The Tea Ceremony Scam

Trip Start Nov 29, 2008
Trip End Jan 03, 2009

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Flag of China  , Zhejiang,
Thursday, December 11, 2008

Since my purse was snatched in Penang last year, I've become much more aware of my surroundings. No matter how safe a place seems, I always wear a money belt, keep my bag zipped up and firmly in hand, and my pockets empty of valuables. I'm also much more wary when somebody seems too friendly.
Renmin Square, known as "People's Square," is one of Shanghai's biggest tourist areas. The panhandling can be aggressive, and even more difficult to deal with because it's often done by children who tag close on your heels, adults egging them on. Old men grasp at your coat sleeves and shake their cups in your face, refusing to take no for an answer. There's a difference between sitting calmly on the street or playing music with a coffee can out and goading people into giving.
There's something else to watch out for, too-the groups of clean cut kids who look like college students.
"Hello! Hi! Do you speak English?"
Three Chinese, about 20, two girls and a guy, approached. They must have spotted the opportunity when they saw me pause to take a photo of the Radisson, a space-age building that looks like the landing pad for a UFO.
They asked the usual questions, with pat answers from me. I'm from Canada. Yes, it's very far. Yes, it's very cold. Yes, I do like it here. I kept my hands on my camera and angled for a way out
They complimented me on the blueness of my eyes, and invited me to a tea "festival" behind Capital Land, the shopping complex across the street. Another blue-eyed woman, blonde hair tucked under a black knitted cap, walked brusquely up to me.
"I would be careful if I were you," she said in my ear. "Don't go anywhere with them." Then she delved back into the crowds with the purpose of a woman who lives and does business here.
"What did she say?" the so-called students from Beijing wanted to know.
"Enjoy your tea party, kids," I said, and made my getaway.
No less than three times in one hour I was approached in a similar manner by three groups of young Chinese. My guess is that the tourists are brought to an expensive teahouse to watch the tea ceremony, then charged outrageous prices while the kids who brought them get a commission. (Comments on this blog from others who have experienced the same situation or have more information are welcome.)
Yesterday I returned to People's Square with Jay to go to the Shanghai Museum. The sun was warm and the old folks were out gambling in the park or walking with their grandchildren.
On the path to the museum, we passed a western couple chatting with another group of three young Chinese, enthusiastically telling them where they were from, etcetera. In hindsight I wish I had warned them, but I didn't, thinking that maybe what happened to me was a one-off.

Jay and I stopped to take photos of each other in front of the museum, a signal to the tourist-hunters that we, too, were prime for the picking. Sure enough, a different group of three came up and asked us to take their photo. They had been in town only two days, they said, and did we know any good places to go? Incidentally, they had heard of a tea festival happening right now behind Capital Land.
"Wow!" I said. "I've heard about that. It sounds like a really great event! But we're going to the museum today. Have fun!"
"Thanks, we will!" said one of the guys. "Oh, the entrance to the museum is on the other side!"
Helpful scammers, anyway.

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Dan on

A couple approached me and talked to me for awhile. Then asked me to go get some tea. I thought it was strange. I figured they wanted to slip me something in the tea and take my Kidny's. So I told them no and I needed to get on my way. But they insisted that I get some tea. I knew they were up to no good. I left and kept looking over my sholder.

Mars on

Well, just to say that the first time I got caught in the scam... Two nice girls near de Shanghai Museum as always... I ended up buying some expensive tea. Too much expensive... The next day I was much more carefull and let me say that I was aproached three times in a few hours... What makes me mad is that I didn't react in the first moment and refused because I wasn't sure if it was me that were being to carefull...

Etienne on

I'm in my hotel room in Shanghai right now in opposite of people's garden. I am scammed today, two sweet Chinese students, same story. A lot of questions and I was on my own and had a day off. I thought... i have time and it can be good fun to be part about this tea ceremony. The girl from the teahouse presented the card, i was shocked by prices but thought ok, I know some sorts of tea can be very expensive, this must be good. The ceremony ended in about 20min. and girls wanted me to pay cause they are students. 2100 RMB. Unbelievable, after a big discussion in the teahouse I felt something is not right but payed at the end 850 RMB, what is still 10x too much I believe. 30 minutes after this bad experience two similar girls came up to me, ignored them completely, the bad thing is that I'm left with a bad and suspicious feeling.

Another thing to take care about are the taxi drivers who want to fix the price when you enter the taxi. Never do this and always ask to turn the meter on, they asked me 200 RMB and I refused to agree with this, two taxi drivers did throw my luggage out and I had to go cause they refused to turn the meter on. The same trip was finally 14 RMB. can you believe this??

David on

We were met in similar cicumstances at peoples square, it was a largish group of five girls and one guy. They were very friendly and spoke english well and said they were students like us on a holiday in Shanghai.

We remained a bit suspicious but went with them to the tea ceremony, before we went in though we asked for a price, which started they said at 200Y each; when we said that was too much and started to leave they said they'd ask the owner for a discount, and came back saying 50Y each. The ceremony went for a good hour, and we all talked a lot and actually had fun, and when we left it didn't feel like a scam at all.

We didn't know about it being a scam till we got back to our hostel and saw signs hanging on the wall to beware of friendly locals and tea ceremonies. An odd experience but not a bad one. I think we got very lucky, and made the right move in asking for a price up front..

mrp on

yeah, i just got the tea scam - the guys were so nice though. taught me a bunch of mandarin & gave me free tea samples! haha - they sure were good at it!

Chris on

Yup, I got it too. It was a group of four who approahed me. An older man and woman and two girls in their 20th. Afterwards, I was feeling pretty sick about it and searched the internet for this and then was sure it was a scam. The bill was 1200RNB which I didn't have in cash to I had to pay with credit card. I called the credit card company and they said the charges hadn't gone through yet and they would decline them. So, I wasn't on the hook for this $200 USD equivalent. Oh, and the scammer purchased me a gift box of tea as a thankyou. So, I paid nothing and received a box of team. I guess I ended up being the scammer!

Mr Tea on

Oh dear,

I have just come back to my hotel and googled this as it all seemed so very odd. Poeples Sq, same thing, people from Beijing, full of compliments, the bill arrived and it just seemed far too much and i said, this is wrong for locals no?? hmmm, I felt bad about saying anything and it would have been easy to have said no in the Sq, watch out! Its such a shame as now I will be on guard.

Jenny on

yeah, me and my 2 friends were fooled as well. They are really good at it! Paid 325 for the tea ceremony and bought some tea as well.. 516 rmb all in all. Funny thing is, the hole thing was really fun. But still, hope other people don't fall for it.

mary on

why did you all buy the tea if it was so expensive? You can say no just as you would at any other shop. The scam is horrible but some of the blame lies with those who play along rather than refuse to buy.

Grant on

I was approached by a sole male student. As I had heard of the scam I just ignored him which frustrated the poor bastard who kept repeating " I AM STUDENT" as I walked away -like how could I not give him the time of day.
By the way I was also solicited by 20 prostitutes in 20 minutes.

Aaron on

Yup, happened to me too, twice! Here I thought I was charming or something. Two young girls, in their 20's showed me around for an hour, taught me some Mandarin and then asked me to join them in a tea ceremony. I saw the menu and thought it was pricey, so I don't really have anyone to blame. The bill was 1,600 RMB. I paid 900 and they paid the rest. I picked up some nice tea and actually had a great time, just wish I wasn't such an easy target.

Then at night I am walking through the pedestrian mall and two girls ask me if they want to go sing Karaoke with me. So the take me to a place where the drinks were moderately priced and proceeded to get fairly drunk. The bill came and I paid it, but when I looked at the charge the next day, it was for $1,560! I am disputing it because there is no fricken way 20 beers costs that much.

It's a shame that you have to be on guard here. I was really liking Shanghai until yesterday.

Raj on

I got scammed as well, felt really bad. I think I got an acrobatic show scam as well where I payed 280 RMB for a single ticket, and the guys that said they were going to show never did.

The thing that got me during the tea ceremony is that when I went to pay for my portion of the bill the other chinese guy that was in the group said it was custom for the males to pay for th girl, and that we shoulf share the bill. being totally unaware of the scam I did not want to disrespect their culture, as I thought it was genuine. Total bill was 3000 RMB, so I had to pay 1500 RMB, but I did get my box of tea, and also a tea set that has the dragon which changes colour with the heat.

I did say it was very expensive when I was paying for it and one of the girls payed 200 RMB to the tea girl for another tea set.

I got played, it happens, and next time I will be more careful. Shanghai is still a cool place, but I have lost a little respect for its people.

Sup on

I got scammed. I was totally oblivious to this scam, until I started searching for it online. I had a day off and was just wandering through people's square and was approached by 2 guys and 1 girl, to take a picture, and 5 minutes into a conversation they invited me to go to a tea ceremony. I thought "sure why not, it would be a good experience." We went behind a shopping mall and entered a small tea shop, and we sat down for some tea. So through out the tea ceremony the "students" translated what the tea lady was saying, and after 6 cups of tea the ceremony was over and the bill came out to be about 3000 yuan. The fellas said it is customary to pay for the girl, so I shelled out 1000 thinking to myself, gosh this is awfully expensive tea. The girl even bought me a box of tea, and thought kindly of her when she did. I was oblivious and was not suspicious because these kids were my age and seemed to be honest; now I know better, and I guess it serves me right to be too trusting in a foreign land.

Jochen on

The Tea Ceremony Scam can also be found on The Bund. After two attempts (one form an older couple one from a young one) I decided to take it easy and start playing the game myself. Try telling the people you are from a small country, so they can't give you the usual small talk rundown of things they know and love so much about that country :-) ... or ask with a big smile whether they would like to come with you to a Tea Ceremony.

S. on

My god, just lost 70 euro on this tea scam... can't understand why I paid the bill - was such a nice atmosphere I guess...

anonymous on

I have just searched for tea things, after a tea ceremony yesterday. I am new to Shanghai and thought nothing of it, just a friendy introduction to culture.

But now, 144RMB down, and having read this article, I feel a bit sick. If you are of non-Chinese heritage, you are easy pickings here. I only took about 300RMB with me for the day, not intending to spend it all, but at least I brought up the money thing after two cups, so I wasn't caught short. I turned down their tea box.

I will not be led into anything by friendly people again, and will keep my money for more immediate purposes such as food and transport.

I thought yesterday was one of those lucky cultural experiences, but it is likely that I was wrong :-(

Tina on

I feel sick just by reading these comments. One of my friends got scammed in this kind of tea ceremony when he was in Shanghai. He is Australian. Everything was just the same. Nice girls. Expensive tea. Guys should pay for girls. Tea box. And it was lucky for him that he got all his money back after he read comments about the tea ceremony scam.
p.s. As much as I hate to admit, I am Chinese....

James on

Even experienced travelers like me and two other fellow travelers didn't see this was a trick. We had fun though during the tea ceremonie. Elegant as we are ;-) we even paid for the two girls like the boy who was with them suggested. I think we made the study of some students a bit easier...

Beijing Visitor on

I got scammed yesterday here in Beijing with the tea part ceremony schemme .... I took me one day to figure it out ..... US$210 in the credit card .... I think that the credit card will let me dispute the charge, and in that case I would have had a nice te ceremony for free .... I would have given the money to them anyway .... It is so difficult to find somebody that speaks English here, that they could be earning this money and more by just giving legitimate tours for foreigners .... I guess that I had my share of Chinese culture already ...

Konstantin on

Dear Travellers,
There is another tricks what these young Chinese are using. May be they understand that Tea Ceremony is old and some tourists already know that. Today a very nive couple has invited me just for a beer at Tianman square in Beijing. They would like to learn English and may be I am interested to learn Chinese. Suddenly there was also tea pot in a small tea house even we came for beer. Beer was 30 RMB and tea was 800 RMB. There were student and of course they have no money. The House refuse to give a receipt. I said that I call the police and finally they have given a receipt which is just am peace of paper wrote by hand. I have taken a picture of the Tea House of receipt and all parties were very nervous about that because I told that all these materials I will give to the police and tax authorities. It is a pity that there was no ceremony itself. Just expensive tea and this couple was trying to tell me that this is normal price in Beijing.
Anyway my message is that do not go even for beer, because the result will be the same.

Tea lover on

I've moved to Shanghai 2 years ago, I am Australian Taiwanese. ALL of my non-Chinese guests get approached or scammed by these people. And it's ALWAYS the same story. Some friends of mine get scammed even after I've warmed them. I guess these Chinese students are using the mentality that Westerners like to feel that they can help "poor Chinese students". The worst thing is, the tea they serve is the cheapest kind and is probably worth less then 1 dollar in value. What a price to pay! The students probably don't understand tea at all. That's why they can act so natural.

Me and another Chinese friends are trying to notify the authorities, but so far our complains only get shuffled one seems to be responsible even though we all know it's in the same mall. From one of the photos that my scammed friends have taken as compared to the "Shanghai Tea Scam video" which was found on Youtube, IT"S THE SAME PLACE! AFTER 1 YEAR! Why hasn't anyone informed the police???? Why is it still the same scam and same tea shop after 1 whole year?

Tea Lover on

If anyone has reported this scam to the police and has the police report number please provide all the details here so we can go and chase it up. What's going on? How can all of my foreign friends be approached? It's a 100% rate!

Naive in Shanghai on

I just got scammed as well today. It was a nice afternoon, met some "college kids/ language students wanting to practice English" at people's square who just happened to be going for some tea. I paid around $25 for tea + guys should pay & got some tea set of changing dragon color. Overall I probably lost 140 bucks, but what the hell...there is no way I am going to find this place and I chalk one down for experience. I even bought a ticket for an acrobatics show, I am pretty sure is fake, but I will go now & check it out. Lots of life's lessons today !!!!

Naive in Shanghai (2) on

So the ticket was indeed real and it was a great show.
I found out later how the ticket "scam" works. It turns out in many places in China a person can buy group tickets which are much cheaper than the actually mentioned cost. Since I was going on my own it did not matter, but in fact if you go as a group you can get a discount. So the scam is the difference in the cost.

Jack on

Nearly got caught by this last week - young boy and a girl, posing as boyfriend/girlfried, showed an inordinate amount of interest in the products we were buying in a shop in a posh mall just up from the Bund. At first, we thought they were just friendly, but alarm bells rang when they followed us out of the shop and repeatedly asked where we were going now, then followed us to the escalator - where we finally managed to ditch them.

We didn't get scammed, but it was a close thing, and it tainted our whole experience of Shanghai.

bubbleman on

We just got scammed today, at people's square. 2 girls 1 boy, all spoke good english. Girls claimed to be from Harbin, boy claimed to be from Shanghai. They were all really friendly asked lots of questions about our home countries. There were 3 of us, I was unable to talk to my friends because we were each talking to one of the chinese people. Thinking about it this should have been a warning sign, but they were keeping all of us occupied so it was difficult to think clearly. Second warning sign should have been that the tea house was in a dingy mall. We did sample some nice tea but paid 307 RMB each, the chinese people also paid this. Luckily we were not forced to buy any expensice tea. We also had to sign the bill stating that we had each paid the 307RMB, this should have been the third warning sign but by then it was too late. We exchanged email addresses and have now found out that these are fake. Please be careful as this is not a pleasant experience , unless you want to spend lots of money on tea!

Being scammed too on

I guess the same story happened to me. I was at People's Square and the scenario was very similar like in other posts - two Chinese girls talking to me (where do you come from, are on holidays, you look so beautiful etc.). They were so nice that at last I went with them to this special "Tea ceremony" which as they said is only once a year in each china city. "Why not" I thought and went with them, being however a litlle bit surprised when after a while one Chinese guy joined us (he was waiting for them). For a moment I felt strange and wanted to come back and leave them, but ... I went with them, don't know really why. Of course the Tea Ceremony was very nice. My jaw dropped when I saw the bill - it was 2400 RMB (the cost of teas each of us bought + the ceremony). And imagine that I was kindly asked to share the bill only with the guy and one of the girls as the second one doesn't work (hmm I wonder how is it possible that she is on holidays now?). Anyway the bill to pay for myself was 800 RMB (together with 200 RMB for tea I bought). I got pissed off and said I don't have so much money - the guy told me - oh, that's no problem you can pay by card. "Sure" I thought, getting more pissed off and said I can give no more like 400 RMB. At least the second girl paid for herself so the bill was 600 RMB per person.

I didn't want to pay at all and just leave the place without saying a word, but felt a litlle bit strange as they were very nice, translating me the whole performance and so on. When only the bill came, I realised it was a scam, very well planned and organised. Anyway I left finally 600 RMB and thought _ I just pay 100 $ for my stupidity but at least I know it was my first and last time being scammed in such a stupid way.
I hope that at least some people travelling to Shanghai will read it and avoid being cheated by these awful people.

Being scammed too, 2 on

I forgot to add that when we left the place the guy told me that now they are going to buy tickets for the acrobatcs show which will be in the evening (of course you have to buy the tickets earlier). I didn't comment it, I just wanted to get rid of them as soon as possible and run away. I guess the "Acrobatics Show" is the second famous scam.

After all I was a bit depressed. Not because of spending so much money just on few cups of tea but because I was so terrible naive and stupid. I still can't believe it happened to me.

Another one bites the dust on

Well, the same thing happened to me. After finding this web page and reading all the comments, at least it's comforting to know I'm not the only one.

Same scenario, a guy and a girl stopping me to take their picture, then saying they're also visiting, they've heard of this great tea place and would like to share some tea with me. So I went (it occurs to me now I should have remembered my mother's childhood advice - never talk to strangers :).
The minuter we stopped in a store instead of a proper tea shop, I knew something weird was going on. But we were already inside and sitting down, so I thought, what the hell - at least they speak good English, I might as well enjoy it.
The ceremony was nice, I read up later on tea ceremony and it was exacly as described. I don't know enoguh about tea to say anything about the quality, but it wasn't bad.
The scammers were really polite and talkative. I found some interesting facts on history and culture from them (which I later verified online to see if they were true, being totally paranoid that everything that came out of their mouths was a lie :) But, turned out they were telling the truth)
When the bill came, I payed my part, about 350rmb. Nobody forced me to pay for someone else or to buy any tea.

All in all, it was an interesting experience. I know I was scammed, but I don't feel bad about it - they've given me a nice afternoon, I've had a lovely chat, enough compliments to last me a lifetime, some nice tea and a good scamming experience :).
I can certainly state the price of wisdom now - it's 350rmb :)

Hammy on

Well, my wife and I just got taken by the same scam in Peoples Square . Only twist was that one of the girls gave me her email address. And much to my surprise its real and we have exchanged a few emails. I won't be following up on any more emails!

Tea Lover on

I'd like to ask people some questions. I love tea and tried to share this lovely culture with people for free. But when I posted on couchsurfing (a non-profit culture-exchange website) that I'd introduce tea in a tea house for free in English, but the tea house would charge 58rmb for all you can drink tea and food, only 1 person was interested. (out of 2000 members+200 travelers) is obvious, this Tea Scam works only because of these charming "students". Not because of "tea" itself, am I right?

I am very sad about this, because so many of my friends are so happily scammed while I just work to pay my rent and when I tried to share real Chinese culture with people, it's pretty difficult to get them to have as much a good time described in this post. I guess I must work on my "compliments".

So sometimes I think people are willing to pay for what makes them feel good instead of what is "real".

No wonder there are scams around. Because here I am trying to share the Chinese tea culture for free, but not many are truly interested. People just want to feel good about themselves.

gullible on

I was scammed too. while traveling to Beijing, I was approached by two college aged girls who wanted to practice English. We went to a local eatery, talked, and I stupidly agreed to pay for the tea. I put it on AMEX and when my bill arrived one month later, that tea wound up costing $750. I disputed the charge and AMEX investigated and dropped the fraudulent charges. I wish I had known of this scheme before I traveled there. Lesson learned; always keep your guard up.

chas on

Wow. Well its good to know i'm not the only one. Hopefully visa will refund my money. Funny think is if they'd just said hey can you give us a 100 bucks to tour you around and chat i would have said yes. Be careful ladies not everyone is going to take it as lightly as i have.

tiananmen traveler on


deborah on

We have just returned this week from Shanghai and had to inform people that to be very careful of uni students trying to sell acrobatic tickets. We were approached two times in less than 30 minutes. I would say coming along to acrobatic shows with the tourists is now taking place of chines tea ceremony
scams.So beware and buy tickets for show at box office as it is an excellent show

Rachel on

Yesterday I was sitting in the park next to People's Square and I had two different people ask me if i wanted to go to a tea ceremony to which i declined because i had to get some work done. Once I was finished, I was looking at the map of the park and two girls came up to me chatting about pretty usual things. I told them I was going to get lunch at a place I read about and they kept trying to get me to go somewhere else, but I said no. Then, they asked if they could join and we had lunch and chatted. Honestly, I had a great time, but I had to go. They told me I should come to this Tea ceremony, and instead of thinking that it was weird that I had been asked 3 times (duh!), I thought oh cool it must be some big thing. I agreed and I ended up paying 690RMB. That night I told my friend about all the awesome, friendly people in Shanghai that talked to me today, and he asked if i bought tea or art....
Honestly, I'm more frustrated with the fact that I enjoyed my day so much for reasons that were fake than how much money I paid. I thought I had met some genuinely nice people, and now I'm wondering if our entire conversation was a lie.

Rachel on

Also to Tea Lover: One of the things that my 690RMB paid for was a great lesson (hopefully truthful) on tea. I loved hearing all the benefits, where they came from, ect. If i had known about an opportunity to learn about that and more for 58RMB I would have jumped on it!

Scott C. Worden on

I also hate to say that I was scammed the first day I was in Shanghai. I saw two people (a guy and a girl) near the Bund on a cold, foggy day so I thought going to a "tea festival" would have been nice. I was also getting over a cold so I thought "What the heck? Why not?" I ended up paying 400RMB and thank goodness I didn't pay for any tea as a gift or I would have spent over 500RMB. At first I didn't think anything of it, until I got approached again by three college students two days later. Once I got through to the mall and found a similar teahouse, I said "Sorry, I've done this before! Goodbye!" I have a picture of three of the scammers. Maybe I should upload it hahaha :)

Joe on

Today is my first day in Shanghai and while walking form People's square to the bund I was approached around 20 times within 2 hours. This is just annoying. At first I tried to be polite and also enjoyed talking to them - they can be really nice. But being always skeptical with such things I didn't follow them and therefore kept my money (to be honest I expected much worse than just paying an overpriced bill).
Later on I just ignored them or said "no tea ceremony" and smiled. Worked very well and they soon walked away...

Same here on

Me and my gf were approached today by some students, too.

It was near the Bund - asked us to take a photo of them (2 guys, 1 girl) and then lurred us into a conversation in really good english.
Talking aoubt some niff-naff for about 10 minutes (german cars, holidays, work etc. pp.) and then when we were about to head our ways, asking us whether we want to "join them for a chinese tea festival" if we are "interested in chineses culture".

Talking was done extremly professional and only at the end the tea thing came up. We declined and weren´t even sure, whether this was a scam or not (but have read about it in the internet before (!)).
However, after re-checking your posts it is clear that this was a scam attempt.

Leah on

I hate to admit it, but we got stooged by the same scam. My partner and I were walking back from Peoples Square and got stopped by 3 females and 2 males. They seemed so lovely. They were so excited to practise their english. It was a public holiday and they told us there was a tea ceremony. Would we like to come along. We didn't want to, but they were so nice and so we did. It went for ages. Between 1 and 2 hours. When it came to the end the slightly older boy asked how we would like to split the bill. We said oh just let us know what we owe you. Then he said to my partner, well how about if you and I pay half each, because they are all students. Not dreaming how much this would be we were then hit with a bill for about $500 AUD. I was panicin, but we were in a strange place. We didn't even know where we were. We were in a dingy place. There were many more of them than us and maybe I am mistaking the money here??? All this self doubt flashing through my head. I did not want to speak over my partner as I felt it might make him feel small having a woman telling him no you are not paying after he just agreed to pay. Did he know what was going on but could not tell me? Am I just being suspicious? I just didn't know. Then to add to my confusion, one of the Chinese students offered to buy us a tew set EACH to thank us. Meanwhile we are digging through our money and only had about $200 AUD on us. We paid it. I actually took photos of them at the ceremony. I want to post the picture on the net, so any suggestions of what web sights I can put them on?? I want the world to know. I feel so used and so upset with myself for being such a bad sence of character. They really seemed so sweet. They even walked us back to our hotel. It is a shame though. I will never go back to Shanghai again. Why are the police letting this happen so much. It is cruel. It is hard enough being in a foreign place not speaking the language. I just dont need the headache when I travel. Hong Kong seemed like such a nicer place. We didn't feel intimidated at all there. Live and learn :-)

Tea Lover on

To Rachel, thank you for letting me know that you would be interested in tea without the charming students. I am trying to set up a tea workshop now and after calculation for rent and the cost of equipment (and using top quality tea), it comes to around 100-150 per person if I host 4 people. (And to make enough profit to keep me going)

I looked into the nature of the tea scam as I speak Chinese, and it seems this is how and why the police can not (or haven't done) anything to stop it.

I've approached the police in regards to the Tea Scam having photos, and victims (they were my friends from France), but my call was pushed around. I researched on the internet and found job posts hiring these English-speaking "students".

They are often real non-Shanghainese English students from other provinces, that's why they can act so natraully because part of what they say is true. They are hired to bring people to this location, and translate the information about tea.

A certified Tea Ceromony or Art performer in Shanghai can make 500 rmb for performing a show, and good quality tea can cost up to 4 per gram, (2000rmb per "Jin"-500 grams) It takes around 3-6 grams of dried tea to make a brew (28rmb per type of tea). The cost of an interperator is 200 rmb per time, so adding everything up including rent, it is not cheap to have a private tea ceromoney, but it is surely over-priced.

The police have a hard time managing people from outside of Shanghai, so when these students work part-time as "leads", they are difficult to be procecuted as they very often not know the nature of the whole story.

(Like a youth in a Tele-sale company selling cheap telephone line rental, in order to acheive the sales, the young guy tells some lies...without much knowledge of what she/he is selling)

And the Tea ceromony performer isn't the boss of this Scam either, that's why you don't suspect these people to be bad people, coz they are hired to do a part of the Scam, they are paid a salary without the knowledge of other parts of the whole scam.

The real boss is behind the scene, and it's like a Mafia, the real boss commit no evidence of the crime itself....

Tricky world isn't it?

scammed on Peoples Square April10 on

Don't trust anyone that just comes up to you and wants to talked .It happened to me and cost me 4800rmb.



funny_tea on

One more stupid victim: me. Today.

I spare you the details and give you the result (regardless the possibility that the scammers get a better idea how far they can push their luck). 1575 RMB, credit card, charged by a vendor named Ting Ding Xuan; I'm confident that I can successfully dispute the charge as fraudulent once the bill has arrived.

I liked Tea_Lover's idea he posted a while ago (and others suggest as well on the neverending number of forums on the tea ceremony scam, e.g. I would like to file a complaint with the police. Therefore, I called the Shanghai Police on 021 6357 6666, a number presumably for English speaking people, in order to ask at which sentinel I could do so. An officer was answering the call saying "No english speak" and hung up. I'll try again tomorrow, when the weekend is over, during working hours. Or is it useless anyway? (comments welcome).

tea Lover on


Thanks for liking my post, I am very sorry each time people get scammed, I just wish these people could stop...but I even called my grand-aunt whoes son works in the Shanghai police office (not the people's square branch), and she said to me: "why do you care? There are lots of other things to worry about." She ended being very angry with me and think I was very nosy." I guess that's the attitude of most "office workers".

My family had a terrible conflict with a racist Australian police officer (I grew up in Australia) and I think being a police isn't what we think it's all about...maybe to them it's more like a job to pay the rent?

I wrote an article in Chinese and put it on a popular forum, but it was quickly taken off by the "authority".

The only thing I can do is to show people what the real thing is....

If you want a real tea lesson, let me know, I'll give you a cheap (100rmb) one hour private lesson to compensate your lost. (I usually charge 150 in a group).

I started this project because I was so angry my friends got scammed, but I can not do it for free anymore because I have to pay rent and decoration for the tea studio and it's hard doing an idealistic project.

Just respond to the post, and I'll give you the details.

funny_tea on

Hi Tea lover: Yes, that'd be nice! Let me know.

And, by the way, I went to the Police today. It took a while on the station and without a very friendly woman who had to wait there for something and helped out as an interpreter I couldn't have explained my case. Fortunately I had taken some pictures of "Shanghai Old Teahouse" on Jining Road (E) which helped to explain things (it was worth walking around a while to find that place again).

To my biggest surprise the head scammer walked in after a while, apologizing and handing me back the money. She said, the Police had called her, and I shouldn't have gone to them, I could have come back to the Tea House and would have gotten a refund.

I didn't trust you any more, after all, I replied. Perhaps, I should have taken all the RMB 1575. But then I decided to let her 175. I reckon that would be a rather fair price for a tasting session with explanations in excellent English and a bag of tea in a nice tin box.

The price I paid for my outreagous stupidity was the time I spent feeling stupid, searching the internet and realising things, finding the place and explaining things to the Police. The officer got a big big hearty "Thank you" and a real long handshake and I walked off seeing that they kept the scammer lady at the station.

So I'd like to shout loudly: Be persistent, report the scam to the Police. It's not just for the money: It restored my trust in justice and, what is more important, in the people of this country. I am happy to be here again. Chinese people are wonderful. And helpful. Most of them at least.

Tea Lover on

Funny Tea! You rock! You are the star! You are the first person who's gotten their money back! You saved my world! You've restored justice in my world too!!!!!!!!!

So there are helpful people out there if you persist and stay calm! Oh great! In order to listen to the full story you are invited to my tea studio for free!!!!!!!!!! Yeahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh

Finally justice! I hope one day scammers would stay away from my love. (I am talking about tea)

I got to know some journalists now.......together maybe we can stop the "Tea Scam" in Shanghai? I don't want the word "tea" to be connected to "Scam".....

I live near Shanghai Library on line 10, 396 Wukang road (near Xinguo lu) Give me a call on 15021128277.

Leah on

The saddest part is... It has put me off going back to Shanghai. Imagine the amount of tourists that feel the same way that I do? The locals really should try to get it stopped.

Rajesh on

I will like to add my experience to it dated 27th Jul, 2011, where in 2 girls speaking english, posing students invited to the function and we landed up in a shop near Bund, in a small pvt room with music. we were 2 friends and once we had our first cup we felt dizzy ( looked they mixed something), then we said we can have only one more and the girl signed to the serving lady for mixing 2 types of the teas, which made us further suspicious and we got up and walked out without warning. We still think it wasn't a plain trap for money, it was to intoxicate and further shelling. I think they are changing their modus operadi and can be Very dangerous, which we realise now

Na on

I just feel incredebly stupid right now. I was approached by two chinese "students" (boy and girl) near the bund. They were really nice and asked me to take their picture. I did so and we started talking. Since I wanted to try some tea anyways, I thought why not join them, can't be that expensice, right?! Well, turns out that was exactly the wrong kind of thinking. By the time I realized something was up it was way to late. So I just paid and left. But now after I have read all the comments, I wonder if I should just go back tomorrow and try to get my money back. Makes me really sad that you can't trust anybody nowadays.

Na on

I went back to the place today. the serving girl from yesterday was there. I threatened to go to the police. In the end I got almost all my money back. So I can only advice everybody to go back if you got the time!

#1sucker on

Yes, just got taken. Now at airport and googled "tea ceremony scam" and here we are. People's Park. Guy and girl. Very good. 1100 RMB. He and I agreed to split bill but funny now I don't remember seeing him paying anything. Price is carefully calculated so many will pay up rather than offend their new friends. A pity. Leaves bad memories of China.

oh yeah on

i met three chinese girls (quite pretty!) in the bund and took me to the "tea ceremony" . The tea room was in a private room so i thought it was weird and walked off... i thought i was little bit rude but when i saw this page now, i think i did the right thing :)

ibg on

Fell for it. Only out 465RMB, so I came off better than most, and actually had a pretty good time practicing my rusty Chinese. The fact that I do speak Chinese probably kept the scam from reaching the ugly potential it looks like this scam reaches in its full flower. Rather than let worrying about this consume another minute of my day (because I'm really enjoying Shanghai otherwise), I think I'll have a drink and be happy with the fact that my Chinese hasn't deteriorated as much as I thought.

That said, I won't be speaking to any more young people on the streets.

Scam Info on

Gee, this scam indeed seems to be the most popular one. There are lots of other scams in China ( tourists should be aware of and if you have a minute, it would be interesting to hear about your experiences of other scams too. Thanks!

Sarah on

I just got back from being scammed also.

I am a solo traveller and just arrived in China after spending time in Taiwan where the people were SO friendly and genuine. I guess i became too trusting...

I was approached by two young girls in Peoples Square. They were very friendly and chatty, we spoke for 10 minutes or so about where I was from, what I was doing in Shanghai, what my plans were for the day. They told me they were going to visit a traditional tea ceremony for the first time and did I want to go with them? I thought it sounded like a great experience so I agreed.

They asked me if I knew anyone in Shanghai and when I said no, they said yes you do! You know us! We are your chinese friends in Shanghai now.

One of the girls was talking so fast that it was hard to take it all in and distracted me from where we were going. I remember thinking it was in a really strange location, a dirty looking mall behind the capital building, but I was so excited to have this experience so I ignored my feelings of unease.

We got into the room where the tea ceremony was held and it was so beautiful. The girls were so friendly, were teaching me about the teas and teaching my chinese. We laughed so much, had so much fun and even exchanged email addresses, with them making me promise to email them the photos of us. They were SO nice!

At the end they asked me which teas I wanted to buy, and i said I couldnt afford to buy any, and they looked at each other awkwardly and I wondered if I'd offended by not buying any - I didn't want to upset my new friends, but they didn't force it on me. They both bought 2 boxes of tea each

Then the bill came out. 1500 yuan. They split it into 3, so it came to 500 yuan... around £50. I was horrified! i was only paying £25 total for 7 nights of accommodation here! I told them that I wasnt going to pay for the tea that both of them were buying, and they spun me a line about it being tradition in china to split the bill equally 3 ways. We are friends so we should do this.

No. i refused to pay, and said I'd pay for my tea but not theirs. It came to 300 yuan, and when I tried to pay they asked for 320 yuan for a 20 yuan handling fee of the cups?! I don't know why I agreed to pay then but i handed them 400 yuan and asked for the change. They went off with one of the girls who was paying by card whilst the other girl distracted me by talking non-stop presumably so I wouldnt think it was strange she had disappeared off with my money. I got my change and it was only 25 yuan. I didn't realise or think to check until I got back to my hostel.

As we got outside they asked me if I wanted to see an acrobat show and I said I couldnt afford and then they said goodbye and told me to keep in touch and email then if I ever go back to Shanghai.

It's a shame it's my last night in shanghai or I would be going back tomorrow to see if i could get my money back. I'm now going to see if their email addresses are genuine or not.

Leah on

Ring the police while you are still there. You might get your money back.... it has happened. Once you leave it will be too late.

Samad on

Yep. Reading through these comments, I got scammed. I should've known, as I was walking in people's square two people said hello/nihao to me and then this group of two cute girls was in front of me. Being a single guy, I figured what the heck - maybe I can meet a local girl here and take her out on a date. Even exchanged phone numbers, and she called after we left. That's besides the point though. I lost 400RMB, better off than most people who have commented, but that was meant for gifts. I ended up buying gifts anyway, which totalled a little under 400.. but now I just feel bad that these young locals are working these things. Next time, I'll keep my guard up like I typically do.

I felt uneasy walking into the shop, but as I got there the girls sat on either side of me so it was hard to leave. I realized it was a scam when the first tea went to the "tea god". Basically, I paid 50Y for the guy to spill tea on a frog statue. The girls also mentioned an acrobat show, which I declined. I ended up meeting the girl who dragged me into it at the metro station later, when I asked her which line she was taking she said two, and ran off to meet her "sister". The girl's name was Xueli, phone number 13585997839. Though, it was probably a fake name. The # is real.

Scott C. Worden on

Ever since my experience back in February and seeing all of these people get scammed, I will probably not go back to Shanghai. I loved the sites and the people that didn't speak English were actually genuine. The people that did speak English were all scammers or attempted users. I'm an English teacher in South Korea and I actually strongly considered Shanghai to be my next destination to teach at. I figured that if I loved Shanghai, I would have easily moved there. Unfortunately, the people changed my mind. I might consider Thailand or Taiwan instead. The people are much more genuine in those countries.

rog on

You think the tea scam is impressive, you should see what happens when your product is copied by a big factory, or you try to export something out of china(export tax). There are also many stories of trying to import equipment into china(import tax). The U.S. government, more specifically the U.S. politicians have become so selfish and self-centered that they would never lift a finger to help out on situations like this anymore. For that reason china has found Americans to be easy to scam on all levels.

Ara on

The worst city in 14 countries i have been so far..
Yes, tea scammed (though luckily i had only 370 RMB with me, so that's all i
lost) and bought a fake microSD card (embarrassingly stupid the latter).
Previously Moscow was at the end of the list.. Now Shanghai is a city to avoid. I
am not chinese and i would really prefer Taiwan stays out of this "mainland".

stupid on

Hi, scammed also :)
around 2000 - but I am not angry with them - I can not remember the last time that someone cheated me - I am very cautious.
On the contrary - I admire their "brilliant technique".
I think - it is no problem to make a mistake - only you do not have to repeat it (then it is a pure stupidity). The gave me a precious lesson + I rally enjoyed it - they were really "realistic" - hats off :)

carlo on

i do this job,since august,but its not an easy job.many foreigners dinot answer u when u say hello hoe are you ,usally my partners(the girls)say hello to the foreigners.i didnot,if they didnot answer me i will fell bad.but someone has big heart,they never feel shame.that kind of people is fit this job.when they began to talk,my job start.i know many geography of the world,and some they maybe interesting in it.usally we only want the foreigner pay 500rmb,if they pay over this they may fact its a little puzzle in the menu price list.usally we try 6kind of tea,each kind is 49,many foreigners thought totally 49,they thought they would pay 50rmb,in fact its 50dollars.if they ask each or totally,i will answer,totally 49,anyway the tea is worth nothing.sometimes they pay 50or 100rmb,of course it worth 50 rmb.we both feel good.sometimes they drink the tea,and buy 1 or 2 boxes,they feel happy too.but its a little expensive.they will know its a scam,maybe someone wont notice it unless he find this blog.someone always want others pay more,the more the better,so the bill always like 2000, for the girls.its really too much.some times i did like this if he said he has a expensive the weather is cold,few foreigners in the park,the scammers want to have a rest at home.i think there r 200 people work for the tea ceremony,the whole shanghai,get 50% of the profit,and their salary is 1000dollarsor 1500 on average per month,if some foreigner see it,they wont be so angry.

mike on

Damn. Just got back home, and with me it was a group of two guys and three girls. The cute one flirted the heck out of me. The funny thing it, if it hadn't been a scam, I wouldn't feel bad. Like: the other two guys also paying so much, and then them buying me a gift etc. It does feel strange now. Strange that these people, who are obviously educated, would do this.
I haven't been cheated in China for about six months now. Probably had too much beer yesterday, to be falling for this. I even gave them my email address, wtf ;P

Kat on

Me and my man got scammed yesterday. Didnt figured until we came back to our friends we are staying with who said that we probably got scammed. We googled it and found this page. Thanks to all you guys who wrote about this and encourage people to go back.

We did so today. We actually saw the same people with new victims. So we followed them to the tea house. Talked to the girls there and some old man. We were totally scammed for 1200 RMB and got a thousand back. But we got to keep the tea and the cup after a wild discussion at the tea house. Since they would give us all the money back we just didnt felt like giving the products back. I guess its a memory and lesson learned for life?!

So we also want to encourage you who been scammed to go back. We told them we were going to the police unless they gave us some money back. I think that the best method is to be persistant and calm. We got a bit angry once at place, its hard to keep all your feelings in control after seeing exactly the same people scamming again.

Anyhow, we got money back and it felt good to tell them this is wrong and actually organised crime.

And yes, they speek english!!

Good luck!

Al on

I was scammed yesterday. I was approached by a couple and they asked me to take their pictures and then eventually talked about tea ceremony that I never heard. After I arrived I knew something is not right. They sensed that and I got off with 100 yuan. It is very very scary. This happened at the Bund.

Johanna de Ruyter on

Yeah I just scammed by the great Shanghai tea ceremony too - a couple who were very nice, asked me to take their photo near the entrance to the gardens then said they were going to a tea ceremony and that I could join them - nice small cosy room, history of tea in China, Mandarin lessons, lots of laughing and being friendly then the price and we all paid up as if it were normal and for some unknown reason I paid too - WAY TOO MUCH for 3 boxes of tea....and didn't realise until hours later it had been a scam-they were so nice and friendly! 1st India now Shanghai never again will I trust way too nice people!

Megan on

I was in China for a college music tour back in May of 2009 and Shanghai was our first stop of the trip. The morning we left for the Shanghai museum, our tour director warned us about the tea ceremony scam on the bus. However, almost right outside the museum, a couple of my friends (a guy and girl) and I were stopped by two girls and a guy who wanted to speak English to us. It was fun to talk to them about a lot of things and after a few minutes they suggested a tea ceremony. Now, I'm a very cautious person and I was trying very hard to indicate that I did not want to go with them but the other two were pretty eager to go. We walked for what seemed like forever until we went through a creepy mall and ended up in a small room like someone described in the comments above. During the walk there we were all paired up and the conversation was very interesting but I was still nervous, especially since our religion came up. Anyway, we went into the little room and I asked right away how much it would cost. They pretended to not understand what I meant but we eventually understood each other and were told it was only going to be 70 RMB which we all thought was very reasonable. I really enjoyed the ceremony, actually (even with the tea god frog, which I thought was cute) and when we went to a different tea ceremony later on the trip I already knew a lot about it and it felt nice to know more than everyone else, haha! At the end of the ceremony they tried to sell us some but we all decided that we didn't really want any and they didn't pressure us. I'd like to think it was because we made good conversation AND because I was up front with the cost. We had our picture taken with them and they didn't steal our camera sooo... that was nice. When we got back to our group I told everyone that we were scammed and our tour director said we were lucky but stupid for getting scammed. I knew better but I couldn't just walk away by myself. Oh well, I guess we were some of the lucky ones. :)

ilan on

Hi, I could tell the same story with different words, but the idea is the same. I was scammed also by the tea ceremony. It seems that I was not so lucky, I paid about 1400!!!!!! Yuan for the ceremony and a small tea box.


hey,foreigners,i am doing this job,yes,it is a scam,actually,from
the bottom of heart ,i dont like this job,honestly,so are some of my colleagues,especially,when you guys pay the bill,tea is expensive ,what we can do is to make you happy with the ceremony,to enjoy it,the
reason that we keep doing this job is that we have to make a living。 it is really difficult to live in shagnhai where is a international city,so sorry again!!and as a chinese i should warning you something else:do not drink some alcohol with some chinese who want to invite you,that will definitely scam you a lot of money!!!

Roman on

Hello! I was scammed by a taxi driver in a really weird way. At first he asked me to pay 200 RMB for a trip which costed at least 25 RMB. I told him that I am not going to pay fixed price and asked him to turn on his meter. He agreed and I felt quite comfortable after this but at the end of the trip he showed me his meter with 187 RMB. I know Shanghai more or less and I know how much should cost such a trip - not more than 30 RMB. Strange. Looks like they use some fake meters. Don't know how to prevent this, simply telling you my story.

Bb on

I got scammed with tea party crap in Beijing. Secret is dont take your credit or ATM cards and limit the cash you carry to coupe hundred rmb.

I happened to come across one of the girls a few days later at the hotels back entrance. Grand hyatt. I grabbed her and called the doorman to send security and call the police. I dragged her under a CCTV camera, in the off chance it worked.

One of her minders came over and tried to talk me into letting her go. He offered my money back. He spoke English so I said sure 10000 rmb. Then I told him to and had her arrested.

Best 300 rmb I ever spent.

uriengill on

To: Tea Lover,

I have a curious question for you; since you said you are Australian Taiwanese, or otherwise, Asian person speaking fluent Mandarin Chinese, Have you, personally ever had young people coming up to you, trying these tricks? If so, do they walk away once you speak Chinese to them?

I ask because I was wondering if they also do it to Chinese people speaking Mandarin, rather than non-Asian foreigners...


t callaghan on

I travel to china a lot the first time I got scammed was in Beijing 2 girls
2nd time in Beijing a gent tried it the a girl in Shanghai.
I am off to shanghai in 3 weeks will try to keep my money

wendyworld on

Sorry to hear about your experience in Beijing. Good luck to you in Shanghai!

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