What is Dim Sum?

Hong Kong Dim Sum

Custard Filled Hong Kong Style Dim Sum at a Xiamen Restaurant

Dim Sum has a long history in China that dates back to the Silk Road. This tea centered meal has spread from Southastern China to the world. As a tea drinker, this is a culinary tradition from China that is just as important as British high tea. Every serious tea drinker should go to Dim Sum at least once in their life.

Dim Sum Origins

Since the Song Dynasty (960-1127 C.E.), Dim Sum has been served in Southeastern China in the Provence of Guangdong, which is home to Hong Kong and the Cantonese people. It is common to find Dim Sum referred to as Cantonese cuisine. Originating in the tea houses along the Silk Road, Dim Sum is a series of small dishes of food served with a never ending pot of tea. It was up to the traveler to pick and choose what they wanted from the menu. In China, Dim Sum is typically served all day. In the US, you may find it served as brunch, lunch or dinner.

The Dim Sum menu is vast and overwhelming. However, it is an amazing array of flavors and textures that reflect not only the Cantonese people but food cultures through out China. There are dumplings filled with seafood, meat or vegetables. Congee, rice porridge, mixed with vegetables and pork. Rice buns filled with barbecued pork, stir fried seafood or vegetables. Dragon claws, or fried chicken feet, is another Cantonese delicacy. There are plates of stir fried meat or vegetables in various sauces. One of our favorite plates is the rice noodle rolls filled with sweet potato or taro. The roll is made by wrapping the rice noodles around the food and dropping it into a fryer, which gives a crispy texture to the outside and a soft inside. There are also sweets in the form of pastries and rice buns filled with sweet egg custard. This is a multi-course meal, so you don’t have to order everything at once. That gives you time to digest and decide on what is next to try. Keep in mind, the serving portions are small so you can order and try a lot of different things.

Much like high tea, Dim Sum has its own etiquette that should be followed.

Cantonese Dim Sum

Cantonese Style Dim Sum at one of the oldest garden style restaurants in Guangzhou, Guangdong, China

Dim Sum Etiquette

One starts Dim Sum by ordering the tea. Traditionally it would oolong tea in Guangdong but even they now offer all types. In Guangdong, the first pot is used to wash the dishes. To an American, this is rather odd as the dishes come out clean and often shrink wrapped in plastic to confirm cleanliness. However, you watch many a table unwrap the dishes and pour hot oolong tea over them into a bin that is taken away by staff.

If you sit to the left of the tea pot, it is your job to serve the guests at the table tea and to turn up the lid on the tea pot when it gets empty. That indicates to the staff that they need to bring more water. Always pour the other guests tea first, then pour your own cup.

Keep your chopsticks to yourself. Each dish is to be shared with the table, so it comes with serving spoons or chopsticks and your have your own chopsticks. So there are a fair number of utensils to keep straight. Just remember if the chopsticks went in your mouth, they do not get used to take food off the serving plate.

Most of the authentic dishes are best served warm and don’t reheat well, so skip the doggie bag.

Dim Sum is an amazing meal with tea that is worth the effort to find here in the states. As a tea drinker, you will find it is just as social an experience as high tea but with a lot more food choices.

 

Follow Dominion Tea: Facebooktwittergoogle_pluspinterestrss

Da Hong Pao – Big Red Robe

Tea Bushes

Tea Fields in Wuyi Mountains

According to legend, Da Hong Pao (Dahongpao) tea dates back to the Ming Dynasty (1300-1600 AD) in China. Supposedly tea plucked from the Dahongpao mother bushes cured the sick mother of a Chinese emperor. The emperor was so happy that he sent giant red cloth robes to wrap the four bushes from which the tea was produced.  The original bushes are still alive today, though recent laws from 2006 prevent plucking the mother bushes. Modern Dahongpao is produced from relatives of the originals, that were grown from cuttings from the mother plant.

Da Hong Pao – Terroir and Growing Region

Grown in the Wuyi Mountains of Northwestern Fujian Province, the original home to Da Hong Pao is a national park.  Larger than Yellowstone, it’s a UNESCO world heritage site that was home to farmers and small communities that grew and produced tea in the region. They were “asked” to move out during the creation of the world heritage site and for the most part now live on the outskirts of the park and still care for the plants, pick, and produce the tea.

Long ago the region was an area of high volcanic activity. The result of erosion has been to produce steep cliffs with narrow low-lying areas which includes the 9 bend river — a favorite spot for taking tourists down the river in bamboo rafts. The rocks that make up the region though continue to erode and produce a unique blend of minerals that get taken up by the root systems of tea plants. It’s the combination of the cultivar, the climate of regular fog and mist, and minerals from eroding cliffs that contribute to the unique taste and mouth feel of Da Hong Pao.

The mother bushes themselves are found in 9 Dragon Canyon along a walking tour. End to end, it’s a bit over 3 miles up and down through the canyon where 25+ varieties of tea are grown anywhere the bushes can be fit and reached for plucking. Many of the bushes found here, in addition to the mother plants, are several hundred years old. They produce very high quality, but very low yield!

In addition to tea the area is home to about 5,000 animal species including many rare and unique species. Designation as a UNESCO World Heritage Site has resulted in rapid growth of Wuyi-shan. Many new hotels and shops have been built next to the park. China is working on building a new railway station so that tourists can get to the area much faster as the current railway station is about 45 minutes away.  There’s also been an influx of sellers offering Wuyi Rock Oolong Teas and Lapsang Souchong, much of which is fake.

Da Hong Pao – Drinking

This open twist oolong is roughly 35-50% oxidized. Use 3 grams per 8oz of water and steep at 190°F. The first infusion should be steeped for 2-3 minutes while the second infused steep 3-5 minutes. Steep 6 grams of tea in a medium size Gaiwan for approximately 20-30 seconds and pour off into a small pitcher and serve. Infuse 6-8 times adding 5-10 seconds for each infusion.

This rock oolong is worth exploring and adding to your tea cabinet.

Follow Dominion Tea: Facebooktwittergoogle_pluspinterestrss

3 Favorite Teas of the First Ladies

First Ladies of the US and Russia

Nancy Reagan and Raisa Gorbachev in 1987

Tea and politics in the United States have gone hand-in-hand since the founding of our country. Tea has influenced many a decision maker and brought together disparate minds over important topics. So it is fun to highlight some of the more frequently served types of tea in the White House. Below are just a few of the favorites of former First Ladies.

Abigail Adams – Abigail Adams served many different teas at the White House. Most formal occasions required a black tea, which during that time in America would have been black tea from the Fujian province in China. Remember that this is shortly after the American Revolution and trade with England and the British East India Company was not in the picture. So there would have been almost no tea from India at this time. Abigail took it upon herself to blend the black tea with rose petals to make a softer tea that she would serve for closest friends and family.

Nancy Reagan – The repeated meetings between President Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev, that would ultimately lead to the fall of the Berlin wall in Germany and communism in Russia, required Nancy Reagan to entertain Raisa Gorbachev. This was done over a series of teas. During the one hosted by Mrs. Reagan, she offered a decaffeinated almond tea to Ms. Gorbachev, who seemed to enjoy it. Quite a bit was written by Mrs. Reagan about how uncomfortable these teas where in her memoir. As the conversations whether rather impersonal, with Mrs. Gorbachev talking about communism (she was a political science lecturer at many of the Russian universities) while Mrs. Reagan tried to steer the conversation toward talking about their children. Much was written in the press on the importance of these teas to international relations even though they were rather uncomfortable for Mrs. Reagan. At least she had her favorite tea with her during those trying meetings.

Jacqueline Kennedy – Another First Lady who entertained with many afternoon teas, Mrs. Kennedy used those affairs to help redefine the role of the First Lady in national politics. Now, much like Abigail Adams, those afternoon teas where formal affairs requiring a more formal tea. So a traditional black tea, this time Indian tea, as trade with China had not resumed, was usually served. It isn’t until she is away from the limelight that you learn her favorite tea was actually a black iced tea blended with mint, orange juice, and lime juice. She usually enjoyed this during the summer months while reading.

These are just a few of the First Ladies, so many more drank tea routinely, it is just rather difficult to get to the type of tea they liked. It should be noted that tea has had a long role at the White House and continues to be a way to connect with visiting dignitaries from all over the world.

Follow Dominion Tea: Facebooktwittergoogle_pluspinterestrss

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.

 

Follow Dominion Tea: Facebooktwittergoogle_pluspinterestrss

Masters of Puerh: the Dai People of Yunnan

Tea processing by the Dai of Yunnan China

Processing of Tea Leaves in Preparation of Raw Tea

Tea is not just a beverage, but a piece of history and a reflection of its maker. The Dai people are the makers of Puerh. This ethnic minority has lived in the southwest region of the Yunnan province since the Han Dynasty (206 B.C.E-220 C.E.). They migrated even further south into Laos and Thailand during the wars of the Song Dynasty (960C.E.-1279C.E.)

Dai Culture

The term Dai is used by the Chinese government to group in several minorities that have similar religious beliefs and dialects. There are seven documented different dialects for the Dai, based around where they lived. The rugged terrain of Yunnan made it hard, even now, to connect the various villages in the province so different dialects and beliefs developed based around whether you lived in the valley near the river or in the mountains. What stays similar throughout the region was their belief in Buddism, which is reflected in the vast number of temples through out Yunnan and the celebrated holidays. The Dai dress colorfully, mirroring the colors in the temples. They also have unique poetry, song and dance that is sometimes on display for the local tourists.

Dai Food and Drink

Their cuisine cares a wide variety of flavors, most notably spicy and bitter. Bamboo shoots are routinely included with meals, as well as pickled vegetables along with rice and meat. Many westerners would consider the cuisine to be simple, but its key is freshness. You can generally identify everything on the plate. Even the fish out the river are always served whole and where most likely caught that morning. Yunnan is home to wide variety of insects that are actually eaten as a local delicacy. You can find fried and spiced wasp larva, grasshoppers, cicadas, and chestnut bugs at the local restaurants and dinner tables.

Cloud and mist shrouded tea trees of Yunnan Province

Home of the Dai people of Yunnan, China with ancient tea trees for which small batch puerh is produced.

The tea is not scented in this region, it is valued for its size and vegetal flavor. The larger the leaf, the better in the eyes of the Dai. The tea plants are grown both trimmed and untrimmed. A tea plant over 100 years old is allowed to grow wild, and is plucked using a ladder. These ancient trees are treated with the utmost care, with many of them being well over 300 years old. Fertilizer comes from the local cows and chickens. Pesticides are not used because those insects in the tea plants may well become a side dish at dinner.

These ancient tea trees are a piece of history that the Dai consider as a gift given to them to share with others. So the next time you enjoy a cup of Puerh or Yunnan Sunrise, think of the Dai and the care they put into these trees and your favorite cup of tea.

Follow Dominion Tea: Facebooktwittergoogle_pluspinterestrss