Chinese New Year History and Customs

Chinese New Year Festival

Chinese New Year Festival (photo by Flickr user Paul)

The Chinese New Year, also known as the Lunar New Year or Spring Festival, dates back to Shang Dynasty (1766 BCE-1122 BCE). Just about every subsequent dynasty put their own spin on the celebration. The Han Dynasty (206 BCE-9 CE) added an early version of fireworks by burning dried bamboo. When the bamboo is set on fire its core expands causing the stick to explode open with a loud pop. The Tang Dynasty (618 CE-907 CE) added the red lanterns, which are still part of the celebration.

Chinese New Year Traditions

New Year’s Eve dinner with family is one of the biggest traditions of this holiday. It is so big that it causes over 3 billion people to travel just prior to the New Year in China. The New Year’s travel rush begins almost 14 days before New Year’s eve to allow all the transit systems to move all these people. When that is compared to the 48.7 million Americans that traveled to be with family this past Thanksgiving (measured over a 5 day period), it makes our crowded roads and lines at airport security seem empty.

Once every one makes it to dinner, a feast is served that includes a whole chicken or fish (including head, tail, feet or fins) as they symbolize prosperity and completeness, noodles, dumplings, and Niangao. Each family will have different spins on these dishes based off of which region of China they are from. Tea is served and brought as gifts for other family members and for the alter that is setup for deceased family members to honor them.

The family stays up after dinner and watches fireworks that are set off at midnight. Everyone is to stay up all night and all lights are to remain on in the house until the sun rises. After sunrise, gifts are exchanged, which are usually red envelopes with money as they symbolize prosperity and wealth for the new year. Firecrackers may be set off as they are to scare off the “Nian”, a monster that arrives at the New Year who brings bad luck. Red is worn through out the New Year celebration since it is the color of luck. Black is avoided as it is the color of death.

Chinese New Year Around the World

Due to the world increasingly getting smaller, there are many celebrations for the Lunar New Year around the world. In fact, the largest celebration of the Lunar New Year outside of China occurs in San Francisco. If you cannot make it there, Washington DC has a Chinese New Year parade as well as many other large American cities.  So join in the celebrations!

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Celebrating Hot Tea Month

Hot TeaYes, January is Hot Tea Month! So as in all silly holidays and observances of food related items, this one comes from industry. Hot Tea Month first appeared in 1994 in the United States. Its not a surprise to learn it is also observed in Canada and Europe. As someone who drinks tea daily, this just makes me roll my eyes. However, it does present the opportunity to share our favorite beverage with our friends. So here are a few ideas on how to celebrate Hot Tea Month.

Have Tea with Friends

It sounds so simple, but it works well. Inviting friends over for tea gives you an excuse to show off your tea making skills and have your friends consume your favorite beverage. So clean off the teapot your grandmother gave you and put it to good use this month. If you don’t have time to make tea, go out for tea with your friends. Tea naturally lends itself to good conversation.

Cook with Tea

Stumped on how to incorporate your favorite beverage into food, we have you covered with a lot of different Tea Recipes. Given that this is generally a cold month, we love the tea-infused butter for warm bread or smokey mushroom soup.

Try New Teas

After you have encouraged your friends to have tea and fed tea to your family, it is time to treat yourself. Nothing like a holiday to get you to do something new, so go out and find a few new teas to try. There are thousands of teas out there to try, and even those of us who have made a career out of drinking tea still find new ones. If you are not sure where to start, try our post on new teas to try in the new year. If you have had those, pick a category of tea that you do not normally drink, like white or green, and go looking for teas from specific countries that you are pretty certain you have not had and have a cup.

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Christmas Traditions in India

Christmas Traditions in India

Christmas Elephant in India (by Flickr user Ashley Coates)

Christmas traditions in India are a reflection of its history of being a British colony and the ethnic diversity of the country. Unlike the United States, where we all observe the same the Federal holidays and expect the banks and businesses to be closed on those days, each state in India determines its own holidays, there are currently 29 states, and rarely do they match. There are just 3 national holidays. Christmas is one of the few holidays observed by all states in India, even though it is not a national holiday. This is also fascinating given that only 3% of the population of India identified themselves as Christian in their last census.

Christmas Traditions in India – History

It is no surprise to learn that Christmas came to India with the colonization of the country by the British East India Company. While Christian missionaries were in the country centuries before it became home to British tea plantations, it was the observance of the holiday through the closing down of the plantations, railroads, and a break for the British military that the holiday really became part of the culture of the country.

Adapting to what the country had to offer, banana and mango trees take the place of fir trees. They are decorated in much of the same fashion as the Christmas trees here in the states or in Europe. There are a lot of decorations on the outside of businesses and home that include an array of lights, lanterns, oil lamps, and nativity scenes. Santa also makes an appearance and the stories about him are very similar to those here in the US.

Christmas Traditions in India – Food & Beverage

No matter the country, holidays call for big meals with family and friends, and India is no different. Preparations begin weeks in advance with cookies and sweets being made. These are not only consumed at home, but given away to friends and family. The cuisine at these dinners are reflection of the local culture. There is a wide array of spicy soups, vegetable and rice dishes, as well as our favorite beverage, tea. One cannot escape chai tea when in India and it doesn’t disappear for the holidays. The spice blend is unique to each family and reflects their heritage and traditions. The tea is usually boiling on the stove all day, so it is available to guests whenever they want a cup.

The human need of gathering friends and family for celebrations over large meals exists in all cultures. So here is toast to all our similarities and to a happy holiday season.

 

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Kukicha: Japanese Stem Tea

Photo of Kukicha leaf and infusion.

Kukicha ‘Stem Tea’ Leaf and Infused Liquor

Kukicha is a uniquely Japanese Tea. Made primarily from the main stem of the tea plant, this tea has a light salty and creamy flavor.

Kukicha History

So the tea industry loves the mythical stories about the creation of tea. Yet, Kukicha doesn’t have one. In fact, this tea is barely reviewed or talked about in the troves of books about teas. It may get a small review of how to brew it and what it is made of but no one talks about where it came from. This is a shame, but it is also an indication this is a more modern tea. So while we too have no origin story, we have a reasonably good idea of when this tea appeared.

Japan started to mechanize the harvesting and production of tea in the early 1900’s. However, it wasn’t until after World War II that this process took off and became the norm in the tea industry for the country. Anyone who has studied business or modern history will have heard of William Deming and his profound effect on the Japanese manufacturing sector after World War II. His focus on quality through consistency of production is often pointed to in the automobile industry as to why Japanese car makers overtook American car markers by the 1980’s. The automobile industry was not the only industry that implemented Deming’s processes, it was adopted everywhere in Japan.

Kukicha makes sense as a product of this era. It uses the leftover materials from the production of Sencha, Gyokuro or Hojicha. The stems are cut to uniform size and blended with the leftover leaf. The uniform size of the stems is a key component to assessing the quality of the tea. The more uniform the stems, the higher quality the tea. A beautiful representation of the care needed in proper manufacturing of any product.

Brewing Kukicha

As mentioned above, Kukicha can be made from the leftover stems of Sencha, Gyokuro or Hojicha. Each produces a slightly different flavor. All must brewed at a lower temperature, like other green teas,between 165-185°F. They can steep for up to 3 minutes, but are quit good with multiple short steepings. Kukicha, like other Japanese teas, is a perfect tea for a Kyusu.

This beautiful tea is often overlooked, but it deserves your attention. So give it a try!

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3 Popular Tea Gifts

Gifts for Tea Lovers - Chinese Gaiwan

Stunning Glass Gaiwan with Dragonwell

Admittedly, buying gifts for a tea snob can be very hard. Beyond figuring out what they like to drink, there is all the equipment, which they may already own. So we like to turn to the experts at giving tea gifts, the Chinese, to find the right tea with the right meaning for our favorite tea snobs. Below are the 3 popular gifts for tea lovers in China and the stories behind why they are so popular.

  1. Ti Kuan Yin – This beautiful oolong named after the Iron Goddess of Mercy is prized for its beautiful flavor and story about its creation. It is also one of the oldest oolongs produced in China, having been created sometime during the 18th century. Giving the gift that came from the Iron Goddess of Mercy shows the gift receiver that you wish them health and prosperity well into their future.
  2. Puerh from Yunnan Provence – Given for its health benefits, Puerh tea is thought of as the fine wine of tea. It only gets better with age. This fermented tea is over 2,000 years old and can be made with a black, green or white tea base. The bacteria that is added to allow for the fermentation creates a naturally sweet and smooth tea with lots of complex flavors. This tea is usually purchased in cakes or bricks and is broken apart to make a cup of tea.
  3. Bai Hao Silver Needle Organic - Classic Chinese Tea Gifts

    Bai Hao Silver Needle – Exquisite first pluck of the newest growth of the tea plant.

    Bai Hao Silver Needle – This prized white tea has been under production during the Song Dynasty (969-1269 C.E.) but did not enter the European literature until the 1800’s. Its soft and floral flavor as well as the silver hairs on the tea leaves are distinctive characteristics that cannot be found in other teas. This is a more expensive tea as it can really only be plucked during the first harvest of the season. This tea was often given as a gift to the reigning Emperor as it was the first tea of the season.

There are a few characteristics these teas share, each one has been manufactured for centuries, given as gifts to Chinese Emperors to bring them good health and luck, and have exquisite and complex flavors.

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