Tea in China or the Chinese tea culture is quite different from that of the rest of the world. It is different from that of England, or India or Japan or many other places on earth that drink and serve tea as a social drink.
Tea in China is given a much deeper meaning than any where else. It is considered as one of the seven main daily necessities of life. There are four main significances in serving tea in Chinese cultures, says our host, Xiang, who took us to a tea ceremony in Beijing. These are – harmony, reverence, purity and tranquility in relationships.
Any where else in the world you may find an elder person making a cup of tea for you and you find no inhibition for that. You may even be offered a cup of tea from your boss.
Not in China, nodded Xiang. You may never expect your boss, a higher ranking person or someone older than you making tea for you. There is a certain hierarchy thing in serving tea in China.
Younger people should always offer to make and serve the tea in China and offer it to the senior ones to show respect and gratitude.
There is a custom where the newly wed bride and groom serve tea. They will kneel in front of their parents and serve the tea ceremoniously to show their gratitude.
Children may invite their parents for a cup of tea and serve them respectfully when they need to apologize.
Tea in China is served between the two matrimonial families to show acceptance and appreciation. If one refuses such invitation – that is serious stuff, meaning refusal!
Ways of brewing:
Xiang showed that there are four main kinds of tea in China that are mainly used, she does not call the flavored teas, real tea, even though they are popular.
These are the Green tea, the White tea, the Oolong, and finally the Black tea.
Tea comes from the plant called Camellia Sinensis- the Chinese version of it is pronounced like pinyin- chashu. From this comes the word cha – which is taken in many languages. For example, in Bengali (a language from India and Bangla Desh), tea is cha. In Hindi, Chay, In Russian it is Chay too!
There is difference in brewing the tea in China too. You just don’t dump some boiling water with a tea bag in a cup to make tea.
I learned that this is not quite the correct way to brew tea in China. If you are making Green tea, the optimum temperature should be 75- 80 degree centigrade, not quite boiling water, rather just warm water. You brew it for 2 to 3 minutes and may have several refills of water on the same tea. In fact the third one is the best.
Similarly, Oolong tea needs a temperature of 80-85 degrees and should be done in a clay pot. Again, you may have several refills on the same tea.
Only the black tea deserves boiling water or nearly boiling water temperature.
Xiang mentioned that you must have tea without milk or lemon for optimum result. At least, that is the way to have tea in China. Take a mental note how it tastes and feels for each refill. The tea has to unfold all the way leaving all the ” agony of the tea”. That was an interesting way of wording, I felt.
Tea has many benefits, so much that it can be another article. But I must share an interesting thing before I end.
At one point Xiang took out a box and very gently unwrapped a piece of muslin cloth. Underneath we saw a block or rather a slab of brown hay like things stuck together.
“Cow dung” – remarked some one.
Xiang opened her eyes wide. “You know what this stuff is? It is called Tieguanin. It is named after the Buddhist deity Gyan Yin (the iron goddess of mercy).
It is the elixir of life. It can cure diabetes, high blood pressure, arthritis. It even cures cancer, some says. It prolongs your life.”
She held the cow dung like brick on her bosom and said – “People buy this stuff which is a blend of oolong and green tea, and keep it in their safe and pass it to their kids and grand kids with the prayer of long lives.
One pound (half a kilo) of this stuff sells for $1500.”
So, no one really breaks this chunk of tea in China for drinking, and that is the irony!