This year, in the Year of the Pig, Chinese New Year is observed between the 5th and the 19th of February. Chinese New Year, also referred to as the Spring Festival, is the most important holiday and festival period in China. Unlike in Western society, years do not begin on the 1st of January, and this festival, one of the world’s most widely observed, is also associated with many customs, myths and superstitions.
Not observing this holiday myself, however, it was necessary to conduct some research prior to writing this blog entry. With the main focus of our exhibition centering on tea, I decided to look into the practice of tea drinking during Chinese New Year.
I discovered that, traditionally, black, pu’erh [post fermented dark tea] and oolong tea is drunk on the first day of Chinese New Year, flavoured with candied vegetables or fruits. In the morning, elders sit in the most comfortable seat in the house, and wait for the younger generations to present the tea. This should be done in a particular fashion – the handle of the cup should face left for the offerer and right for the receiver when they make the offer, and, once presented, the receiver takes the cup by the handle with one hand and the saucer with the other, whilst “listening to the New Year well wishes from the offerer”.
Armed with this new information, I decided it was time to sample one of these teas for myself. I headed out to a local Asian supermarket to see what they had on offer. I chose a Pu’erh tea made by Golden Sails, which you can see below.
(This was definitely not staged.)
According to the Diary of a Northern Teaist, pu’erh tea was not commonly drunk in the West until fairly recently. It is now growing in popularity, “perhaps as a consequence of its alleged health-giving properties” – it is said that pu’erh tea helps to reduce stress, promote a healthy heart, and increase energy, amongst other claims.
Unfortunately there weren’t any brewing instructions printed in English on the packaging. So, guessing, I brewed it for 3 minutes, to see what results it rendered.
(A close up of the tea.)
Pu’erh tea is meant to be steeped and re-steeped, with the first brewing delivering a darker, richer flavour. On the first brew, a really earthy scent came from the tea – I’ve seen it described as a kind of ‘forest floor after it’s been raining’ smell, which to me is extremely accurate! This translated into the flavour once I sipped it . On the second brewing, the tea was more red in colour. On this occasion, I threw in some dried strawberries from Holland and Barrett (I was not adventurous enough to try candied vegetables!) I can’t say this really added to the flavour in any way, but I enjoyed eating the tea soaked fruits at the end of my second cup.
(Tea wares supplied by the Salvation Army and other such Scottish charity shops.)
The verdict? I’m not convinced that I can be swayed to give up my favourite Earl Grey
just yet. But, it is always fascinating to learn about other customs, practices and consumption, and I was happy to have the opportunity to sample such an interesting tea! Why not try visiting your local tea shop or Asian supermarket and sampling something new to celebrate Chinese New Year 2019? And, if you’d like to check out what the Year of the Pig has in store for your year ahead, you can consult https://chinesenewyear.net/zodiac/pig, as I did.
Until next time…
恭喜发财(gung hei faat coi), 恭喜发财 (gong xǐ fā cái) –
May you have a prosperous New Year!