Sunday, June 27, 2010

Portable Tea Set

I am caught up this few weeks watching World Cup Football (soccer). The standard of USA was in my opinion much improved this time round. The team did very well to qualify into the last 16 before bowing out to Ghana. It was unfortunate, that in all their games, the american team conceded early goals and had to play catch up. To me, the best match of the tournament so far was the encounter between England and Germany. You have it all, goals allowed and disallowed and the entertainment value of the game was really good.

Back to tea. I will normally make my pu erh session for my world cup tv viewing this way; make 4 infusions into 4 mugs and during half time make another 4 infusions. As the live televised matches are in the evenings in this part of the world, watching the world cup did not disrupt my daily routine too much.

The above pictures shows a portable Chinese Tea brewing set. Made from porcelain, you can find such sets in many teashops, in Chinatown, and at night markets or shopping centres in China. It costs less than US$10 and such tea sets may be colored or decorated with Chinese motifs like dragons or flowers. This set comes with a tweezer, a pitcher, a gaiwan and 6 cups.

This is a small set. Brewing your tea in the gaiwan can only pour out 2/2.5 teacups of tea. You may have to make 3 infusions before you get to fill your 6 teacups.

This tea set is also suitable for those travellers that would want to brew tea in their hotels. It is also useful as a gift to a newbie Chinese tea drinker. He/She can try out brewing with a gaiwan before committing to teapots or bigger gaiwans. The disadvantage of this tea set are the porcelain used is very thin and would break easily in accidents. The smallness of the gaiwan may make brewing of the tea a little tedious. I myself use a large inexpensive thickly potted easy gaiwan when I travel. However, I find that this portable tea set would make a good gift and would seem as a good value for money gift.  If you are set on drinking Chinese Tea, purchasing a regular size gaiwan (also less than $10) is a better choice.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Disappearing Customs Of China

Written by Qi Dongye and published by Marshall Cavendish, this 2007 book examines many Chinese customs that is getting less practiced with time in modern China.

The Chinese customs listed in this book, according to the author was passed down from many generations and are not practiced and used frequently. The author thinks that they may, in time, "form memories and evoke a sense of nostalgia".

In this book, the author described these customs and a sketch was used to illustrate the practice of these customs. Some listed customs include new year sweeping, lantern festival, staying up all night on lunar new year's eve and new year cards. There were some customs which I myself am unaware of; like cold food festival and paper cutting for window decoration.

One of the customs listed is Chinese teahouses which the author thinks will disappear with time. He describes:

"Enjoying tea has long been a tradition in Chinese society and where there is tea, there will bve tea houses. .......Tea houses in the south were more interesting and could be found along every street. Each teahouse came with its own gardens, pavilions and yards. In terms of furnishing used, the chairs and tables were made from bamboo and the chairs came with backrests. Another notable point was that the teahouses were very particular in the choice of water and tealeaves used in brewing tea. In those days, water was purified by a simple filter of palm leaves and sand placed at the bottom of the water storage urn. After filtering, the water would be poured into a pot and boiled. The tealeaves were fresh and came in a wide variety to suit the different taste buds of customers. Teahouses were not just a place for enjoying tea. They were like great melting pots where people from all walks of life gathered and socialised. Peddlars also came to the teahouses to sell their wares as did minstrels, fortune tellers and other entertainers. As the teahouses were public venues patronised by all manner of questionable characters, it was definitely the centre of social life then."

My opinion is that we are living in a fast paced society characterized by a fast food and quick solution mentality. Do make time to invite a friend or two next time you brew a pot of tea......the tea will taste better.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

My pu is bigger than your pu

I am still asking myself - Why did I buy this 2 kg pu erh melon?  Its definitely not a male ego exercise.  Maybe I have the impression that the US$80 I spent (3 years ago) on this melon gives good value; something like paying for 5-6 regular size cakes for this price.  Maybe I was thinking of selling it for a fortune 20 years down the road on ebay.  Maybe I was visualizing giving to my grandchild many years later explaining that this tea is good for him/her as it has been fermenting for 20+ years.......maybe the kid may think my brain has fermented as well.

This is a 2007 raw pu erh melon.  Made by Mengku Tea Factory, this melon is packed in a presentation box.  Pu erh melons were usually considered as tribute tea, that is given to royalty during the olden days in China.  Nowadays, such melons are given as gifts to friends or business associates.  

Yunnan Sourcing have a few of these melons in stock and he describes this melon as "In the ancient tradition of tribute tea this 2 kilogram melon was hand-pressed using Wild Arbor teas from Yong De tea mountains "Big Snow Mountain" and "Mang Fei" and "Da Xue Shan". The energy of this beautiful melon is something that can only be fully experienced by holding it in your hand and smelling its beautiful aroma. The tea comes housed in a beautifiul gift box! 2007 marks the first release of the Mengku "Mu Ye Chun" label! This tea is produced by the Yong De sub-branch of the Mengku Shuangjiang tea factory. It is composed of entirely high-altitude first flush spring raw material from Yong De area of Lin Cang, a totally different area than classic Mengku teas come from."

Pu erh is usually compressed for easy storage and the tea is usually compressed into cake, disc, brick, tuo (mushroom) or melon shapes.  There is no difference in the quality or taste....that is the shape of the compressed pu erh does not influence the taste.  I was told that some tea factories, many years ago during a single tea production, reserves the better leaves for cake compression and the rest of the leaves for tea bricks and other designs.  This could be an urban legend but I will inform my readers more on this when I do more research on this area.  

Meanwhile this melon is stored away for aging and  I will check on it again next year. This melon exudes a nice floral fragrance filling the entire living room when I was taking pictures of my impulsive purchased melon last week.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Chinese Dumpling Festival

The dumpling festival (known as "duan wu jie" in mandarin) is celebrated on the 5th day of the 5th month of the Chinese Calender. This year's dumpling festival is on June 16.

There is a story behind this dumpling festival: Long ago in China, there was a scholar called Qu Yuan who threw himself in a river to protest against a corrupt government. Fishermen who saw this incident quickly tried rowing their boats to the site to try to save him but to no avail. Villagers threw in rice, wrapped in leaves and tied with colorful strings, into the water so that the fishes will eat the rice than feed on the dead scholar. Today, dumplings are eaten by many Chinese and dragon boat racing are also organized, symbolizing the rush to find the scholar.

This dumpling has now evolved to a Chinese snack. Dumplings now are made from glutinous rice, which is slightly sticky when cooked, and the rice are usually filled with sweet meats. The dumplings in the above pix, is about 5 inches in height and filled with braised mushrooms, chestnuts, salted duck yolk and pork. The dumpling is brown due to the braised sauce. The rice and fillings are expertly handwrapped with a 4 lotus leaves and is held together with a string. This dumpling is cooked by immersing the entire wrapped dumpling in a pot of boiling water.

There are many types of dumplings made with different fillings. This snack is now available in most cities all year round. It is an inexpensive and delicious snack. There are now chocolate filled dumplings to attract the younger crowd.

I enjoy eating my dumplings with tea especially with ripe pu erh. It helps digest the dumplings and enhance the eating experience.

The last 2 pix shows a 06 ripe Mengku 400g cake and a 08 Menghai 7572 ripe cake.