In continuation of my earlier post, here are some pictures taken inside the museum that reflect the tea beauty, culture and history.
Herbal tea blends are very popular in China, Taiwan and Hong Kong. The packages are usually transparent to observe the components and may contain ten or more small packages inside. These blends may or not contain tea. Seeds, fruits, leaves, flowers and rock sugar are very common. The packages are very attractive, colorful and are for short term storage; the tea blends must be used freshly for the best flavor and aroma. The teas can be enjoyed hot or cold.
The use of rock sugar (solid sugar) has the advantage of the slow dissolution; on the beginning the tea is not so sweet and will get sweeter as is being enjoyed. When refills of water are made the rock sugar continues to dissolve and tea continues to be sweet for longer time.This eliminates the need of keep adding sugar in each refill. The color of the rock sugar varies from transparent to dark brown, depending on the amount of refining.
The lavender, also called Lavandula tea is a very fragrant and aromatic tea, made with lavender flowers. It is usually mixed with green, black or other herbal teas. As the tea is prepared by adding the boiling water to the flowers a nice fragrance can be perceived in the whole room; it is one of the most fragrant teas. One or two teaspoons per cup of boiling water are sufficient to prepare a tea.
When used alone as lavender tea it is slightly bitter, for this reason usually honey and lemon is added. When lemon (or other acid fruit juice) is added the color changes from pale yellow to pink as is illustrated below. This tea can be enjoyed hot or cold. It is a great summer tea! The pictures below are from a tea package I bought in Taiwan, where the use is very common.
The common lavender species is called Lavandula angustifolia, also called English lavender. Most probably the name lavender comes from the Latin lavāre, of lavō, to wash. In the old days the lavender flowers infusions were added to the water to wash the clothes to give a scent. The word lavender and its variations is used in many languages (e.g. French: lavande; German: lavandel; Spanish: lavanda). In Portuguese lavender is called alfazema, a word with Arabian origin.
Recently in Turkey my friends Kemal and Zek gave me a nice gift set of Turkish tulips. The tulips and plates are hand painted with gold and have a pretty nice design, still maintaining the traditional tulip shape and transparency to visualize the Turkish Tea.
On a trip from Izmir to Istanbul we had the opportunity to stop in Balikesir. After dinner we had the tea served in the new tulips and enjoyed hosmerim (cheese pudding), a nice traditional dessert from the area.
That moment of sharing tea with friends is what makes the tea flow beyond the glasses. It is a fluid sharing pipe of peace.
The tea time as recorded in this picture goes beyond the taste, smell and colors. An old saying “the amphora always keep the smell of the first wine” might be true also for the tulips and tea. The smell of the first tea in Balikesir will always be in the tulips.
There a lot of definitions of what is a Tea. My version is the following: In sensu stricto, tea is an infusion of the Camellia sinensis leaves and leaf buds. Camellia sinensis is the scientific name of the plant that produces tea. Oolong, green, white and black teas are examples of these teas.
In sensu amplo, the word tea is an infusion of seeds, roots, flowers, bark, fruits, leaves, spices and its combinations. It is common to call the non Camellia sinensis teas “herbal teas” or “tisanes”. The “tisanes” are typically non-caffeinated brews.
Usually when we say the single word tea, we are talking about regular black tea. All other teas have two words to describe the type of tea, e.g., Masala Tea, Honey Dew Tea, Ginger Tea, Lemongrass Tea, Mint Tea, etc.
If you are in a foreign and want to order a tea, one of the three words (te, chay or cha) will get you a tea. What is called commonly tea may have a different way to brew and serve from country to country, but it will be a tea.
The name Camellia is the Latinized surname of the botanist Georg Kamel, and sinensis means Chinese in latin.
In the surroundings of the Yu Garden (aka as Yu Yang) in Shanghai there are many tea shops mostly for tourists that want to taste different teas and buy some for use or as a gift. For many people this is the first time they experience the Chinese teas. The shop area is an old part of the town that keeps the traditional buildings in very good shape and clean.
The tea quality is average to good, enough to be a nice drinkable tea. In the shops they always serve free tea. They make nice demonstrations on how to prepare and drink tea. Visitors sit around the table to enjoy the teas without obligation to buy. It is always fun to go to those stores and spend time tasting teas, also buying gifts, ceramic and utensils for tea making. There are always something to enjoy and learn.
Here are few pictures of a typical tea shop. The key area is a large wood table carved with multiple levels. The table has a place to brew the tea, serve and store all accessories for tea making. The water is heated with the electric kettle allowing to have always the water in the proper temperature for each type of tea. There are channels in the carved wood to collect the water spilled from the cups. The water is directed to small holes that convey the water to the bottom of the table where it is collected in a glass container.
The stores usually have many types of teas, ceramic pots and wood utensils. Most of them have everything needed for tea starters.
It is typical to have girls serving and selling tea. They are very polite, educated and speak good English. They have a reasonable knowledge of the teas and know how to sell pretty well. The tea packaging is very nice, either in nice boxes or cans.
The Hu Xin Ting (Huxing Ting) is probably the oldest teahouse in China. It is situated on the middle of a pond in the Yu Garden area (Yu Yuan Garden) in Shanghai.
The name Hu Xin Ting means lake pavilion. Last month I had the opportunity to be there early morning to appreciate a nice green tea, have a quite time and take few pictures. During the day the place gets very crowded and there is a long waiting time for tea, particularly during the Summer months. The most popular teas are the Jasmin and flower teas. There is a small shop on the front where teas, cups, teapots and sets are sold at a reasonably good price.
Since 1996 I had the opportunity to visit few times this tea house. It seems that no change happened. The tea quality and service are excellent with the perfect atmosphere.The Hu Xin Ting is the must go place for tea aficionados.It has the quality and tradition needed to make it a unique experience.
The tea house is on the pond, connected to land with the Bridge of Nine Turnings. The pond has red and yellow carps plus lotus.The building has different sections with nice set ups and decorations. The round and rectangular tables are made of rose wood with marble tops. The open space provide a nice view of the small lake and garden.
The green tea is served with hot water directly to the leaves, not an optimal condition for brewing the green tea. The bottle of hot water is available for refill. The snacks are a mixture of sweet/sour dried fruits, hard salty tofu squares and quail eggs, which are a typical Chinese delicacy.