Tea to the Chinese, is what wines are to the French – serious business.
A cup of tea in China holds more than just a few loose leaves; it’s encompasses various flavours, customs and culture, healing qualities and legends.
Today, we head to a traditional tea house in Beijing.
Our host greets us at the entrance, a smiley woman in customary Chinese clothing, and sits us in front of a table full of pots, teacups and utensils.
The essential tea tools
Unlike making a cuppa back home – with a quick switch of a kettle and dunk of a tea bag – preparing tea in China is far more involved.
As such, in front of us are an array of bits and bobs used to bring out the best flavours in the tea.
Here are what you’ll need if you want to make an authentic Chinese tea:
- Wooden tea tray – so hot water can be poured over and emptied easily
- Decanter – preferably glass for the tea to be poured into
- Small sieve – to filter loose leaves from entering the decanter
- Tea pot – the preferred pot in China is made of clay and called “yi xing”
- Tea cups – we used small traditional tea cups, more like ceramic shot glasses
- Tongs and a scooper for putting dry tea into the teapot
The little pee-pee boy
Many tea sets in China also have little tea pets as a token of good luck.
The most popular is the pee-pee boy.
How it works?
Basically, you submerge the little clay pet into cold water, evacuating all the bubbles.
Then stand him up, and pour boiling water over him.
If you’ve done it right, the little boy should do a whizz into the air!
Like the traditional Chinese teapots, these tea pets are also made of yi xing and are thought to have been used by tea-drinkers as early as the Yuan dynasty in the 12 Century.
Must try teas
Green, black, white, red – all colours of the tea rainbow are up for tasting.
So, where does a tea newbie begin?
Here is a breakdown of the popular, must-try teas:
Oolong tea: between green and black tea, half fermented with a rich, earthy flavour.
Rose tea: Tastes like drinking a cup of perfume, in a good way, with a light sweet aftertaste.
Fruit tea: A tea and a snack. Fruit cubes of a number of dried fruits – kiwi, mango, sultanas, etc – are placed into a pot creating a very sweet tea that you can chew on after drinking.
Flower tea: Flower tea tastes as good as it looks. Dried flowers such as chrysanthemum, hibiscus, jasmine and lily are dried with scented tea.
When soaked in hot water, they slowly “bloom” creating a truly beautiful and tasty tea.
Green tea: Generic green tea has a mild bitter taste with an earthy, almost grassy, overtone.
Pu’er tea: Rich, smooth and earthy taste. Pu’er tea is pressed and sold as large, flat round buns.