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Tea is Terrific

by Jacqueline M. Newman


Winter Volume: 2012 Issue: 19(4) page(s): 32 - 34, and 36

Emperor Shen Nong, it is said, found some leaves floating in his cup of boiling water, or was it in his kettle of boiling water? The Chinese believe this occurred circa the 28th century BCE. They believe that tea gave him vigor as it kept his eyelids from closing, provided contentment of mind, and determination of purpose. When taken over a long time, they believe tea is better than drinking a beverage that loosens the tongue. For most Chinese people, tea is their most important beverage. They believe it contributes to good health, betters their spirits, heals frayed nerves, and that it has other medicinal values.

China is the homeland of tea. In the Yunnan-Guizhou plateau where Chinese tea is said to have originated. The Yunnan Province is a natural environment for planting tea, and it is the place where one finds the best Camellia sinensis plants in the world.

By the Tang Dynasty (618 - 907 CE), tea became China’s universal beverage; and it still is. Early on, it was made and sold as brick tea. That gave way to selling and using powdered tea, a change that came about during the Sung Dynasty (960 - 1280 CE). Shortly thereafter, tea lost some of its luster, but it did become popular again during the Ming Dynasty (1368 - 1644 CE) when powdered tea enjoyed a revival. Soon thereafter, powdered tea leaves gave way to using tea leaves and brewing tea. Those tea leaves found in remote places or in locations difficult to access were the most sought after.

Tea houses became popular during those times, tea ceremonies did not. Going to these tea emporia was where one showed off one’s bird, read one’s poetry, and ate small snacks purchased at them while sipping one’s tea. This became more popular decade by decade from the Tang Dynasty (618 - 907 CE) through the Qing Dynasty (1644 - 1911 CE). Somewhere in these hundreds of years, China lost ground as the most important tea producer to India, now the world’s largest tea producer and exporter. India now handles some fifty-one percent of the world’s teas, and they feature black tea from the Himalayan Mountains. The Chinese prefer green teas, most coming from the Guizhou plateau and elsewhere in the Yunnan Province.

The Indian tea bushes were planted using seeds and plants stolen from China, stolen by a Scotsman named Mr. Fortune who was working for the East India Company; they wanted a stake in China’s tea monopoly. Read about him in Sarah Rose’s book: For All The Tea in China; it is reviewed in this issue on page ??? And learn this company, hoping to end China’s monopoly, hired him. He went to northern China to learn what he could about its production., then sent seeds and seedlings in a way they could survive their long trip to India. He knew and his superiors did not, that green and black teas are made from leaves of the same evergreen plant, Camellia sinensis; and he needed to teach them how to dry, roast, and brew them differently.

For at least two thousand years, tea was an ingredient smoked, stuffed, and infused into Chinese foods. How to brew and drink it became popular during the Tang Dynasty when Lu Yu wrote his famous Book of Tea, a page of which is shown here. In China, that volume is known by its Chinese name of Cha Ching.

While China, then Japan and other Asian countries were enjoying their tea, the rest of the world was just beginning to learn about this beverage. Matter of fact, they did not even know until the 17th century when some came to London and gained a foothold there, much about tea. That was after Charles II married a Portuguese princess. It was she who introduced tea to the English court.

Britain is now a major country of tea drinkers. They tie with Russia and are in third place, behind China and India, the world’s largest tea consuming countries. The United States drinks lots of tea, but most as iced tea. Folks in America are now learning to enjoy green tea and they are earning other things the Chinese have known for years about tea as medicine and its culinary attributes.

Not everyone realizes that herbal teas are not real tea. Matter of fact, they are not teas at all, but tisanes or other plant leaves and flowers steeped and strained from any dried plant but not from the Camellia sinensis plant.

Tea has many uses beyond that of a beverage. Tea leaves can be and are incorporated into both sweet and savory foods. Tea as a liquid can be part of a marinade or a braising component functioning as a tenderizer. Tea leaves can be ground and used alone or with a starch to coat foods. Tea leaves can be used to make smoke that becomes a flavoring for other foods.

Many articles have been published in this magazine and elsewhere about tea. Check the magazine's index listings to learn about white, yellow, green, oolong, black, and pu-er teas; learn that the only differences among them are in the processing where tea leaves are oxidized, rolled and dried. The order these are done in, and for how long and at what temperature makes differences between teas.

Black tea does account for ninety percent of all tea sold in the United States; green teas are preferred in Asia. White teas, processed the least, are tea leaves simply steamed and dried; they have a grassy flavor and a very low caffeine count. Oolong teas are partially oxidized, then usually rolled and dried. They are midway between black and green teas, many of them have fruity overtones. Those in the know, understand that the word oolong means black dragon, and that they can taste close to green or to black teas. Formosa oolong teas are processed the most, that is fried for the longest time.

Many different flowers and fruits can be added to tea leaves at different times in their processing. Lemon and other citrus zests are popular. Bergamot, an orange whose flavor is sprayed on black leaves is very popular and used in Earl Gray tea. The wolfberry, now popularly known by its Chinese name of goji, is now popular in any type of tea. These berries are exceptionally high in vitamin C.

Chrysanthemum, jasmine, lavender, orange blossoms, and rosebuds are just a few of the flowers used to scent teas. These scents flavor the tea leaves and they are known by the flower that flavors them. The flavoring can be an oil, an actual piece of petal, or an aromatic spray. Roots such as ginger and ginseng also flavor teas. Herbs do likewise, but if there are no tea leaves in their mix, then they cannot be called a tea, but rather a tisane. Among them, and popular in the west, are lemon balm, sage, and peppermint, to name a few.

While there are endless possibilities, the Chinese still prefer plain green tea, and without any sugar added. But all green teas are not the same. How they are processed and for how long changes their taste. Brewing times and the temperature of the water makes a difference, too. As already mentioned, Formosa oolong is processed longer than most other oolong teas. Therefore, it brews darker and tastes stronger than do other oolong teas. In addition, the warmth of the cup, the steam rising from it, even the pot used to brew tea and the cup used to serve it in, all make a difference.

We recommend drinking many kinds of tea, cooking with many different kinds, too. Use the recipes that follow, others you find, and others you invent to learn about tea. Tea is more than 'a cuppa.' It can be an important item in flavoring foods and beverages.

Enjoy the recipes, and keep the nine-step Yunnan Tea Ceremony in mind when so doing. Lu Yu wrote in The Book of Tea, and Chinese folk tell stories about tea, enjoy paintings and poems as they drink tea, and practice this nine-step-procedure of tea art by appraising tea, washing their tea set, putting leaves in their teapot, pouring hot water into their teapot, stirring the tea, pouring some tea into individual tea cups, offering tea to guests and elderly, and then drinking tea together.

Different areas of China have different tea customs, some local, others influenced by minority populations. For example, the Bai have a three-taste-tea served most often by young women who offer the first one sugared to wish everyone happiness, the next one bitter with no condiments to recall hard times or a hard but happy life remembering the joys and the sorrows of life, and the third cup called their chewable rice flower tea. Its purpose is to wish its consumers good luck.

So, in China, tea is more than just a beverage, it is a culinary commodity. Below are some of the Chinese recipes for cooking with tea. Enjoy them all!
Marinated Duck Tongues
1/2 pound duck tongues
1/2 cup mushroom soy
2 Tablespoons crushed Chinese rock sugar
4 inches stick cinnamon, broken in two
2 star anise
4 inches licorice root, broken into one-inch pieces
2 whole tsao kao, smashed with side of a cleaver
10 whole cloves
1/4 cup whole black tea leaves
1. Blanch duck tongues in two cups of boiling water for one minute. Drain and set aside. When cool, remove the bones and cartilage and discard them.
2. Bring one cup of water to the boil, add the mushroom soy, rock sugar, cinnamon, star anise, licorice root, tsaokao, and cloves and simmer for thirty minutes, then add the tea leaves and simmer five more minutes. Drain, reserving the liquid and discarding the solids.
3. Bring the marinade to the boil and add the duck tongues, reduce heat and simmer for five minutes, then remove from the heat and let rest for one hour.
4. Drain the tongues, and serve them cold.
Pork-rib Tea
1 pound pork ribs cut into two-inch lengths
2 boneless pork chops, fat trimmed and discarded
10 garlic cloves, peeled and lightly smashed
6 whole star anise
2 two-inch pieces of stick cinnamon
1/2 cup thin soy sauce
1/2 cup mushroom soy sauce
2 Tablespoons crushed Chinese brown slab sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground white pepper
1 teaspoon black peppercorns
1 red chili pepper, seeds removed and discarded
1 teaspoon coriander seeds
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
1 Tablespoon green tea leaves
1 Tablespoon black tea leaves
1. Put pork ribs and pork chops in twelve cups cold water. Add star anise, cinnamon, both soy sauces, sugar, white and black pepper and the chili pepper, coriander and fennel seeds, and the green and black tea leaves and bring to just below the boil. Then reduce heat and simmer all of these covered for three hours.
2. Remove meat and discard bones and fat and tear meat into shreds, and remove all solid matter and discard that, as well; and bring the pork-rib tea to the boil.
3. Put two or three tablespoons of meat into each person’s soup bowl, and then add liquid and serve.
Tea-smoked Chicken
2 Tablespoons Sichuan peppercorns
1 teaspoon coarse salt
1 three-pound whole chicken
1/4 cup Lapsoong tea leaves
2 Tablespoons dark brown sugar
2 Tablespoons sesame oil
1.In dry wok or fry pan, stir-fry the Sichuan peppercorns for five minutes, stirring constantly. Then cool them and grind in a spice grinder or mortar and pestle before mixing this powder with the coarse salt.
2. Dry the chicken inside and out, then rub it inside and out with the salt mixture. Next, put the chicken breast side up on a rack in a steamer and steam covered over boiling water for twenty minutes.
3. Line a dry wok with aluminum foil, then mix the tea leaves and sugar and put this mixture on the foil. Put a rack two inches above the tea leaf mixture, and the steamed chicken breast side up on the rack. Cover the wok and turn the heat to medium-high. Count four minutes from the time smoke curls out around the wok cover. Now turn the chicken over, and let it steam covered for five more minutes before turning off the heat source but not moving the wok.
4. Let the chicken rest covered for fifteen minutes, then remove it to a cutting board, brush with the sesame oil, and chop the chicken into two to three inch pieces. Serve.
Lotus Root Tea Sandwiches
2 sections lotus root, peeled and sliced six to the inch
2 Tablespoons Chinese white rice vinegar
1/2 cup boneless chicken breast meat, chopped
1/2 cup boneless chicken thigh meat, chopped
1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
1/2 teaspoon granulated sugar
1 teaspoon abalone sauce or another fish sauce
2 teaspoons cornstarch
1/8 teaspoon ground white pepper
2 teaspoons ground black tea
2 Tablespoons lotus root flour
1 cup vegetable oil
3 Tablespoons chicken stock
1 teaspoon cornstarch
1 teaspoon thin soy sauce
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1. Soak the lotus root slices in vinegar for half an hour, then drain and dry with paper towels.
2. Mix both chopped chicken meats with salt, sugar, fish sauce, the two teaspoons of cornstarch, the ground pepper, and the ground tea leaves.
3. Dust slices of lotus root with lotus root flour and press two tablespoons chicken mixture between two slices.
4. Heat vegetable oil, and fry the tea sandwiches two minutes per side or until light golden in color.
5. Make a dipping sauce bringing chicken stock, the single teaspoon of cornstarch, soy sauce, and sesame oil to the boil, stir for half a minute then put into a small bowl.
6. Serve lotus root tea sandwiches with the dipping sauce on the side.
Shrimp with Long Jing Tea
1 pound large shrimp, peeled with their veins removed
3 Tablespoons vodka or gin
1 egg white
1 Tablespoon cornstarch
1 Tablespoons dried Long Jing tea leaves
3 Tablespoons vegetable oil
2 Tablespoons fresh peeled ginger, cut in thin strips
1 cup snow peas, stringy ends removed
1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
1. Rinse the shrimp, dry them with paper towels, then toss with the alcohol of choice, the egg white, and the cornstarch.
2. Bring one cup water to the boil, add tea leaves, and set aside to cool.
3. Heat the vegetable oil, add the shrimp, and stir-fry for one minute. Add the tea water and the leaves, ginger and snow peas, and cook another minute.
4. Discard the liquid, put the snow peas on a serving plate, pile the shrimp in the center, and sprinkle with salt. Then serve.
Tea-powdered Shrimp
1 teaspoon powdered green tea
2 Tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 Tablespoons vegetable oil
20 large shrimp, peeled with tails left on, and veins removed
dipping sauce of choice
1. Mix powdered tea, lemon juice, and vegetable oil, and toss with the shrimp. Marinate for one hour in the refrigerator, then skewer them, two to skewer piercing them tail to head end.
2. Heat grill, then grill them about two to three minutes per side, then serve with dipping sauce on the side.

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