Teas for the Chinese New Year Celebrations

Chinese LanternsThe Chinese New Year is the largest celebration in China. Lasting 15 days, this holiday is a chance for families and friends to come together and celebrate the new year. Gifts are exchanged and a lot of food is eaten. In finding the right New Year gift, many Chinese choose food items or teas that focus on health and long life. Since the Chinese see all teas being healthy and helping to aid in a long life, it seems hard to figure out how to narrow the field. This holiday is considered the biggest in China and one of the few where gifts are exchanged, so the quality of the tea is going to play a big roll in what is chosen as a gift. Also, with the new year during the dormant period for tea plants, much of the available tea in China will be fall and winter harvest oolongs and aged puerh. So with this in mind, here are 3 oolongs that would would be considered an appropriate to both give and serve as part of the Chinese New Year .

Ti Kuan Yin – This beautiful oolong from Anxi in Fuijan province of China carries the name of Iron Goddess of Mercy. Kuan Yin, or Guanyin, gave guidance in a dream to a local farmer in Anxi on how to care for the tea plant and make this balled oolong. This brought prosperity to the farmer and the village. So this oolong is not only associated with health, but with prosperity. So it covers two of the biggest Chinese beliefs around the new year making it a perfect candidate for giving and serving.

Fenghuang Dancong – This Phoenix Mountain oolong from Guangdong province is plucked from tea plants that are allowed to grow wild in gardens of other plants. These plants are older and larger than the plants kept in a traditional garden. The flavor profile is both sweet and vegetal. These oolongs have been around for centuries and are considered one of the best lighter oolongs from China. Tea from old tea plants is always valued in China and shows a level of care from the giver of the tea.

Wen Shan Bao Zhong – This high elevation oolong from Taiwan (keep in mind China does not recognize Taiwan as a separate country), is also a fall harvest oolong and is prized on the mainly for its light creamy flavor. Taiwan oolongs are considered the best quality, even by mainland Chinese. So this would be both an exotic and highly prized gift.

Regardless of which one you choose, all of these oolongs are worthy of any holiday.

 

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Christmas Traditions in Japan

Col. Sanders are Santa in Japan

A New Japanese Tradition: Kentucky for Christmas. Photo by Flickr User ‘rumpleteaser’.

Would it surprise you to know that Christmas traditions in Japan are a reflection of American and European culture? For this huge tea producer and a nation with less than 1% of its population identifying as Christian, it celebrates the holiday with same gusto as America. It turns out a mix of good timing, similar cultural stories of big bellied men, and American marketing made this possible.

Santa and Hoteisho

The story of Santa is not that different from the story of Hoteisho. A large bellied, jolly Buddhist monk with a curly mustache that is said to have eyes on the back of his head to see whether or not children are behaving. Hoteisho travels with a large sack full of good fortune to pass out to people as he spreads cheer and good fortune to all. He is one of the seven lucky gods in Japan and a product of a mix of Hinduism and Buddhism that occurred in Japan in the 13th century. As it turns out, Japan had its own Santa Clause long before exposure to Europeans.

This may also help explain why the Japanese culture had no problem adopting this European tradition. They saw Santa as the European version of Hoteisho.

Christmas Decorations and Gifts

After World War I, Japan became was the largest manufacturer of Christmas decorations purchased in Europe and America. Dresden, Germany had held that title previously, but was so decimated by the war that it never caught back up to Japan’s manufacturing. World War II shifted this again, but the legacy of making Christmas decorations stayed with the Japanese culture. The glass balls on Christmas trees where not that different from the paper ornaments hung by the Japanese in celebration of spring. So Christmas trees, lights and ornaments can be found all over Japan during the month of December. It is very popular to take evening walks along the malls and parks to see the Christmas lights and ornaments.

Gifts in Japan are actually exchanged on New Year’s Day as a way of wishing your loved ones well for the new year. So Christmas Day and Christmas Eve are reserved more for parties, family gatherings and outings than actual gift exchange.

The Emperor’s Birthday

As it turns out December 23rd is a national holiday in Japan to honor the Emperor’s birthday. This is one of the few days that the inner grounds to the Imperial Palace, which is currently located in a park in Tokyo are opened to the public. Many people gather there to wish the Emperor good health and happy future. Think of it like President’s Day in the US, only we have a tendency to focus the deceased Presidents more than the living ones. Since the Emperor’s birthday is so close to the week before the New Year, it marks a time when many Japanese go on vacation to visit family and celebrate the end of the year and the beginning of a new one. Schools are closed between the Emperor’s birthday and the new year. This makes it convenient to slide in Christmas, and Christmas traditions, which is what KFC did in the 1970s.

Fried Chicken Christmas Eve

When KFC entered the Japanese market in the 1970’s it was looking for as many ways as possible to get the Japanese into their fast food restaurants. In 1974 they launched their Kentucky for Christmas campaign, which worked beautifully. It was targeted at dating couples to celebrate their blooming relationship and experience a little US hospitality Christmas eve. It took off and is still very popular in country. You have to actually put in for a reservation for a spot Christmas eve, and now you can order for pick up that afternoon to consume at home.

Though a bit quirky, Christmas in Japan is not all that different from Christmas here in the United States.

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Books and Tea – A Natural Combination

tea cup and books

We love to curl up with a good book and a great cup of tea anytime, but especially when its cold outside.

As the weather reminds us that it is winter, there is nothing more comforting than curling up with a book and a cup of tea. When those books incorporate tea, it’s even better. So here are just a few of our suggestions that don’t make it on the stereotypical lists of books or authors associated with tea. There are plenty more out there.

The Importance of Living by Lin Yutang – Even though it was first published in 1939, it still reflects the Chinese philosophy of life. This book gives Westerners a distilled and clean view into Chinese thought on life and what is important. Of course, tea is touched upon in this book. The best tea quote from the book:  “There is something in the nature of tea that leads us into a world of quiet contemplation of life.”

Notes from the Underground by Fyodor Dostoyevsky – This wickedly critical view of society and man is not always a page turner. It requires you to take time to think about what the main character said. However, this book is considered a literary classic for its shift in how a person sees them self and society in the late 1800’s. So sometimes, you push through a book to see why it is considered important and in doing so, you find its relevance and a few hidden gems. Not to mention, we have all had days like the main character where we have also thought “I say let the world go to hell, but I should always have my tea.”

Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams – This lighthearted science fiction novel is easy to get lost in as you travel with the main character, Arthur, a Brit, across the universe. One of the funny parts, especially for tea drinkers, is when Arthur is analyzed by a computer and then presented with a “cupful of liquid that was almost, but not quite, entirely unlike a cup of tea.” How many times have you been presented with a cup of “tea” and wondered at how that could really be called tea?

So curl up with your favorite book and a cup of tea, and send us your recommendations for books that include tea in the story line.

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Driving in China: Making the Trip to the Tea Fields

“When overseas you learn more about your own country, than you do the place you’re visiting.” – Clint Borgen

Moped covered in Styrofoam boxes.

Wild and crazy methods for transporting goods in China.

Driving in China is much harder than driving here. We complain a lot about traffic here in Northern Virginia, but we have very few traffic problems in comparison to China. Our recent trip through Fujian and Guangdong, made the morning commute on Route 7 look like a leisurely stroll through a park. Here are some of our observations about traffic in China and few pointers if you ever feel like venturing through this country.

  • Defensive driving is the standard in China. Outside the largest of cities, roads are shared with bicycles, mopeds, pedestrians, and animals. This wide range of travelers and speeds create a chaotic group of stop and go traffic at a volume that far exceeds any metropolitan area in the US. The large cities have banned bicycles, animals and mopeds. While this improves the flow of traffic, the shear volume of cars, buses and trucks on the roads create almost constant traffic jams. In areas with high pedestrian traffic, it is common to see roadways congested with people because the sidewalks are full. The drivers slowly inch along behind the walkers acknowledging they are far out numbered.
  • For all the appearance of chaos, there were few visible accidents. Everyone and everything travels with a trust that their fellow travelers will do them no harm. Merges occur in a fashion that we would consider rude and dangerous in America. Cars cut each other off and pass in a fashion that would elicit a long blaring of the horn in the US. Yet our drivers and the other drivers acted as if nothing wrong had occurred. There were no horns, cussing or anger. It may help that most of the speed limits are low in comparison to the United States. However, you sense there is a deeper philosophy shared by the Chinese concerning behavior in crowds.
  • Double solid yellow stripes are optional. Rarely do you appreciate the American attitude that you cannot trust other people while driving, than on your way up the mountain side as your driver, along with several others, cross a double yellow line on a blind curve to pass a tour bus. There were no shoulders, extra lanes or curbs, just a straight drop down. Yet, what we saw was that the oncoming traffic slowed and/or stopped to allow this type of passing to occur. This behavior was witnessed over and over headed to various tea fields. Lets just say tea never tasted so good at the end of a trip.
Moped with husband, wife, and child.

An all too common sight of the family commuter vehicle in China.

To put it bluntly, do not drive in China if you are American. Their mass transit is wonderful and easy to navigate, even if you do not speak Chinese. There are plenty of affordable driving services that can get you around cities. From private drivers that often speak English, to taxis and the Chinese version of Uber, Didi. Just always travel with the addresses you need to go to in Chinese, including the hotel you are staying at.

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Tea Drunk and Recurring Beliefs about Tea from China

Tea Cupping

It’s hard not to get tea drunk when exploring tea in China.

Traveling throughout tea country in China presents not only the opportunity to see the tea and how it is made up close, but to sample it over hours of conversation with growers and producers. Those conversations leave you with a different perspective not only about the tea itself, but proper consumption practices through the eyes of its makers. As you talk with different growers and producers in different regions you start to find common themes from all of them. Below are just 3 of themes that just keep recurring:

  • You can get “tea drunk”. Yes, you read that right, tea drunk. So the symptoms of being tea drunk include foggy thinking, nervousness and a stomach ache. Usually this is prevented by making sure one has eaten before drinking tea or by limiting the consumption of tea. Now a tea maker is going to have a tough time limiting tea consumption, especially during a harvest period, so timing breaks during the day with no tea consumption is critical. Also, some of the makers talked about the best time to taste tea being in the afternoon after lunch, when supposedly your taste buds and brain are functioning at their best.
  • Novice tea drinkers should be served weaker tea. Knowing whether or not your guest is a routine tea drinker and their favorite types of teas influences how much tea you put in the pot. This was totally eye opening the first time we heard it. Indeed, in China it is very important to not overwhelm a guest with a flavor profile they might not understand or appreciate. The tea can be cut by as much as half or just by a third for the first serving to watch the response of the guest and then increased to full intensity in subsequent servings.
  • Tea is medicine. Tea, having been consumed for centuries in this country, is talked about as a cure for digestive issues, blood thinner and cholesterol remover, preventer of cold and flu, and general cure-all. Medical studies in both the East and West are slowly catching up with the cultural beliefs and beginning to prove or disprove many of them. However, this view of tea as medicine is reflective of the overall cultural belief that what you put in the body daily is critical to health.

The big take away, not surprisingly, is that there is still much we can all learn and explore when it comes to tea.

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