Life in China 2016: A Picture A Day, November 4 – You can buy soooo many kinds of tea in China! I love tea and really haven’t found many I don’t like yet! But… in the past, when I saw ‘cheese” and “tea” together, I was very hesitant. Well, we FINALLY realized that the “cheese” is a soft cream cheese topping that is added to the tea, and it is DELICIOUS! Imagine a cheesecake with your tea :-) There are different kinds, but what we have had twice now is called “Hai yan zhi shi nai gai”; That is translated as “Sea salt cheese milk cap,” and you choose if you want it on black or green tea, or others depending on the shop. The first time we tried it, there were even directions on the lid for how to drink it! You don’t put your straw in and drink like with most iced teas, you sip from the cup, tipping it just enough to get a little of the cream cheese while you drink the tea. The first time I had this, it was on the menu as “Riyuetan Pool Black Tea Milk cap,” nothing about the cheese in English, the “riyuetan” means “sun and moon pool.” Today, we tried it at a new little drink shop at our plaza, no English on their menu, thankfully I have Leah to help! The shop is called “Tea Get” :-) We agreed that the mascot looks awfully similar to an M & M character! Hmmm....yes, we live in China! Milk caps are common for iced tea, but I haven’t tried any other than this cheese kind. Has anyone else? How are they?
Life in China 2016: A Picture A Day, October 29 – Since it is time for Halloween, and bats are associated with Halloween in the Western world, I thought I’d write about bats in China. Unlike how bats are traditionally considered “scary” for Halloween, they are a symbol of good luck in Chinese culture. The Chinese characters for bat, 蝠 fú (pronounced “foo”), and good fortune 福 fú, are pronounced the same. Quoting from online: “Often the bat is shown flying upside down because the character (dao 倒) for "upside-down" and the character (dao 到) meaning "to have arrived" are both pronounced dao (like “dow” rhyming with cow). Therefore, if a person were to say "the bat is flying upside down" a listener could just as easily hear this as "happiness has arrived" which, of course, has a very auspicious connotation.” According to Feng Shui, two bats bring double happiness, and five bats represent the five blessings in Chinese culture: longevity, wealth, health, love of virtue and a natural death. My pictures show bats on a tea cup and also on a complete tea set. The character written on the upper part of the cup is the “good fortune” 福 fú. Can you recognize it? Quote from http://primaltrek.com/impliedmeaning.html
Life in China 2016: A Picture A Day, October 22 – Anyone who knows me is aware that I could care less about shopping for shoes or purses, but, I LOVE to buy tea! I have a whole drawer of tea, which was overflowing, so today I decided to organize it. I found some “Blooming or Flowering tea,” called “kaihua cha” in Chinese, which I had bought at a tea market back in the spring and forgot that I had! I’ve also seen it called “fairy tea.” These are little balls of tied up tea leaves, usually either green or jasmine tea, and dried edible flowers such as carnations, roses, jasmine, peony, marigold, lily, etc.. Mine had a single flower, but you can get fancier kinds with multiple flowers. I don’t normally use pictures from other places, but, I’ve included one with diiferent kinds for sale on Taobao (the Chinese Ebay) so you can see the fancy ones. You use either a small glass teapot or glass; something like a big wine glass works nicely. Pour in hot water and within a minute or two the flower ball will start to open! And once you finish the first glass, you can enjoy a second and sometimes third, with the same flowers and tea leaves. Following is the link where I got the picture of the different kinds from: https://item.taobao.com/item.htm?spm=a230r.1.14.87.W7xoMH&id=41555278903&ns=1&abbucket=7#detail
Life in China 2016: A Picture A Day, September 27 – Fruit “tea” isn’t really tea as Westerners think of tea, but it is fruit water. It is popular with either dried or fresh fruit, or a mixture. I like to make it for something slightly sweet, and it’s good hot or cold. Today I put in honey dates, red dates, longans and orange peel. I’d say it’s best to leave it sit at least 20 minutes after adding hot water. You can add water once or twice more, and depending how long you’ve left it sit, sometimes the fruit is still yummy to eat :-) www.myownchinesebrocade.com
Life in China 2016: A Picture A Day, August 10 – Two Days ago, when I shared a picture of the Gongfu style tea, I mentioned “tea pets.” These are small clay figures that can be kept on a Gongfu tea tray. When preparing tea, you go through steps of washing the tea leaves and warming the cups, before actually serving the tea. This first liquid is given to your “tea pet” by pouring it over the “pet.” This is yet another custom that is supposed to bring you good luck. Tea pets, ornaments, or tea lover’s pets, don’t necessarily have to be animals, Buddha is popular, as well as other figurines, lotus pods, and some of the Chinese mythological creatures. On April 15, I wrote about lucky toads, these are probably the most popular tea pet! Another favorite is the “pee-pee boy” (lower center picture) or other spraying type figures; these are actually made using scientific principles so that you can tell if the water is hot enough to prepare the tea. Tea pets are usually made from the yixing clay which I wrote about back in March. Because of this, they absorb the tea poured on them and eventually change color, get a glossy look, and absorb a tea scent. Sometimes they have a glaze on part of them, which, with time and attention, will crack and allow a golden color to show through. You should pamper your tea pets just like a real life pet, and then it will look more attractive :-) I don’t have a tea pet yet, because I don’t have a wooden Gongfu tea tray to put it on, but one of these times I will find one that I just can’t resist adopting! The large picture is from a nearby tea store and you can see the lucky toads as well as Buddha and a water buffalo, the lower left pics are from tea markets, the center right picture shows a Buddha tea pet sitting on the corner of a Gongfu tea tray, the right side photos are from Taobao (like Ebay) just to show the variety, pigs are very popular, and a variety of animals including those of the Chinese zodiac.
Life in China 2016: A Picture A Day, August 8 – As a little girl, I loved tea parties and I collected small teacups…. And here I am now, 50 years later, still doing the same thing! One of the biggest challenges for me in China is resisting buying tea sets! Especially here in Guangdong province, where Gongfu style (or “kung fu” in Cantonese) tea sets are common. These are small sized teapots and cups, and they are either beautiful or super cute! There is also a definite art to drinking tea Gongfu style! The tea set and experience are as important as the taste of the tea!
A basic tea set consists of: the tea tray, filter and filter shelf, the gaiwan (used to brew the tea), the tea pitcher or “fair cup,” cups, the tea pot, tongs and a towel. You can have many additional pieces, including a tea pet! I remember the first time I was served tea this way at someone’s home in China, I was going by the American custom of finishing what you are served, and the hostess just kept refilling my cup! I had way too much tea that day, but learned that you should leave some tea in your cup and they won’t serve you more! And, be sure to smell your tea before drinking it! This picture is my “cute” Gongfu style teapots and cups :-) If you are interested in seeing how Gongfu style tea is prepared and served, here’s a video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MtWVkv_dw_c
Life in China 2016: A Picture A Day, August 5 – 红枣, “Hong zao,” Chinese red dates, or jujube, whatever you call them, they are delicious! This is the season for fresh dates where we live. There are different varieties, some are larger and more rounded, some smaller and oblong. The texture reminds me of an apple, they are crunchy and sweet, not juicy, but not dry either. Year round, dried red dates are popular here for a variety of uses. My picture shows a couple different sizes of whole dried red dates, some that are sliced, and a drink packet where they have been combined with medlar (goji berries) and sugar. I love to just put a big handful of dried dates in a cup, cover it with hot water and let it sit for a while until I have a delicious “tea.” The dried dates are also often used in soups, porridge, dim sum style cakes, and desserts, and they can be bought candied as a snack. They are also popular in Traditional Chinese Medicine as they are packed with nutrition. Maybe the fresh aren’t available worldwide, but good chances you can buy the dried ones!
We are back in Shenzhen for a couple of days and had a very busy day today! We enjoyed getting to see many friends throughout the day J In the afternoon, we went to the Nanshan Tea Market. Since I love tea, of course I love tea markets! After my post about a week ago, I decided that I wanted to try honeysuckle tea. The nice thing about tea markets is that you can sit and taste the tea before buying it. The stores all have tea tables and are more than glad to make you a few different kinds to try. We sampled the honeysuckle tea (in the front white dish) and also some black tea (in the back metal dish). The tea you see in the cups is honeysuckle tea. I’ve always had women making the tea the times before, but this man spoke some English, so his wife stood back and he took care of us. I bought a large tin full of honeysuckle flower tea for 85rmb, or $13usd, it’s enough to last quite a while! Photo credit goes to Leah today
Honeysuckle is called Jinyin hua in Chinese. “Jinyin hua” literally translates as “gold silver flower,” because when the flowers first bloom, they are white (silver) then turn yellow (gold). Last week when we went to Walmart, we saw the dried flowers for honeysuckle tea, which is popular in Traditional Chinese Medicine. Then yesterday, we saw these cans and bottles of a honeysuckle drink. Leah said that the Chinese character after honeysuckle means “alcohol” (Hmmm, honeysuckle wine? Not for 3.5rmb a can!) ….but there is no alcohol in it! Another example of how Chinese words can have multiple meanings. It sounded interesting so I got some to try and had it this afternoon. It was too sweet for my liking, but the honeysuckle flavor was nice. The taste reminded me of the Wang lao ji drink I wrote about on January 23, which also has honeysuckle in it. It is best known for fighting bacterial and viral infections, helping reduce inflammation, reducing toxins, and good for use in the summer heat. The flowers, which is what the tea is made from, are considered very safe, but when using the stems and leaves you have to be careful not to use too much. There are supposed to be about 200 species of honeysuckle and three are known for their healing properties. I guess I don’t have to feel so bad when I think of all the honeysuckle I’ve pulled from my flower beds in the past in the USA, it did smell good, but probably wasn’t the right kind for tea :-)
I have a whole assortment of “tea” that I enjoy in China! “Old” ginger tea is considered not just a drink, but a Traditional Chinese Medicine Remedy. “Old,” or mature, ginger, with the light brown skin, is the type you probably see most often in stores. Young ginger is much lighter colored on the outside and doesn’t need peeled. Ginger is recommended for nourishing the blood, improving circulation, improving digestion, reducing nausea (including motion sickness), reducing inflammation, and as a pain reliever.
You can make your own tea at home or, in China (and probably Asian stores elsewhere), buy packets ready mixed with other beneficial ingredients. In the packets, it is generally mixed with black tea and dark brown sugar. The box on the bottom of the picture also has Luohanguo (see Jan 9 pic of day).
Ginger, red dates and brown sugar tea is sold especially for women to drink during their monthly cycle and post partum. The ginger helps with cramping, and the ginger and red dates are both good for blood circulation, and red dates are high in calcium and iron. Goji berries are also often mixed in.
Old ginger increases body temperature, so is especially good if you are cold (winter, poor circulation, etc). Young ginger decreases body temperature, so is good when you are hot (summer, fevers, etc).
Those with high blood pressure, hyperthyroidism, or in menopause, are advised to reduce or avoid use of ginger. It is a blood thinner so doesn’t mix with certain medications. It’s probably best to read up on precautions before using more than a few slices a day!
I bought Jim a new cup to take to work for his Luohanguo tea. This is a special type of earthenware known as Yixing pottery and is made from zisha 紫砂, literally “purple clay,“ found along the banks of Lake Tai in Jiangsu Province. It is named after Yixing, the city near where it has been mined since about the year 1000! The “clay” is actually made from a type of rock which is very high in mineral content. It is ground and mixed with water to form the purple clay. But…it isn’t always purple, it can be a range of colors from reddish purple, brown, buff yellow or green. Yixing pottery is especially popular for teapots. The teaware is not glazed, which results in it being very absorbent. Because of this, it is recommended that it only be used for one type of tea because it will absorb that flavor, and it should only be washed with water. Because of the high iron content, it also keeps the tea hot for longer than other types of teaware. The clay is rather rare and although this cup cost 130rmb/$20usd, and is advertised as “authentic,” it is most likely mixed with some other clay.
Since I enjoy learning about nature, I’ve loved that our housing/garden has ID information on many of the plants and trees. There are large (about 6 x 8 inch) QR codes to scan, and although the info is all in Chinese, the scientific name is included. I use that to search online and find out what things are. This morning, I saw flowers which I thought I recognized on this tree pictured, but I had never seen one so big. By scanning the ID, I was able to confirm what I thought it was. The tiny flowers of osmanthus fragrans, 桂花, guìhuā, or sweet osmanthus, are used for their scent and flavor in China. Osmanthus tea is very popular and the flowers are also used for osmanthus wine, jam, sweet cakes, soups and dumplings. Flowers for tea are typically yellow like the ones pictured here which I photographed on a past trip to Hangzhou, but they can also be white like the ones here in Songshan Lake.
Gong Cha is my favorite tea shop for a drink while we’re out. The company is originally from Taiwan, first started in 2006, but now has over 1000 stores in about a dozen countries, including CA and NY in the USA J We’ve had it in many parts of China, Hong Kong, and Singapore. When we lived in Shenzhen, it could be found in just about every shopping mall. They are known for Taiwan Style Bubble Tea. Teas with different kinds of fruit are plentiful, and you can add in extras to any drink: things like pearls, red beans (adzuki), milk caps, various jellies (herbal, coconut, aloe, fig, etc). You also choose your level of sugar and ice. We have found that different locations have different options though, and depending on the location, they may or may not have an English menu. This picture is from our neighboring town of Dalingshan. Photo credit goes to my husband Jim.
In China, many hot beverages are called “tea” although they are not true teas or what Westerners think of as herbal teas. This morning, I had a bit of a sore throat and got out the Korean Honey Citron Tea. This is basically candied fruit, like marmalade or jam, that you add to hot water! In Korea, there is a fruit called the citron that it is made from, but it seems that the ones made in China are made from pomelos. It is supposed to be good for colds, coughs and sore throat, kind of like we’d use honey and lemon in the USA. I’ve tried a lot of different brands, some are much sweeter than others. Start with a couple of spoonfuls, add water, (hot, warm or cold) and if you need more you can add it in. I think next time I’m stateside, I’ll try it with some marmalade! Red date, ginger and other citrus fruits are also available.
Life in China: A Picture a Day 2016, January 23 - Last night, Jim brought home three cans of “liang cha,” or herbal tea, which people had given him throughout the day at work. This is a very popular drink in China, and because of the cans being red with yellow writing, and the meaning of the names, it becomes especially popular at Chinese New Year. There are two brands, basically the same drink. “Wanglaoji” means “King Old Luck,” and “Jia Duo Bao,” or JDB, means “Add More Treasure.” It is supposed to be good for sore throat and dryness in winter, and helping your body handle the heat in summer. The ingredients are water, white sugar (LOTS of it!), herbal jelly, plumeria, chrysanthemum, honeysuckle, common self-heal, licorice root and microcos leaf. I like the taste, but don’t drink it too often because of all the sugar! My thanks to Leah today for her help with translations, and to Peanut for helping to make the picture more interesting :-)
Life in China: A Picture a Day 2016, January 9 - Luo Han Guo, or Monkfruit, is one of my favorite Chinese teas. I like to buy the whole dried fruit, cut it in fourths, add it to my Chinese tea cup (with infuser and lid), add hot water, steep, and enjoy! It has a delicious natural sweetness and I have been told it is good for respiratory problems, cough and sore throat. You can refill for about another 2-3 cups from the same fruit….so you get at least 12 cups from one dried fruit (which costs 1-3 yuan or 15-45 cents usd). Recently, luohanguo powder has become available in the USA as an alternative sweetener.