Tuesday, January 10, 2012

A Chinese tea party

The Chinese take their tea seriously. Everyone, from taxi drivers to company presidents, drinks tea every day, all day long. Tea is consumed in liters: cups upon cups of the lovely, steaming, fragrant stuff. But any Chinese tea expert knows that much of the action and excitement takes place long before the first heavenly sip. While most everyday tea is just a matter of water sloshed over tea leaves, a true tea aficionado knows there are meticulous details of brewing time, water temperature, quality of water, types of tea pots and cups that make a big difference in the result. And that‘s after all the care has been taken to grow and ferment the delicate leaves, to blend and so on.
Tea is to the Chinese as wine is to the French, as beer is to Germans, as cigars are to Cubans.
The current revival in tea culture and teahouses can be interpreted as an increasing interest in traditional Chinese culture. While tea to Beijingers was never quite the obsession that it was for their southern cousins, teahouses were still quite popular in the city before the revolution.  
Any one of the teas that you might buy at a tea shop are, in fact, blends of about seven or eight leaves. Leaves grown in different parts of the country have distinctive personalities. Leaves from Fujian Province, for example, are known to be more fragrant, Anhui leaves are favored for their pure flavor, Guangxi tea leaves behind a certain bitterness, and Zhejiang tea is known for its tastiness. Prices of tea leaves can range from 50 to 500 yuan per jin. A tea master must take into consideration taste, appearance and price when blending teas. Needless to say, putting together a fine tea is not an easy task, but one that requires years of experience.
Tea is not only an inescapable part of daily Chinese life, but also an important part of Chinese culture. The origins of tea drinking in China have been studied by many a scholar, and the theories expounded on it are numerous. Whatever the case, it would be a safe bet that tea has been consumed in China for roughly 5,000 years. With such a long tradition, it‘s not at all surprising that the folklore and customs that surround tea, its preparation and its consumption are rich and elaborate.
Most obvious, tea is an excellent thirst quencher. But any Chinese person knows it also stimulates the appetite and helps digestion. Tea cleans out your insides and has about a dozen medicinal attributes. Many would say that there‘s nothing like a cup of tea to settle the stomach after a night of excess. And of course, there is also the caffeine that‘s most present in Oolong tea. There are also more outrageous claims ranging from "facilitate the flow of urine" to "prevent cell mutation and act as an anti-carcinogen." But most people just like tea because it‘s refreshing.
Various teas have their special attributes. Green tea, the preferred daily drink of Anhui and Nanjing residents, can qu huo , or calm the inner fire in the body. Beijingers prefer to drink hua cha, jasmine tea, which is said to aid digestion. Oolong tea, a favorite in Guangdong and Fujian provinces, is an even stronger aid to digestion. And black teas, the favorite of most foreigners, is sometimes said to be cooling.
For all its cultivated elaborateness, tea ceremonies represent the apex. Just ask a taxi driver to try to pour all those little clay containers in his cab. Tea is meant to be enjoyed in numerous shapes and forms.
By Explore Cultural China

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