Yum Cha Insider Guide

Many experience tea the first time from a Chinese restaurant.

I did too – I don’t remember my first experience of tea at home, but I remember it along with my childhood favourite dim-sum, barbeque pork buns.

Yum Cha is a typical brunch for many Chinese living in the southern part of China. It is most popular in Hong Kong (where I come from) and now very popular in many parts of the world.

After you sit down, a pot of tea is automatically given to you to start the meal.

Then you will be greeted by trolleys after trolleys of small savoury and sweet items, such as buns, dumplings, fried pastries, and my other favourite, rice paper rolls are offered.

It is like a buffet, except you don’t need to leave your table to fetch your food.

Many people think Yum Cha is THE place to drink tea. After all, what else is better to wash down all those naughty spring rolls and deep fried bread besides tea?

Yum Cha without tea will be kind of weird. After all, Yum Cha means “drink tea”.

However, this is where I have to tell you the truth.

The truth about tea in Yum Cha is going to shift you from any tea drinker to a savvy one. The waiting staff in the Chinese restaurants are going to give you the look of approval as you know the stuff!

So what is the truth?

The truth is Yum Cha is NOT the place to have tea.

Wait, beside you charge me for treason (just joking), I need to tell you that I still love tea with Yum Cha, but to have DECENT tea, you need to go somewhere else.

So here are my insider tips on Yum Cha –

  • After sitting down, you should be asked what tea you would like. This step is often omitted for non-Chinese and Jasmine green tea is served by default. If you want something else, ask.
  • However, your tea choices in Yum Cha are pretty limited, named here by popularity:
    • Jasmine Green Tea –
      Sometimes just called “Jasmine tea”, it is floral and digestive. Great with buns.
    • Pu-erh –
      This is more of the default tea served in many Chinese eateries. Its dark brown brew is NOT an indication of its strength. It is actually pretty gentle, and great for digestion especially while eating red meat.
    • Tie Guan Yin or simply oolong –
      Oolong is regarded as a good weight loss tea in Asia. Oolong comes in many grades and flavours – some taste more like green tea and others taste more like black tea. The “Yum Cha varieties” will be more towards the black tea tasting like, with a little nutty flavour.
    • Sow Mee –
      Want strong tea – this is the one. Surprisingly this is actually a white tea but the brew is strong and slightly bitter.
    • last but not least, Chrysanthemum
      Want “non-tea” tea or eating with kids? Go for Chrysanthemum. This flower tea is light, mellow and tastes great to help feeling “cleaned” after a feast of dough and meat. Kids friendly. Great iced too (ask for a glass of iced water and mix it with Chrysanthemum).


  • Tea served in Yum Cha is poor grade. It is pretty rare you find good tea in Yum Cha. If they do, they will charge you extra, say $10-$20 a pot.
  • If you are eating with a big group, don’t be afraid to ask for 2 pots of tea for the table.
  • You don’t need to drink up all the tea. In fact, Chinese will keep topping up your cup if you are eating with one – it is politeness. And it is politeness that you don’t totally drink all the tea in the cup. Always leave a drop or so.
  • Never fill the cup over 80% – over that will be too hot to hold the cup.
  • If your teapot is empty, open the teapot and place the lid in an angle on top of the teapot. This is the Yum Cha insider talk of “please fill my pot with water”.
Yum cha teapot

Open teapot lid to ask for refill

Here is your bonus tip:
When you pour tea, always pour for eldest person in the group first, and yourself last. It is good manner to do so.

Don’t forget to venture out! If you are in Rome, do what Romans do, then in the case of going in a Chinese restaurant, try different tea! Though the tea is not amazing, but trying different tea in Yum Cha would help you explore different tea types – green tea, white tea, oolong and so on.

If you dare, try the Chinese feet. Your chopstick skill would surely improve if you do! If you love sweets, then the Sweet Tofu and steamed lotus root paste buns are your must haves!


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