‘I Came Here With a Suitcase 30-Something Years Ago’
Amid Georgetown’s third-wave coffee explosion is an airy Chinese teahouse that has stood the test of trends for two decades. Ching Ching Cha owner Hollie Wong embodies the spirit of the space—an infectious serenity emanating from her as she pours piping-hot tea into a decorative porcelain cup.
‘A place with a lot of blessings. Very good energy here.’
Born in Hong Kong, Hollie has been drinking tea since she was a baby. She began traveling when she was 17—leaving home for a year at a time for Europe. Then she visited the U.S., and never returned to China.
‘I came here with a suitcase 30-something years ago by myself. DC was my last stop of my year trip and I decided this is a good place. I want to be in America and DC is as America as can be. I don’t want to be in any city that has a big Chinese population because as an immigrant, it’s very easy as Chinese to always hang out with Chinese. I want to speak English. Thirty years later, I’m still living that journey.’
Hollie loved to travel, eat and drink, and contemplated opening a coffee house to support herself. Inspiration of a different variety struck when she moved to France for a year and discovered a cute Taiwanese teahouse.
‘As soon as I opened the door I said let’s do a Chinese teahouse, because we don’t have it in America and it would be great to introduce that culture.’
A new plan in motion, Hollie jetted to Taiwan, Japan, and China to immerse herself in the world of tea. For the next year, she stayed at tea plantations, worked in coffee shops, and learned every aspect of the business.
‘When I start this, I don’t know how to use the computer, I don’t have an email address, I don’t do accounting. I have no business background, I just want to have a teahouse.’
It took nearly two years to find the right space—many landlords hesitant to rent to someone with no business background. Hollie says she got lucky, securing a space at 1063 Wisconsin Avenue with vaulted ceilings and mahogany beams.
‘You have a vision, you have a dream, but this has never been done before. People, they don’t pay for teas. But before I started I know this will work. It’s just a beautiful idea. We need different things in the market. We can’t just have coffee shops. It’s stimulating. From the culture point of view, from the atmosphere, it attracts a unique clientele.’
Hollie serves a steady stream of Chinese college students, in addition to tourists who find the teahouse in almost all of DC’s guidebooks. Hollie still doesn’t consider herself a business woman, and has never advertised. From weddings to baby showers and retirement parties, it’s all been word of mouth.
‘People are very comfortable here. We have a quiet place to sit and talk. That’s very rare. Everywhere you go is so loud. Somehow when you walk in here you just don’t want to be loud.’
The atmosphere is a stark contrast to the teahouses in China, where locals are loudly playing Mahjong or making business deals. But the tea itself is in keeping with tradition, imported from trusted sources in China and Japan.
In the absence of soft drinks and coffee, Hollie says tea is pervasive in China—lauded for its health benefits. Yet it’s never fawned over, deconstructed, or analyzed.
‘We just drink tea. When we grow up, and even now if you go to China, we don’t talk about tea. We just drink it. We use different materials to make the best of the tea we’re drinking, but we don’t do ceremony. We present tea for special occasions to our parents, to the elderly, to teacher, for wedding ceremony, to show respect with tea, but we don’t do a ceremony like the Japanese.’
There’s nothing showy about Hollie, or Ching Ching Cha, and that’s precisely their charm. Hollie knows she’s in a niche market—most tourists visiting the White House, not a teahouse—and appreciates every drop of success.
‘Every day when I open this door I feel so lucky. I’m never tired of it. How can you not feel that way with this place? You just do what you love and it’s working. Then when you see businesses closing, you realize, wow—you’re lucky. As much as I love to travel, I’m sorry to say I’m happier to walk in here than my home. It give me a sense of satisfaction and it’s very comforting to walk in here.’