Certain things are meant to be together – chocolate and peanut butter, for instance. Another example is caffeine and book stores. A stimulating drink pairs well with an equally stimulating novel. Back in North America, it would be common to find books in a café, or a café inside a bookstore. The dividing line between what is a bookshop and what is a coffee house can be thin — the corporate example would be Barnes and Noblecc and their working relationship with Starbucks, a concept which has recently been imported into China. Both Garden Books and the Foreign Language Book Store in Shanghai serve coffee. At least one Xinhua Book store in Changzhou does as well. Many cafés also have books readily available. China is more of a nation of tea drinkers, and it has been that way for hundreds if not thousands of years — coffee is a cultural import in the Middle Kingdom.
It seems fitting that, eventually, a Chinese bookstore would switch from coffee to selling tea; take the western phenomenon of caffeine and bound volumes of text, and localize it. At least one bookshop in Changzhou has done this recently. Banshan Books fills the 14th, 15th, and 16th floors atop the New Century Department Store downtown. While most of the volumes for sale are in Chinese, there are some English titles interspersed. The 16th floor is also home to Dang Nian Cha Liao 当年茶寮, a Japanese-style tea house.
Tea “house” may not be the most exacting of terms here, but the area selling tea is partitioned off by its ambiance. Floral displays and other bits of greenery give the area a cozy feel. This is a more pleasant way to divide the area without using a wall or some other obvious partition. Some of the more regular customers can sign up for flower arranging classes. As for the tea itself, Dang Nian Cha Liao offers both caffeinated and decaf options. While the café’s style is Japanese, the tea itself is not imported and comes from Chinese sources.
Beyond leaves or flowers steeping in hot water, one of the greatest things about the place may not just be the tea. The 16th floor is the highest level of this particular building. Here, one can not only read a book and enjoy a refreshingly hot beverage, but one can also marvel at the skyline. This is in the thick of downtown Changzhou, and it’s hard to get the same sort of vista elsewhere. Actually being able to see the tops of some of the buildings against the horizon gives Changzhou a cosmopolitan feel that a person really cannot have while walking along Yanling, Nadajie, or Beidajie. Dang Nian Cha Liao’s owner purportedly thought about leasing space on one of the other bookstore’s floors, but was taken aback by this view. On a clear day, watching the sunset over Changzhou’s city center while sipping a black tea with hints of ginger could be quietly epic. That is what Dang Nian Cha Liao offers. It’s a good place to enjoy a good drink, a good book, and a great view.
Photo by Photos by Pete Webb