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Tea Topics and Tales

by Jacqueline M. Newman


Summer Volume: 2012 Issue: 19(2) page(s): 26 and 27

Used for centuries, tea and tea culture plays important roles in the Chinese culture. Popular in people's kitchens, this beverage adds body or blends flavors, is a marinade, a rub, a curing item, used for smoking, poaching, and in many other ways. Different people tell different tales about which tea, why, where it comes from, etc.

One of the complexities of tea is knowing which tea to select and what to select it for. Knowing the right tea for the right recipe is one of them. Tea needs to balance a recipe and either scream out 'here I am'’ or be in the background and then do a great job with no one knowing it is there. Fine chefs say tea needs to elevate a dish and be its secret ingredient, one that counters the flavor of a dish, adds a mite of acidity, richness, and even sweetness as it enhances its culinary partners. Stories are told of tea as a concentrate, steeping some items in it, using it hot or cold, grinding its leaves, or rubbing it on as a flavor enhancement.

Some tea tales past and present, offer hints of using a tea. One such is about Emperor Qianlong, the royal who served the longest of any in China, from 1736 to 1795. He held a special tea party once a year on an auspicious day, and on that day would drink tea, compose poems, and read them aloud. Common folk, particularly those in Guangzhou, would go to tea houses to have one or more cups of tea along with some light refreshments and hear his thoughts about tea. A popular place in that city was the Taotaoju Tea House. Other cities had special places, some more popular than others; and some are where his poems are still read.

Tea can be a betrothal gift. If accepted by the parents of a young lady, her wedding is fixed and finalized. Guaranteed is that under no circumstance will she benefit from this engagement, and likewise, there is no way she can change the marital decisions, often made by her parents.

Emperor Shen Nong, also known as: The Holy Farmer, Yan Di, or China's Yellow Emperor, was the royal who carefully brewed the leaves of the tea, the Camellia sinensis plant. Drinking its liquid, he believed any poisons in the body would disappear. He and others believed tea was a medicine. There were and still are others who think tea is a vegetable. Global thinkers talk of tea as an herb, a vegetable and a beverage. What do think tea is?

Texts during the Tang Dynasty (618- 907 CE)did not give credit to the fact that tea was known long before then. In the Han Dynasty, drinking tea was recorded in A Contract with a Child Servant, that year was 59 BCE. This contract speaks about buying tea, brewing it, and cleaning and tending tea sets. In those days, people thought one should never transplant tea, yet they did praise its tenacity.

Intellectuals, during the Tang Dynasty, said tea and poetry should flourish together. Then, alcohol was officially prohibited, and tea was used as an alternative stimulant. Gradually, tea became a sacrifice to Buddha, a special beverage for visitors, and with these, the tea trade did increase the state's revenue.

Researchers, past and present, list many functions of tea as a beverage. They say tea is:
1. Beneficial to health
2. It helps dispel the effects of alcohol
3. Its leaves and sauce allays hunger
4. It drives away summer heat
5. It shakes drowsiness
6. It helps people purify themselves
7. It aids in digesting greasy foods
8. It eliminates toxins from the body
9. It is conducive to longevity
10. It aids self knowledge
11. It eliminates worry
12. It reduces headaches and fatigue
13. It lowers cholesterol
14. It increases high density cholesterol levels
15, It reduces blood pressure
16. It reduces the risk of heart attack
17. It reduces the risk of cancer
18. It boosts longevity
19. It aids digestion
20. It improves immune functions, and
21. It prevents dental caries

People in China believe tea beneficial for all of the above as it maintains good health. They believe there are more than fifty other reasons to drink tea, and many do so several times a day.

Tea is cool in nature; it can be bitter or sweet. Said to act on heart, lung, and stomach meridians, tea helps quench thirst, activates ones qi, and kills some bacteria. There are these and other attributes of tea. Many books about tea tout it. As touted by Gu Yuan Qin of the Ming Dynasty in his book, The Tea Manual, he said: "One should not go one single day without ingesting at least two cups of tea." Lu Yu of the Tang Dynasty said, "I would rather drink no wine my entire life than have no tea every day." Clearly, the Chinese believed and still believe that tea is a healthy beverage; do you?

Would these tea touters drink bamboo tea, known as Zhu Ye Qing? Created in the 1960's by a Buddhist monk at Emei Shan Temple in the Sichuan Province, and known as Bamboo Leaf Tea, this beverage is similar in color and shape to many thin-leaf teas. Grown at four thousand feet above sea level and in rich red soil, bushes of this tea are blessed with light rain year-round. Low in caffeine and tannins and strong in taste, bamboo tea leaves can be steeped three to five times, a good thing because they cost more than two hundred dollars a pound. With leaves similar in color and shape to bamboo leaves but not related to full-size bamboo, Bamboo tea is the only known new tea that is real tea, not a tisane nor a herbal tea. Do you know of others?

What about Chinese Cassia Tea originally from Wuyi Mountain? Once called Rock Tea because it grows on rocks and winding stream banks, this tea looks orange and tastes sweet. Some say it is stimulating. During the Qing Dynasty, it was said to be famous and precious.

What about Eight-treasure Tea? This blend of eaves of green tea, chrysanthemum flowers, goji berries, jujubes, dragon eye fruit, raisons, rock sugar, and cloud ear fungi is sometimes called ba bao. These eight treasures are popular symbols in art less popular in tea.

Eight treasures can be found in fashion, sport, literature, health, calligraphy, and cuisine. In the latter category, other than tea, there are eight treasures in regional cuisines, Imperial cuisines, Soups, Dim sum, condiments, wines, Chinese heath items including Yin and Yang, Qi, meridians, meditation, Feng Shui, Tai chi chuan, Chinese alchemy, and in Chinese herbals.

Pesticide residues are more commonly found in herbal teas than in green and black teas. They are also found in other agricultural products. Limits, set by the Environmental Protection Agency, are called 'tolerances' and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration enforces these limits. When purchasing your tea, there are greater assurances they are low than when buying herbal teas; even less when buying tisanes. What kind of tea do you purchase? Do you rinse it with boiling water before brewing yours? The Chinese do.

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