The Western influence of coffee culture has seeped east. As coffee chain Starbucks placed its largest store ever in Shanghai in December of 2017, tea bars in the country are now looking to appeal to a contemporary market with design as their instrument for reinvention. For Icha Chateau’s flagship tea bar, Shanghai-based architecture studio Spacemen used luxe materials to remodel the stale associations with the country’s tea culture.

Conversely, in North America and Western Europe the purchasing power of today’s health-conscious youth has led to the growing popularity of green and herbal teas. In the United States, sales of tea have gone up five times since the 90s. Specialty brews like matcha have infiltrated mainstream popular culture, with advocates like Torontonian hip-hop celebrity Drake – who invested in New York City chain Matchabar – spouting its benefits. While coffee sales are sluggish in a mature market such as North America, consumption is on the rise in China, with sales climbing at a rate of 16 per cent a year since 2014. Starbucks has found such success in the country that they recently revealed an aggressive plan to open 2,400 stores within the next four years. This reversal in beverage culture is forcing Chinese tea bars to approach their spatial design as a way of luring in the spending market.

Spacemen looked to the rolling hills of tea plantations to inform the design of the Shanghai restaurant, illustrating this natural occurrence with 35,000 meters of gold chain. Applied in three different golden hues, the undulating installation creates a spatial topography that offers guests privacy and an innovative take on the traditional tea bar. The organic shapes created within the space are contrasted by contemporary materials like a grey terrazzo marble floor, matte black cabinetry and brass orbs of light that follow the curves of the chain curtains.

The new environment signals to China’s reclamation of a space-forward tea culture. The focus on design is encouraged by a generation that is more willing to invest in products that provide them with a novel experience, even if that experience brings them back to their own heritage.