From the archives | Which tea to drink for the Chinese New Year?

From the archives

Which tea to drink for the Chinese New Year?

Chinese tea on the face of it would seem the perfect drink to welcome in the Chinese New Year but it’s slightly more complicated than that as Lu Zhou and Timothy d’Offay of Postcard Teas explain.

“Happy Chinese New Year! This year is The Year of the Dog and it begins on February 16th so the 15th is the day to get ready by tidying up the house, preparing a family feast and staying up to see the New Year in with fire crackers.

Traditionally you might also make and eat some sticky rice cakes and dumplings. Though these delicacies sound like the perfect accompaniment to tea, tea is not a major tradition during the festival and alcohol is the traditional drink of the New Year meal and most fine dining.

Usually in China, good tea is not drunk with food because Chinese people think the strong tastes as well as the oil from food will interfere with the purity of teas. In one memorable tea scene from China’s most celebrated novel “Dream of the Red Chamber” the heroine Dai Yu has dinner with the Jia family for the first time and after the meal, unused to such a grand occasion, commits a faux pas by drinking the lower quality tea meant for rinsing out one’s mouth before the special tea is served.

When drinking fine Chinese tea, the tea takes centre stage and so is often accompanied by a simple selection of nuts, melon seeds, and dried fruits. But if those New Year’s dumplings or sweet cakes are still crying out for some Chinese tea here are some options.

As it is winter, a roasted oolong tea may be appropriate as the roasting would be considered to give the tea a warming quality whereas a white or green tea would be considered to be cooling and more appropriate for summer. We would suggest a Wuyi Oolong from last summer which needs about 6 months to settle down before being enjoyed or maybe an aged Pu-erh or a Chinese black tea like Keemun if heavily roasted teas are not your thing.

All these teas can be easily brewed with just boiled water between 90-100°C. Indeed even Chinese green tea if it is of a high standard can be brewed with water between 85-90°C, much hotter than is appropriate for Japanese green teas.

The major tea pairing obsession in China has historically been with water. Lu Yu,the original Sage of Tea, believed that water taken from mountain streams was the best and well water the worst.

Through the ages tea connoisseurs have matched local waters to teas. Two famous pairings we have tried and been impressed by were West Lake Long Jing with Hupao Spring water and Wuyi Oolong teas with water from the source of the Jiuqu Yi River.

So why not celebrate by brewing some tea with a new source of water? At our shop we use a mixture of tap water, Volvic and Highland Spring, depending on the tea, but we also enjoy a local Sussex mineral water called Pear Tree Well. Although not widely available it is still easier to obtain than the water from melted snow from plum blossom branches aged for five years mentioned in another famous tea chapter of 'Dream of the Red Chamber'!"

(Postcard Teas has a charming shop and tea room in Dering Street, just off the Oxford Street end of New Bond Street - one of my favourite places to drink tea in London. Tim also has a lovely new book called Easy Leaf Tea you should definitely buy if you're into tea. )

Photo © Michael Freeman

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