Yes, they got me too – Shanghai tea scam

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Did you know the most common travel scam in China is a tea scam? I traveled to Shanghai few years ago, but I found out only recently that I was involved in the Shanghai tea scam.

His name was Anthony

I was wandering around Shanghai, admiring the city’s financial center on the other side of the Huangpu River, when suddenly a Chinese man starts chatting with me. His name was Anthony. He spoken good English what was a nice melody for my ears, as I had problems with basic communication ever since I came to Shanghai. From the basic hello, how are you and where are you from, we started to talk about Chinese culture, food, traditions, family… He mentioned he came to Shanghai to visit a friend and that he has few hours for himself today, because his friend is working. He looked like a normal tourist, having a camera hanging behind his neck. 

Invitation to traditional Chinese tea ceremony 

We talked about our plans for the day, when he said he’s going to a tea house to attend the traditional Chinese tea ceremony. I thought this could be an interesting thing to do. After all, tea is a big part in Chinese tradition. When I came to Shanghai, I did not even have planned to go to the traditional Chinese tea ceremony, but then Anthony asked me, if I wanted to join him. Sure, I said, it should be fun.

He lead the way and suddenly I was in the middle of a dark, narrow street, not even knowing where the heck I am. I found myself thinking, how happy I am to be with Anthony, as he knew where this tea house is. I would never be able to find it by myself.

The Chinese tea house experience

We came to an entrance and its corridor was full of awards, as being one of the best tea houses in Shanghai. Well, at least Anthony translated this to me like this. All the plaquettes were in Chinese letters.

We were greeted by the hostess in Chinese and taken to a small room, where traditional tea ceremony took place. The room looked beautiful. The wallpapers seemed old and there were lots of tea boxes everywhere. Few tea cups and pots were waiting on the table. I hardly could wait that everything begins.

Anthony warns me, that this traditional tea ceremony is a little bit expensive; after all, these are all top notch teas. I am checking the menus and I almost got a heart attack… Oh my… this is not just expensive, it is SUPER EXPENSIVE!! One cup of tea costs 10 USD!! What the… Anthony noticed that I am shocked and he tried to calm me down, saying that this really is an old tradition and one of a kind thing to do. At the end I managed to convince myself that tradition needs to be respected and finding more about it, is one of the main reasons, why I love to travel.

Shanghai tea scam, travel scams, tea scam, chinese tea scam

Shanghai tea scam – Chinese travel scam

I ordered one, two, three cups and then I had enough. The tea was good though (especially jasmine), but 30 USD was more than I even wanted to spent on the first place. Not to mention we were here already for 2 hours. Anthony takes some tea with him, because it was so impressed over the taste, but that really did not convince me. Before we left, we got a check on the table and I almost lost it. The total amount, including Anthony’s tea, was 100 USD. I told him, I spent 30 USD for 3 cups of tea and put my money on the table… He paid the rest without even be surprised. I could not help myself to think, how expensive these tea ceremony was for him, if 30 USD was a small fortune for myself too.

I thanked him for this unique and fun experience and we said goodbye. It was a nice day, full of new things, new experiences and knowledge.

Traditional Chinese tea house is often Chinese tea scam

Traditional tea ceremony with a local guy was one of my favorite things in Shanghai and everything seemed normal until my friends, traveling around China, told me that traditional Chinese tea ceremony is one of the most common travel scams in China. I even tried to convince them that these high prices are really normal and that traditional Chinese tea ceremony is just a very expensive thing to do there. Due to my curiousity I decided to come to the bottom of this. Surfing the internet did not leave me with the result I hoped for. Five years later I finally realized I was one of many, who were tricked with the most common travel scam in China.

Travel scam as a contemporary Chinese tradition

Anthony was not as nice as I thought he is and all he cared was his provision for tricking me. The only comfort I have is that I did get to know a traditional side of China. After all the Shanghai tea scam is so common, that we can already name it a Chinese tradition… Oh well, but if I would not be involved in this travel scam, I could never write this blog post… 😉

Have you been to China? Were you also tricked by this tea ceremony scam? What travel scams did you experience on your travels? Help us to avoid the next awkward moment and share them with us!

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27 Comments

    • avatar

      Honestly, I was not embarrassed to leave as I’d thought that’s just the way it is. Have not really asked my self if that is a travel scam or not. If I’d read a thing or two about shanghai, before traveling there, I’d definitely know. Oh well, I am not sorry though – tea scam is now an interesting story. 🙂

  1. avatar

    Oh no, I’m sorry you got scammed! I’ve heard about this one before (though I’ve never been to China). I would definitely have fallen for it as I wouldn’t have wanted to seem rude. At least you know for next time!

    • avatar

      I guess if I’d do some research before traveling to Shanghai, I would know. Last time traveling sure doesnot help to be prepared 😉 Oh well, I am over it now, but it was an interesting experience for sure. Oh and one thing is certain – I will not be involved in any tea scam in China now 😉

  2. avatar

    I think being involved in a scam is part of the traveler’s experience. Until it doesn’t make you too much harm, it’s part of the learning process when traveling. Thanks for sharing this story with us!

    • avatar

      I agree Gabor. You can not make a step forward if you don’t overcome the step/an obsticle… With doing it right, you get new knowledge, new experiences… and yes, tea scam in Shanghai gave me exactly this… One more thing, I now know 🙂

  3. avatar

    Blimey, that’s one (or 3!) expensive cups of tea! It’s such a shame that there are so many scams like this all over the world (we were scammed visiting the tanneries in Marrakech once), just makes you really suspicious of everyone in the future. At least it gave you a good story to tell!

    • avatar

      Yp, extremely expensive cups of tea! I am too a bit upset there are so many travel scams in this world,but on the other hand, seeing so many people living in poverty, having NOTHING, I don’t really blame them… Unfortunately the money most of the time does not go into the right hands either… Sorry to hear you got scamed too – luckily I traveled around Morocco without any.

  4. avatar

    Had I been there, when I saw the price of the tea, I would’ve been like “well it was nice meeting you, enjoy your expensive tea”, haha. Sorry to hear you got scammed but hey, you learn something new every day, right? 🙂

    • avatar

      Exactly – every day you learn something new. Honestly, I thought it was expensive, but I thought this is like in Europe, where normally traditional things are expensive… Well, but like I found out later, it was just a very common travel scam in China.

  5. avatar

    Thank god for the internet and travel blogs. We’re smartening up to loads of these. Of course the problem is scamsters are probably getting smarter and more creative too,

  6. avatar

    The same sam happend to friends of mine in Shanghai!
    It was a bit different, they went as a group after another “tourist” and in the end they faced a huge bill and the “tourist” didn’t have enough money of course… seems like it’s very common to get scammed this way.

  7. avatar

    So realized you got scammed only years after… don’t worry about it, it happens a lot.

    In fact I once was in Bali and it was only years later that I saw a documentary on scams in Bali that I realized it probably happened to me as well. When exchanging money in Bali you are more then likely to be part of the Money-changing scam (not only in Bali btw:)). Anyway I don’t mind it too much as I know it was only for about 8 euro’s, and life can be pretty tough up there. Seeing all these tourists spending money like crazy, they probably realize we could miss some:)

    • avatar

      Hey Jan, well I don’t feel bad anymore, but you can imagine my surprise after years 🙂 But on the other hand, if I would still not know for it now, I could never write this blog post about the famous tea scam in China:)

  8. avatar

    Oh no, just saw this! It happened to me too at the beginning of this year. After more than 3 decades of traveling I finally fell for a textbook scam. The same one as yours, except his name wasn’t Anthony and our tea was even a little more expensive (I tried not to think too much about the actual sum we lost, it was bitter enough). Just goes to show, always be on your guard even after years on the road! I did a blog post on it too and I had plenty of other travelers report being done by in the same way. Some were very angry about it, I just figured, let it go and move on…that’s the travelling life!

    • avatar

      I guess no matter how well you are travelled, there are always scams you can failed on. Well, the tea scam in Shanghai was not pleasant, when I found out about it, but hey… it is part of traveling and luckily I was also able to write an interessting blog post because of it 😉 Happy traveling!

  9. avatar

    It happened to me too last February. I felt so stupid, I managed to get my money back through my credit card circuit and I succeeded. But I think the guys got the money anyway. I advice all of you to not trust people coming to you and inviting you to go for a tea ceremony. It was a very humiliating experience. I got a picture of one of the guy, I would like to post. Faust

  10. avatar

    My scam was different and I actually went for it knowing what it was. The man stopped me, asked how I liked Shanghai, told me he assembled furniture at Ikea, spoke good English (and some French, a few words of Russian and of Czech). Suggested tea, led the way. Not a dark alley but a second floor Japanese restaurant. We had tea (ok, not great) and sake (ditto). He said his father had been a sailor, he was single and lived with his mother (he was somewhere between 35 and 50), wanted to know about the cities I had lived in, etc. The fun cost me 236 yuan, expensive, but at least I had decided that for once I’d play along. I shall not repeat the experience.
    (I did not take up the offers of happy ending massage and Chinese girlfriends that many well-spoken ladies provided frequently, in good English. Nor did I buy a fake Rolex.)

    • avatar

      One other comment: tea prices at the Fudan university lounge on the 15th floor of the Shanghai Mathematical Sciences Centre run from 38 to 98 yuan, so 10$ a tea in a comer v oka shp is not as outrageous as it seems. Coffee is 20 yuan at the lounge, usually over 30 elswhere. I suppose it is the tea quality that comes into play.

      • avatar

        Oh my, I can feel better already. 😉 Shanghai can be pretty pricy, what definitely depends of the area where you are. Well, to be honest, the tea we had was good and looking back now, it was still a nice experience and sometimes you also have to pay for it. 🙂 Happy travels, Nina

    • avatar

      Hi Gena,
      thank you for sharing your experience with us. I guess, sometimes it is interesting also just to follow along and see how it is done. This can also be a part of travel and experience the country. 🙂

  11. avatar

    $10 for a good cup of tea is actually cheap. Considering the living expense in China especially areas near Shanghai, $10 seems to be the typical cost for an ordinary cup of tea. I am living in the San Francisco bay area and think things are pricey here, but when I go to visit my relatives in China I find things are definitely not cheaper ( if not more expensive) there. that’s why I always leave the bills attended by my relatives so I don’t need to say Ouch if I need to pay the bill 🙂 Luckily my relatives never complained.

    • avatar

      Hi Katie,
      thank you for your comment and looking at this tea drinking ceremony now, after almost 10 years, 10 USD is actually pretty good price for downtown Shanghai. 🙂 But years back this was another story…or maybe it was just due to the fact, I am from Slovenia, where we can get a cup of te in a tea house for as little as 2,50 EUR. 🙂

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