Overpriced chain coffees and bubble tea shops can move aside: Opened late December in Sheung Wan, CheckCheckCin is a new breed of beverage shop, bringing healthful drinks that aim to bring balance to the body, designed with traditional Chinese medicine theories in mind — and no, they don’t sell your traditional bitter-tasting herbal teas either.
The owner, Cinci Leung, is a registered TCM practitioner and acupuncturist and operates a clinic in the back of the store. She’s also published two books on the healing power of soups, as well as launched an iPhone app that helps people determine their body type and ailments, and what foods they should eat to alleviate symptoms of illness. We chat with her about her desire to get Hongkongers more aware of their bodies and achieve balance within — and realise that sometimes, staving off sickness is as simple as a cup of the right tea.
What got you interested in learning Chinese medicine at first?
My first degree wasn’t in Chinese medicine. I worked a job in marketing for 3-4 years before I got my license to be a TCM practitioner in 2012. I had a mentor who specialised in sports injury, but knew both Chinese and western medicine, who treated my relatives and family friends. From this, I was interested in massage for a while. However, I thought physiotherapy wasn’t in-depth enough, and western medicine was just all about surgery and taking medicine. I wanted to the full story [of how to treat people from the inside], so I took up Chinese medicine. However, my personality isn’t like the typical deadbeat Chinese doctor who will sit here and tell you you need to drink this or that. I don’t want to make people drink medicinal things like ginseng or fish maw, because there are already plenty of practitioners who already do that.
Why did you decide to open Check Check Cin?
I used to have my own clinic in an upstairs shop, but the rent increased. I started looking for a ground floor location, and for that, I couldn’t just be seeing patients all day, so I had to think of some fresh ideas. Around the same time, my husband had opened a whisky bar on New Street in Sheung Wan. I went there when I was pregnant, and the bartender made me a hot mocktail. I was surprised, it was so good. It was like an Earl Grey tea mixed with fruits. I thought, couldn’t I make delicious drinks too?
How did you design the drinks menu?
I started to brainstorm with the bartender — I gave him different categories of ingredients that could, for instance, help relieve dampness or heat in the body. They’re based on the eight classic body types in Chinese medicine, but they’re not set medicinal formulas.
Instead of the common drink categories you’d find at a herbal tea shop, like teas that “clear heat and toxins,” or “expel coldness and warm the body,” I instead chose to simplify it with common symptoms: for instance, “feelin’ annoyed” means you have a lot of heat in the body (that’s what gives you a short fiery temper), so the drink for that has ingredients that help clear that heat. They’re delicious and can be a great alternative to bubble teas, coffees and teas. They’re freshly brewed with no artificial syrups. It’s just like making it at home.
What’s the most common ailment you see in Hong Kong?
Typical people have symptoms of tiredness, a sallow complexion, feeling unrested after sleep, bloating without having eaten a lot. In Chinese medicine, this all points to a deficiency in the spleen and stomach. Overall, Hongkongers don’t tend to be lacking anything, more that they’ve got too much, and the body is stagnant — there’s a lot of traffic backed up in there — that’s why people’s hands get cold easily (due to lack of circulation), they get dark circles, or their lips are purplish and dark. This is all qi stagnation in the body, which develops into blood stasis.
People are too busy nowadays. I hate it when people say work hard, play hard, because when you work hard, you’re supposed to rest hard. You need to relax! Some people don’t seem to be capable of doing this, even when they’re on holiday. When you are stressed for too long, it affects your spleen and stomach: Your digestive system deteriorates. This is why I tell people to drink rice water. At Check Check Cin, I sell boxes of vacuum-sealed sachets, perfect to brew in the office. You don’t have an excuse not to drink it!
Why rice water?
Rice water is mild in nature and helps your spleen function better — it’s like the exfoliation step before you put on lotion: It helps you scrub away the bad stuff so that you can absorb nutrients better. People these days really like to treat themselves: they eat well for almost every meal, so instead I want to offer humbler options back to them. Raw and natural ingredients like rice and sweet potatoes are better for your spleen and stomach.
Having yeet hei, (“hot air”) is something you hear Chinese people talk about feeling, especially after eating fried foods. How do you explain it simply to people who don’t understand this imbalance?
A person has a balance of yin and yang sides. Some people sleep really late all the time and have a sore throat. Some people get a sore throat because they actually ate a lot of chips — this is when you have too much yang; too much fire in your system, so if you drink a cooling herbal medicine, that will extinguish it. However, from sleeping late all the time, that actually means your yin is too low. If you still drink herbal medicine, that will bring your level down even further, making your body weak. In this case, you’re really supposed to drink something to nourish the body, to balance it. Think of it like a successful hot pot: when you’re burning out all the broth you won’t extinguish the flame, you’ve got to add more soup back in, right?
Aside from your clinic, you also work on a lot of other projects — what’s the goal here?
I am a Chinese doctor first and foremost, but a lot of my projects follow the philosophy of preventive healthcare. Younger people have no clue, so it’s all about slowly educating them. That’s why on my CheckCheckCin Instagram page, I state simple health facts to teach people about symptoms and what they mean, so they can get to know their body a little bit better.
I’ve just published two books on soups. I’ve given seminars before. I’ve also just launched an app. It tells you what your body type is, and it lists dishes and ingredients that are suited for you or what to avoid. I don’t want to put too much jargon into it — people won’t get it. Instead of saying “Apples are cold-natured, so don’t eat too many,” it’s “This is your body type, you’re allowed to eat more apples.”
What do you hope other people can gain from your practice?
Chinese medicine is actually very logical: It’s very holistic, but it’s symptom-based and systematic in its remedies. I hope that people can pay more attention to their bodies. A lot of symptoms are actually screaming right at you — you’re thirsty, or you’re tired — you should listen to them. Also, these days, it’s super easy to get your information. I hope people can learn to be critical of the information they get. I see a lot of Instagram celebrities selling things like dried citrus peel and chenpi fritillary powder tea, but they’ll recommend it to people even when it’s not suitable for their condition. These people don’t have a Chinese medicine license. It’s just the same as when western doctors hate it when people rely on Doctor Google!
Beverages at CheckCheckCin start from HK$26. Check out which of the rice waters and herbal drinks fit your condition at G/F, Kai Fung Building, 4-6 Jervois Street, Sheung Wan, +852 2833 5508, facebook.com/CheckCheckCin