‘Not for all the tea in China’ – a phrase that presumes there’s a lot of tea in China. And there is, obviously. But classic teahouses? Not so much anymore (Hey Tea doesn’t count, by the way).
In a country where Starbucks has brazenly attempted to turn the traditional beverage order on its head, Chinese tea – at least among trend-seeking youth – has largely been replaced by its bitterer, more caffeinated and generally hipper cousin.
That’s where NAGI comes in. A boutique tea and dessert cafe, its mission is to revive China’s traditional tea culture by repackaging it as a chic, refined concept. You know, to make tea #Instacool again.
“We want to be a model of this industry,” Trista Sun tells us at a grand re-opening following NAGI’s recent renovations. “To make tea trendy and modern.”
Nagi is actually a Japanese word meaning ‘calm,’ but Sun says their brand name stands for ‘nature’ (referring to the source of all ingredients used), ‘artisan’ (desserts are handmade in-house), ‘grace’ (staff practice good etiquette) and ‘ingenuity.’
When we heard NAGI wasn’t interested in attracting wanghong – those Internet stars who come solely to snap pics with the decor and leave their drinks unfinished – we knew this was a shop that took its beverages seriously. The sale alone is not enough – NAGI hopes patrons will genuinely enjoy the tea and return for more. So did we?
It’s worth mentioning that tea naturally helps counteract the effects of oily foods, so we found the combination of light desserts and pour-over tea even more satisfying than the popular coffee-and-donuts pairing.
NAGI has done the legwork for you and matched its baked goods with specific teas in sets, but you’re also free to order whatever combo you wish.
Sun suggested we try the Rose Aroma made with NAGI’s black tea, one of the shop’s classic pour-overs (all priced at RMB38, which includes two refills of hot water). Though consuming rose-flavored anything reminds us of eating potpourri, the potent black tea succeeded in masking some of the floral sweetness.
If you think you like green tea, be daring and try tieguanyin instead – a type of Oolong tea that is more aromatic and harder to find fresh outside of China.
On sultry days, cold teas are enticing, and we highly recommend the new iced white tea (RMB35). It’s kind of like cold brew coffee, in that it has been steeped and chilled ahead of time to seal in the flavor.
Remember, this isn’t Hey Tea – no sugar is added to the beverages and any cheese in NAGI’s kitchen is reserved for the cakes alone.
Desserts are just as much the highlight here as tea, so indulge in a couple guiltlessly knowing they’re all low in sugar. Our picks? The heavenly coconut pineapple mousse (RMB38), daily cream-filled puff (RMB25) and Earl Grey (RMB25) or matcha (RMB20) cupcakes.
NAGI is a laid-back, quiet little haven on Huale Lu, a few doors down from The Paddy Field. There’s no need to dress up or know anything about Chinese tea culture – Sun and the staff will happily fill you in. Just stop by with a friend (or even better, a copy of That’s) and settle in.
Who’s going: trendy youth, people who know how to pao cha
Good for: classic Chinese tea paired with handmade desserts
Nearest metro: Taojin (Exit B), 3 minutes
[Cover image via NAGI; other photos by Jocelyn Richards]