plate of flour, and a portion of pastry, they can not only rest and fill their stomachs, but also chat and socialize, gradually forming the background of the “sigh” culture of Cantonese morning tea. In the context of Cantonese, the so-called “sigh” means to enjoy slowly, and “sigh for tea” means to enjoy the leisure time of morning tea slowly.
Consumer demand is always diversified, which inevitably leads to the advancement of business forms. With the promotion of the status of Guangzhou as a trading port, the demand for welcoming and seeing off businessmen and wealthy gentry at home and abroad, as well as for meeting and entertainment, has surged, and magnificent mid and high-end tea houses have emerged as the times require.
As the saying goes, “If you have money to go up tall buildings, if you have no money to squat down”, it vividly reflects the different consumption forms developed by the morning tea culture. At that time, morning tea was not only in roadside bungalows, but also gradually entered pavilions, pavilions, gardens, and courtyards, becoming a more mainstream consumer category that covered various consumer groups.
This has directly promoted the refinement and development of morning tea packages. Different from the coarse big muffin cake and bean sprout powder in Erli Restaurant, the morning tea in the teahouse provides superior tea, as well as exquisite horseshoe cake, Shaomai, glutinous rice chicken, Cha siu bao and other Cantonese pastries.https://www.slw-ele.com/
Later, with the continuous development of society and economy, various types of tea houses sprang up in Guangzhou like bamboo shoots after a rain. “Five steps, one building, ten steps, one pavilion” describes the density of Guangzhou’s tea houses.
With competition in the market, there is vitality. Tea houses not only compete in site selection and decoration, but also study and innovate in tea and Dim sum, constantly integrate the advantages of western food or other cuisines, and create a variety of new cakes and dishes. For example, the egg tarts in the “Four Heavenly Kings” of morning tea are “western imported products” improved by Guangdong Dim sum chefs.
In response to the booming market, numerous tea houses, whether merchants, gentry, literati, or ordinary people, regard morning tea as a “good idea”.
In 1927, Lu Xun came to Sun Yat sen University to teach, and soon fell in love with Tan Morning Tea. In his diary, he recorded the 25 teahouses and restaurants he had visited, including the surviving Taotao Residence and Nanyuan and Beiyuan Restaurants.
“In Guangzhou, we often go to a special teahouse to have tea. Those Dim sum are really exquisite, small, not too full, and the tea is fragrant, which is very palatable. In addition to teaching, life is really thin, and when we meet friends, we will also meet to drink tea unexpectedly.” Lu Xun’s lover Xu Guangping wrote in the book why he loves morning tea.
Until now, despite the lapse of time for a hundred years, morning tea is still a unique flavor that most Cantonese cannot resist, and people still sigh for morning tea for various reasons.
Every morning, outside various time-honored tea houses, there are always countless diners waiting for the opening of morning tea, including both Laoguang Neighborhood, which is used to becoming a natural place, and tourists from all over the world who come to experience clock in.
“This is the best breakfast I’ve ever had in recent years.” A Feng, who started his business in Jiangsu and Zhejiang, made an appointment with friends in Guangzhou for morning tea during a business trip. After experiencing the ritual filled Gongfu tea and the exquisite pastries on the table, he couldn’t help but sigh that Cantonese people are truly doing business “earning money” and gourmet life.
2、 Thinking about “one cup and two pieces”, the changes and invariability of Cantonese morning tea
Cantonese morning tea can make people yearn for hundreds of years, which is closely related to its characteristics of combining persistence and innovation.
“One cup of two pieces” has been one of the synonyms for Cantonese morning tea since its birth. One cup is a cup of tea, and two pieces are two baskets of Dim sum. The soul of morning tea is not only the philosophy of life represented by slowly “sighing” tea, but also the Guangdong style Dim sum that sticks to tradition but changes constantly.
After the 1950s, Cantonese morning tea developed rapidly in a stable social environment, and gained opportunities to continuously communicate and interact with overseas catering experts, winning praise from the world.
In the 1970s, there was a true story circulating in Guangzhou. During the opening of the Canton Fair at that time, a group of Japanese gourmets heard that Guangzhou Panxi Restaurant had more than 1000 kinds of Dim sum, so they came to book a table in admiration of their names and asked for Dim sum that was not heavy every day for a month.
At that time, Luo Kun, the national special first class baker, who was known as the “Dim sum champion”, was in charge of Panxi Restaurant’s Dim sum department. His team was confident and calm. On the ninth day, Japanese gourmets wrote four big characters in their message books that “live up to their reputation” to express their heartfelt admiration.
After the reform and opening up, global seafood and ingredients have entered the morning tea market, and Cantonese cuisine is rapidly developing towards a variety of fillings, forms, and flavors. Various types of tea refreshments bring forth the new and exquisite, forming the unique characteristics and cuisine style of Cantonese tea drinking, and promoting the prosperity and development of Cantonese tea drinking customs.
By the 1980s, there were more than 4000 kinds of Cantonese Dim sum, known as the “kaleidoscope” of Cantonese cuisine. Behind such achievements, adherence to tradition and determination to innovate are indispensable.
“From an observation, Yuedian pays attention to the inheritance of shapes and systems, and dares to iterate with new materials in terms of fillings, pastries, and other aspects.” Zhong Jieling, a food writer and scholar of Cantonese cuisine culture, told Hongdian.com that Yuedian is very correct in treating inheritance and innovation dialectically, which is also responsible for the market and customers.
Zhong Jieling previously organized and participated in the compilation of “The Story of Chinese Cantonese Cuisine”, which listed innovative Cantonese dishes such as Jinsha Sea Shrimp Red Rice Sausage, Black and Golden Shrimp Dumplings, Original Abalone Crisp, Durian Swan Crisp, Salmon Tart, and Handmade Lion Steamed Bun.
In terms of inheritance and innovation of Cantonese morning tea, representative brands of Cantonese morning tea such as White Swan, Tao Taoju, Dian Dude, etc. have never been absent.
Let’s take a look at the white swan, which is known as the “morning tea ceiling” by bloggers and netizens.
“During the forty years since the opening of the White Swan Hotel, there has been no interruption in inheritance and integration,” Woodlin, the assistant general manager of the White Swan Hotel, told Redfood. com. The Dim sum masters of White Swan believe that the process, flavor and technique of morning tea need to be inherited and adhered to, and must be integrated and innovated in the development process.
Take the “net red” product of White Swan, Lanren Sagma, as an example. Sakima’s initiative is not the white swan, it is a Manchu snack with a long history. After years of inheritance and integration, it was added to the Dim sum category of Cantonese morning tea. On this basis, the white swan improved the ingredients and production of the sakima, and the unique olive seed sakima emerged as the times require.
Woodlin also introduced that White Swan will regularly conduct market research and continuously develop new products based on factors such as the tastes of diners, seasons, and solar terms. Obviously, the persistence and inheritance of classic Dim sum, as well as the integration and innovation combined with the times, are one of the important reasons why the taste of white swan can continue and inherit all the time.
“Innovation based on tradition is rooted in innovation.” Tao Taoju is one of the hundred year old Cantonese style early tea brands. As early as the 1990s, it was awarded the honorary titles of “Chinese time-honored brand”, “national super restaurant” and so on. Its Dim sum making skills are also Guangzhou’s intangible cultural heritage. Its relevant responsible person told Hongshi.com that in operating the morning tea business, we must understand what to stick to and what to innovate.
Tao Taoju’s refreshments combine tradition and innovation, including the very representative traditional morning tea “Four Heavenly Kings”, as well as popular wrasse flour and salty pancakes in Cantonese cuisine, as well as new products such as Kazhen cheese baked glutinous rice chicken based on traditional glutinous rice chicken innovation, which are deeply favored by young consumer groups.
In Tao Taoju’s view, the consumer group of Generation Z, represented by the generation after the 00s, is constantly expanding. Morning tea needs to be infused with more trendy and energetic elements loved by the younger generation in order to continuously generate a breaking circle effect, allowing a diverse consumer market to fall in love with morning tea and Cantonese food culture.
In the practice of inheritance and integration, Guangzhou style morning tea has been brought to regional markets such as East China and Southwest China, and Diandude, which has arranged over 70 stores nationwide, also has a lot of experience.
Diandude is a conservation unit of the intangible cultural heritage techniques of “Cha siu bao” and “Shrimp Dumpling”. It adheres to the ancient techniques and also continues to innovate. For example, its popular single product “Jinsha Sea Shrimp Red Rice Sausage” has won the title of Asian landmark food for many years in a row.
“Behind the Dim sum, there is the inheritance and integration of learning from others’ strengths, which also endows the Cantonese dim sum culture with more fresh and stronger vitality.” Zhu Manhua, the head of the brand center of Diandude, told Hongyan. com that, whether in East China, Southwest China or other markets, Diandude will integrate local special ingredients, taste preferences, and launch some regional limited Dim sum.
For example, crab is a preferred ingredient in the East China market. Diandude has incorporated more crab elements into the research and development of Dim sum products in the East China market. In the southwest market represented by Chengdu, more Dim sum research and development are carried out in combination with the local unique seasonal ingredients, and innovative changes have been made in the appearance and modeling according to the regional characteristics.
It is worth mentioning that not only White Swan, Tao Tao Ju, and Dian Du De, but also the adherence to the core of morning tea culture and form, as well as the stories of absorbing the strengths of others and embracing innovation, occur in various morning tea, Cantonese food brands, and stores.
It is also in this speculation of change and changelessness that Cantonese morning tea has evolved from a simple “one cup and two pieces” to its ever-changing form.
3、 Can’t Cantonese morning tea leave the cultural circle of Guangfu?
Of course, the development of Cantonese morning tea is not entirely without episodes.
In recent years, the popularity of Cantonese morning tea has mainly focused on the difficulty of “breaking the circle” of Cantonese morning tea. It is generally believed that Cantonese morning tea is a unique form nurtured by Cantonese culture, and it is difficult to open the market without being separated from the Cantonese cultural circle.
For example, northern consumers do not have the habit of drinking morning tea, and modern, fast-paced urbanites do not have the conditions to slowly sigh with morning tea. Coupled with various factors such as taste differences and high prices, some observers are not optimistic about the development of Cantonese morning tea in markets outside Guangdong.
“Once Cantonese morning tea leaves Guangdong, Hong Kong, and Macao, it will become acclimatized,” said an analyst.
Is this really the case?
“In fact, the morning tea culture has already successfully gone out of the Great Bay Area belonging to the Guangfu cultural circle.” Woodlin said frankly that now mature Cantonese tea house brands can be seen in Beijing, Shanghai, Chengdu and other big cities, and there are not few Chinese restaurants in major high-end hotel chains that provide Cantonese food and Dim sum.
In addition, Tao Taoju and Dian Dude, the innovative “leaders” of morning tea, have already achieved breakthrough development.
Currently, Tao Tao Ju has developed from Guangzhou to Xiamen, Shanghai, Beijing, Chengdu, and other places. It has developed 34 stores, with phenomenal explosion effects in various cities. Dian Dude has settled in cities outside the Guangfu cultural circle, such as Chengdu, Shanghai, Hangzhou, and Nanjing, and is also very welcoming on holidays.
When it comes to the secret of making circles, both have their own ideas.
The exquisite craftsmanship of the chef team is a key factor for Tao Tao Ju to conquer local diners. The person in charge of Tao Tao Ju admitted that at present, all of its kitchen staff in Shanghai, Beijing, Xiamen, Chengdu and other stores are authentic “Guangdong chefs” stationed by the Guangzhou headquarters.
“Adhering to traditional handcrafting to ensure the production is the foundation that Tao Tao residence must adhere to in the past, present and future.” The above person in charge said that Cantonese style Dim sum emphasizes the freshness of food materials, and more importantly, each process of on-site production. On the basis of fresh food materials, it must be made by hand and steamed immediately. It is delicious to serve Dim sum in hot air.
Dian Dude also believes that details determine success or failure. Zhu Manhua said that behind the morning tea Dim sum is the purchase of thousands of ingredients. Diandude has formulated a detailed receiving standard for each ingredient, such as the width of river noodles, the size and freshness of vegetables, etc. There is a strict management system and system, which is then implemented in local stores to ensure the quality of the source ingredients.
In terms of production, Diandude also insists on manual production, and there is a complete set of operational responsibility division in a series of links from training to final production to ensure the stability of Dim sum quality.
The development of the two major morning tea chain brands in various regional markets also reflects the plasticity of Cantonese morning tea to adapt to different markets. Tao Taoju and Dian Dude have similar perceptions of this.
The person in charge of Tao Tao Ju admitted that drinking morning tea has become a lifestyle, conveying the pursuit and yearning for a beautiful and comfortable life. The appeal of this lifestyle is not divided into regions and cities, and can be said to be the common pursuit of contemporary people.
At present, consumer consumption of refreshments is not limited to morning tea, and tea drinking culture has broken through the limitations of time and space. For example, in the “Confucius Ritual Tea House”, where refreshments are served 24 hours a day, consumers can either go to the store early in the morning and wait for morning tea, like the Cantonese, or choose to patronize at noon or evening, using refreshments as an option for dinner consumption.
“Many Cantonese food and Cantonese food brands are developing nationwide, which continues to drive the trend of Cantonese tea drinking.” Zhu Manhua said that from the actual implementation situation, the difference in regional tastes is the driving force rather than the obstacle for consumers everywhere to try different flavors. Even without morning tea consumption habits and cultural customs, consumers in different regions are willing to experience the broad morning tea culture.
Looking at overseas markets, various morning tea restaurants in Chinatowns around the world have already conquered the taste buds of “crooked nuts”.
An interesting phenomenon is that morning tea is not literally translated as “Morning tea” in the English system, but “Dim Sum Brunch”, which is homophonic to the Cantonese pronunciation of “Dim sum”. Drinking morning tea is also called “yun cha”, which is the same as the Cantonese pronunciation of “drinking tea”.
“Wherever there are Chinese around the world, there must be restaurants to taste Cantonese food.” Woodlin said that the Dim sum chef team of the White Swan Hotel has also been invited to Europe and North America for cultural exchanges.
All of these are enough to glimpse the true situation of Cantonese morning tea in different consumer markets. Therefore, although it is not necessary to be blindly optimistic about the broken development of Cantonese morning tea, it is also necessary to “sing down”.
Guangzhou style morning tea has been developing for more than 170 years. Why is it still a unique flavor that most Cantonese cannot resist?