With 2000 tea rooms world-wide, the China-chic beverage brand CHAGEE is spearheading the latest tea-drinking with design by STILL YOUNG.
January 17th, 2024
Traditional teahouses, specialty tea shops, innovative tea beverages and cosy tea rooms are competing fiercely in China as the tea and coffee markets gradually converge. With milk tea as its signature product, this recent surge is catalyst for change.
As such, the ‘Tea Bar’ concept was initiated as a collaboration with STILL YOUNG to develop two concept stores as flagships. The design brief – including the overall style, product range, interior design, cultural elements and conceptual expressions – was to revolve around the innovative interpretation of contemporary young people’s tea culture.
Conceptually realised, the ‘Tea Bar’ spaces are based on the prototype of a tea-making workshop. An 8-metre-long bar counter provides a set of custom-made devices, while the circulation route of this area is designed to meet the needs for “ordering, brewing and pickup” and to ensure the efficiency of the tea baristas as well as a smooth consumer experience overall.
“We approach the design based on the brand’s philosophy, and we care how the design can be replicated as a module at a higher speed,” says Eric Ch, STILL YOUNG founder and CEO.
Providing its clients with an immersive experience, the design of the bar intentionally minimises visual distraction and makes the products and tea baristas the protagonists of the space. Effectively, the bar counter becomes the stage, allowing customers to watch every procedure of tea-making, from grinding, extracting to pouring brewed tea.
Purposefully designed, the new tea-making devices enable a simpler tea-making process than the traditional practice. These devices, including the grinder, the tea-and-coffee maker, the POS machine, and the receipt printer, are all finished with a bronze stainless-steel film that aims to present the sophistication of new-style tea drinks. “The devices at Tea Bar demonstrate an update in the interaction between baristas and consumers, which is a focus of the design. Then we build a brand new third space in the field of tea beverages. This is what we have agreed upon with the brand side,” says Ch.
In developing the spatial colour palette, the brand and design team drew initial inspiration from the elements of gold, wood, water, fire, and earth, tracing their roots back to the millennium-old tea culture. The design also seeks to integrate references to the Silk Road and the ancient Tea Horse Road into the concept. Overlay this with the movie ‘Dune’ as the aesthetic inspiration and the mellow shades start to settle into something special.
The grottoes in Dunhuang provide a further layer of inspiration that speaks to minimalist structures and unique forms. All of that said, what it boils down to is the great many shades of tea. In the designer’s words, the fusion of light golden tea, pure white milk, and a desert ambiance create a unique brand tone and memorable experience: “The colour of tea is iconic. We hope there will be a shared global understanding about the colour of tea drinking space. The tea colour, as a visual focal point, becomes a medium that blends the space with the brand’s culture and products,” says Ch.
To elevate its brand identity by establishing new flagship stores, two popular Shanghai locations were chosen: The Global Harbor and Metro City. The Golden Harbour is a prominent shopping mall in the Putuo District, with significant influence in the surrounding business district. For this store a large tea beverage space with a central island-style seating arrangement divides the space into four main areas: premium tea-making, dine-in ordering, takeaway counter, and tea-tasting section.
Conversely, the Metro City serves as a hub in driving trends in the Xujiahui commercial area. This store has completely transformed the surrounding exterior space of the mall, incorporating both indoor functional areas and outdoor leisure zones.
For both stores a wall of folding windows occupies one side, blurring the boundary between the interior and exterior. Colour is similarly consistent with white tea toned paint applied to walls, ceilings, floor, the brewing counters, while seats are upholstered in a delicately textured fabric in the same shade. The custom-made devices at the counter combine the colour of black tea with the bronze finish for a hint of lux.
Drawing on tea culture the design team incorporated the art of Tang dynasties and elements about the Silk Road into large-sized installations to create visual focal points. Extending the brand logo ‘C’, for example, one of the installations uses glazes that combine pottery and porcelain to highlight a sense of history and culture. In another example, the wall painting depicting the Silk Road symbolises the interaction between the East and West, with a special technique employed to mimic the effect of sand blowing in the wind.
A set of dark bronze tea pots are displayed on the wall behind the bar counter, while a long, thin strip of warm light connects the entire space and guides the sightlines of customers. Different seating options are provided to meet various needs, such as socialising and working. Wood, bamboo and rattan elements are combined with large areas of plants, conveying a relaxing and cosy ambience. The bar seating behind the windows provides plugs to meet the needs of customers working in the store.
To some extent the creation of sister, rather than twin, stores, will allow STILL YOUNG and CHAGEE to see which style within the shared aesthetics and palette will work best to attract and retain its client base. That said, each of the stores is well suited to its own location, so pairing like with like rather than a blanket approach may win favour. Either way, it is a simple and beautiful outcome that really does champion ‘Dune’ as a contemporary aesthetic.
Founded in 2007, STILL YOUNG is headquartered in Shanghai, and has offices in Guangzhou and Wuhan. The design practice is dedicated to delivering high-standard, customized spatial solutions to far-sighted leading commercial brands. Based on a holistic and systematic approach, STILL YOUNG works on full lifecycle design for commercial spaces. As consumption modes keep upgrading, the company’s subdivided multi-disciplinary team guarantees the effective execution of creative ideas in all dimensions, to empower brand spaces to create everlasting commercial value adaptively.
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