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.watch full film Get Out 2017
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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.
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.
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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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.
- 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.
- 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.
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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Are there Thanksgiving traditions in Asian Countries? Thanksgiving is thought of as a true American holiday that started with the Pilgrims celebrating a bountiful harvest with the Wampanoag Indians in 1621. The celebration of the fall harvest is not something new and could easily be found in other countries. So let’s look at the Thanksgiving traditions in some of our favorite tea growing countries.
Mid-Autumn Festival in China
China does not have a holiday that corresponds to the US Thanksgiving. They do have a Mid-Autumn festival that has been around for about 3,000 years that celebrates the first full autumn moon, which happens to correspond with the fall harvest of crops. The Mid-Autumn Festival does includes big dinners with family, but those are the norm for most of the important Chinese holidays. The food of choice for this festival is mooncakes. Not to be confused with the American Moon Pie cookie, mooncakes are a small pastry with a dense filling. There are different fillings and flavors based on the region of China that you live in. They are always served with tea. So we will save a more in depth discussion on mooncakes for a later blog. The Chinese government does recognize American holidays and encourages local businesses to make turkey available around the American holiday where there are larger numbers of American’s are living in China. Currently there are believed to about 100k Americans with green cards living and working in China (The US government does not count US citizens who live aboard that are not associated with the US military or diplomatic operations, it is done by other organizations).
Vietnam… And American Thanksgiving Dinner Feasts
The Vietnamese, much like the Chinese, have a Mid-Autumn festival that celebrates the moon and the fall harvest of crops. Many of the Vietnam holidays follow the Chinese, so this isn’t a surprise. However, Vietnam has a large and growing American tourist trade, so finding an American Thanksgiving dinner with turkey and cranberry sauce is a little easier. You just have to book reservations about a month or two in advance in Hanoi at some of the higher end restaurants to get your turkey dinner with cranberry sauce and stuffing.
Niiname-sai,traditional Japanese dance by Wikimedia user katorisi.
Japan Labor Thanksgiving
Japan has a formal Thanksgiving holiday on November 23rd every year. It is called Labor Thanksgiving and was introduced into the country after World War II during the U.S. occupation. The Japanese put their own twist on it by using the holiday to honor each others’ work through out the year. Labor unions use the day to hold festivals focused on human rights, peace and the environment. Labor Thanksgiving was combined with the ancient celebration of the fall harvest of rice, Niinamesai. It is documented that Niinamesai was first celebrated in 678 C.E. During Niinamesai, the Emperor presents the first harvest of rice to the Gods and partakes of the rice himself.
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A field of mint plants.
As we head into the holiday season, it is hard not to find a sweet or beverage that does not have mint. So let’s take a moment to learn a few things about the plant that creates this flavor and how it blends with tea.
- Human’s consumption of mint has been around a long time. Sprigs of dried peppermint were found in the pyramids of Ancient Egypt and carbon-dated back to 1000 B.C.E. The name mint comes from the Greek mythical nymph Minthe, who was a river nymph along the River Styx. Hades, the Greek God of the underworld, feel in love with Minthe. His wife, Persephone got jealous and turned her into the plant we know today. So that she would always be remembered, Hades gave the plant the ability to produce the aromatic oil we all know and use today.
- Mint is the first known addition to tea. Through the silk road, tea traveled from China into the Middle East and Northern Africa. It is here that it was blended with the tea to make a localized beverage. Moroccan Mint tea is the name commonly know today in Europe and the United States. However, it goes by the name Tuareg tea in the Middle East.
- Mint has a long list of uses for medicinal purposes. It is no mistake that there is mint toothpaste, mint mouthwash or mint flavored floss. Mint has been used for centuries to cure bad breath. It was also used to sooth an upset stomach and to relieve headaches (through the application of mint oil on the forehead).
- The United States is the largest grower of mint worldwide. Washington State is home to the most acreage with other Northwestern states like Idaho, not far behind. There is a push to grow it in the south, but it does require that nitrogen be added to the southern soil for it to grow properly and produce the expect amount of oil. There are over 71,000 acres of mint currently growing in the United States. The majority of the mint grown is used to produce mint oil, which is used to flavor all sorts of items that humans consume.
- Mint can be steeped alone as its own tisane. If you happen to grow your own, just pluck a few leaves and steep in boiling water for 7 minutes. It will be a minty mouthful. If your mint is not very minty, see the note before about your soil content. Mint needs nitrogen and a dormant period to really produce a strong oil.
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