Café offers more than just a cuppa

Updated: 2012-03-01 07:59

By Huang Ying (China Daily)

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Café offers more than just a cuppa

Privately owned small cafs are booming in Chinese key cities. [Photo/China Daily]

BEIJING - Zhao Zhengjie and his wife Wu Yelan are leading a life that most young people might dream of: They have successfully translated their hobbies into their careers by running a Cafe.

The Tarot Cafe, which started in 2007, is in an unpretentious corner on Beijing's busy Di'anmen Xidajie, in the capital's trendy Gulou area. It has a quiet atmosphere and a plain storefront.

However, the moment you open the door and enter, you find yourself intrigued by the interior decor. An old and trendily shabby lamp hangs from the ceiling and the dark walls are covered with paintings featuring the occult. Everything in the Cafe has some association with tarot, the archaic mysterious Western divination tool.

Giving tarot card readings and providing psychotherapy to customers are the Cafe's unique selling points.

The readings are conducted by Wu. It started as a hobby but is now her full-time job. Zhao is the resident psychotherapist.

Before opening the Tarot Cafe, Wu worked in a government department and Zhao was an editor for a publishing house.

Tired of the regular routine and inspired by their shared dream of opening a Cafe, they put their thoughts into practice. However, the start of every project can be filled with difficulty and obstacles, as they discovered.

"In the first month, we only received one client, and the lady who came in that day simply wanted to shelter from the rain," he said.

About half a year later, things started to get on the right track after improvements made by Zhao and his wife. "In the beginning we made some adjustments based on customers' suggestions that we thought were good for our store," Zhao said.

Most of Wu's clients are young women aged between 20 and 30. Their questions range from career, health to romance.

"Questions on relationships are the most frequently posed," Wu said.

The schedule for Wu's tarot card reading appointments are quite tight, from 3:00 pm to midnight, that's why clients have to call in advance to book an appointment with her.

She taught herself tarot divination, driven by her interest in it, and now combines it smoothly with her job and life.

"Not everyone can give tarot divinations. It is more than technique as it requires the diviner to have a certain talent for perception, something that cannot be explained," Wu said.

Zhao's psychotherapy sessions usually last one hour and customers have to pay 200 yuan each time.

He developed an interest in counseling before opening the Cafe. In 2008 he signed up for professional training courses in a Beijing-based institution to further enhance his skills.

Despite his holding of a psychotherapy consultant certificate issued by the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security, Zhao said: "I think this is far from enough to be a real practitioner in this field. In the US, a professional psychiatrist has to study for at least eight to 10 years."

At Tarot, only Italian coffee is served, and there are no options for dessert, said Zhao.

In order to maintain a private and calm atmosphere, this Cafe doesn't offer room for organizations or groups to perform various activities, which is common in most Cafes because it can help provide more earnings and increase the Cafe's popularity.

"There used to be activity organizers seeking cooperation with us but we turned them down because it doesn't fit with our theme and orientation," Zhao said.

Most of Tarot's clients are regular customers and they understand the Cafe's style well. That is why no matter how many people are having a cup of coffee or waiting for a tarot card reading, the atmosphere is always quiet.

A young woman surnamed Fan, who visited with a friend for a tarot reading, said: "My friends who have come here before recommended the Cafe to me because they know I am interested in tarot cards, and I find it interesting here."

The style of a Cafe, its owners' ways of talking and the main group of customers will have an effect on new customers, enabling them to decide if it's their sort of place, Zhao said.

"As a private Cafe owner, I think it is most important to satisfy customers' needs in a way that distinguishes itself from others."