The Beijing Tea House Scam

Reviewer: Simsi
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I would like to warn travellers to Beijing, China about a scam that has hit me twice now personally. In the lead up to the Olympic games in Beijing, the warning may be very useful, especially for solo travellers who are particularly vulnerable. I have travelled in many developing countries such as Russia, Thailand, South Africa, Indonesia etc but never come across anything as subtle as this scam.

There is an old saying “Fool me once shame on you, fool me twice shame on me”. I still don’t know whether to kick myself for letting this happen or be a bit more forgiving to myself because the scam is very subtle and its a trap that is very easy to fall prey to. I consider my self to be an experienced traveller, and yet I have fallen for this trick on two occasions now.

Basically the scam works as follows. Young residents of Beijing – mostly students – patrol the common tourist areas such as Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City looking for solo western travellers. They walk next to you and strike up an interesting conversation, usually about the differences in culture between China and the traveller’s country. After a few minutes they invite you to a nearby tea house to sit down for a traditional Chinese tea-serving ceremony.

After more interesting conversation and several cups of tea, the tea lady who served the brews presents the traveller for a bill. The bill runs into several hundred dollars and sometimes as high as USD$500 . They tell you that you have voluntarily consumed rare and expensive teas during the ceremony and now you must foot the bill.

Your new companion’s who invited you there in the first place are adamant that the bill is legitimate and not particularly pricey. Off course they are in on the scam and stand to receive commissions from the tea house provider. If you encounter this scam, report it to consular staff of your embassy and / or the local police.

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