Its possible that with your first glance at the following picture, you will already know what happened & how we were "scammed." After arriving home and typing "Beijing Scams" into Google, it became extremely clear that this is a very well-known scam that we somehow happened to overlook in all our planning.
The Beijing Tea Scam
Deciding to take advantage of a nice day, we ventured out to a part of town known as Qianmen. Wanting to practice our Chinese, we take every opportunity we can to speak with the locals, even if it means buying a banana or a coke or a packet of spices we don't really want. We were walking down a hutong and exchanged greetings with a man and a woman. They said they were siblings and the girl was his younger sister; they were visiting from Xi'an (another town). After walking together and talking for a good 20 minutes, they mentioned it being really hot out and wanting to get a cup of tea together ~ we agreed. They led the way to a teahouse that by all appearances was just one of the many teahouses in Beijing. Outside, the teahouse had signs indicating different drinks and teas, prices displayed - 5 kuai - about .73 U.S. cents.
After sitting down inside the teahouse, the waitress kept bringing over very small, almost thimble-sized cups of tea. We thought these were samples, and eventually we'd order the one we liked. About halfway through, we started to feel like something wasn't right and stopped the waitress to ask how much this was costing. She told us for every type of tea you taste, it is 30 kuai per person - about $4.40 - remember, thimble sized. She told us that we had already tasted 8 types of tea. At that point we indicated we were done and wanted to just pay. At that point our lovely "friends" indicated that they had no money and we would have to pay for them. We paid. It ended up costing us about $160 which is just astronomical for the amount of tea we drank, not to mention we were totally swindled by these two people, who actually work for the restaurant and purposely bring unsuspecting tourists to this place to conduct the same scam over and over again. (Consider the fact that we usually spend about $15 on a meal that can feed 5 people with tons of leftovers to take home!)
Afterwards, the "siblings" had to suddenly leave and got on the next bus. We had a hunch... so we went back to the place we had originally stumbled upon this dynamic duo and sure enough, there they were, chatting it up with the next poor bastard!
Anyway yes we paid, perhaps we shouldn't have taken it lying down like that, without protesting at all, but China is not a place we want to do anything questionable. I've heard of people arguing about it or bringing the police back but at that point, we just said forget about it and chalked it up to a really expensive travel and language lesson.
Google Beijing Tea Scam and see how every single hit is people talking about how they fell for this scam! Some people even went back with their video camera for some sort of revenge.
In the grand scheme of things, its not that bad - we had an hour and a half of Chinese practice! And we did drink some very tasty, albeit overpriced tea. Its just the point that people purposefully set out to take advantage of people. It happens all over the world, not just in China. We were just annoyed with ourselves for letting our eagerness to speak the language get in the way of the feeling that something was off. We've learned to be very selective in who we speak with & won't let this sort of thing happen again!
So, if you are coming to China, definitely don't go with someone you just met to a teahouse, no matter how nice or genuine they seem! And if you come to Beijing, avoid Yimingyuan Teahouse in the Qianmen area.