Song Fang Maison de Thé, Shanghai
When it came to selecting a venue to take a tea break during our hectic schedule putting together the Made in China issue, we were, naturally, spoilt for choice. But happily, a recommendation took us to Song Fang Maison de Thé, the year-old franco-Chinese tea house in the French Concession district of Shanghai.
See more images from our favourite tea stop in Shanghai, Song Fang
Lined with quirky retro-style tins, this stylish retreat offers exquisite teas, expertly selected and blended by Chinese and French masters, to buy bagged or brewed in the upstairs tearoom. Also on display are Song Fang’s own collection of retro biscuit tins, gathered from local markets and beautifully sculpted accessories sourced from craftsmiths across the country and available to buy.
History of Song Fang
In developing her tea shop, Song Fang, aka Florence Samson, a French sinophile who has been resident in the city for 10 years, has plumbed China’s rich tea-drinking legacy with all the impunity of someone who loves tea, loves the instruments and packaging that surround the ritual, but has not grown up with the cultural revolution.
She has also brought a vision which was doubtless fed by an earlier career working for Dior in Paris and Veuve Clicquot in China, and business acumen honed at Harvard Business School. Samson knows the power of history and heritage (and a signature colour) in developing a luxury brand and has employed it to bring the humble ceremony of tea-supping Chinese-style into the 21st century. ’There’s 5,000 years of history to tea-drinking in China. It is treated as a medicine, and it can be very expensive and confusing, and the packaging can be awful,’ says Samson.
The fine art of tea selection
Fluent in the language, she has learnt how to select tea from true masters based on plantations all over China. She found a synergy with her experience of wine tasting while working for Veuve Clicquot. ‘There are a lot of things in common – for both tea and wine you look at colour, notes, liqueurs, roundness…” She also wanted to introduce French style blending, and turned to experts back home. Of 60 teas there are 40 that she classes as Chinese, 20 are French. There’s black tea, green tea, white tea, oolong, Pu Ehr and many blends and aromas - Yunnan special, Keenun, Ginseng Oolong, China Blue, Shanghai Dream…
Designing the brand
Design is another passion and the branding was a personal project ’I see China changing so quickly and I wanted to preserve something of the old China,’ she says. Her collection of biscuit tins date from the 1920s to 1980s, and helped inspire her own packaging ’Our tins feature tea plantation farmers from the 1950s. It’s light hearted. Tea is a happy time,’ she says. ’And the blue symbolises water.’
The first floor tea room has a peaceful interior created by the local Australian designer Roger Hackworth featuring wooden birdcage lights where this clever blend of Chinese and French tea culture can be savoured alongside fusion sweet treats created by Eric Perez, a celebrated French Patissier based in China. Needless to say we clocked out for a little longer than the average teabreak on discovering Song Fang.