Soon it will be the Year of the Bull in the Lunisolar Calendar. Believe it or not, this very old dating system basing on both the Sun and the Moon is still observed by quite a few peoples, including ethnic Chinese, Korean, Mongolian, Tibetan, Vietnamese, and many other South and Southeast Asians, including even pockets of Japanese. This year the first day of Lunar New Year falls between February 12~14 ( depending on different calculation systems ) of the Gregorian Calendar.
People heartily celebrate the beginning of a new period of time for the hope of better days to come. To many, it is as important as Thanksgiving and Christmas combined as to the Americans. Be it pandemic or even in harder times, they will find ways to gather for chats, food and a lot of drinking. Many do pops and booze, but perhaps even more do tea, as in the old days, at least ritually, if not also for washing off all those greasy meals, junk food and sweets.
One of the traditional rituals is to serve tea sprinkled with candied fruits — coconut, lotus seeds, lotus root, jujubes, kumquat, etc. Each item is added with an auspicious saying that rhymes with its name and which varies according to local cultures. While the suitable tea can be quite a range, we shall discuss the fruits first. Tea suggestion will come later in the post.
Need for the Renaissance of a Beautiful Heritage
In an era when it is known that there are unscrupulous food manufacturing in China where a majority of New Year products are made, one cannot be too careful with the choice of those sweet bits. Read beyond the package label for what you will really be putting into your mouth. I have long given up my favourite candied coconut and lotus seeds knowing how they are bleached and sulphured to deliver that snow white appearance, not to mention the very nature of sugar that they use. Same for those beautifully orange carrot slices, kumquat, and lotus root, if not also for their farmers’ heavy doses of insecticides and fertilisers.
If you are like me, not having enough time or energy to prepare your own homemade candied fruit, buy from known safe practice purveyors or brands for whatever alternatives for sweetening that festive cup of tea. There are still good sources of traditional sun-dried longan, dark brown goji berries that will still be red after infusion, and many intensely sweet figs and dates produced safely and honestly elsewhere. An auspicious New Year has to be a healthy New Year first, wouldn’t you agree? After all, a cup of pu’er sweetened with slices of Calimyrna fig from Turkey, or a Piarom date from Iran, or a few kernels of sun-dried Longans from Taiwan is both appetising and tasting very fine. Want some red ornamental effect? Sprinkle it with non-sulphured goji berries from Tibet. Too hard to get? What about cranberries from Chile? Or freeze dried raspberries or strawberries from Holland? Or even fresh ones. Tradition is for us to live it on. As conditions change, we adapt to it to make the spirit of what we inherit thrive. Finding better solutions is far better than clinging on a soulless appearance.
So which teas are better choices for its own taste to hold up having to be infused with these wonderful dried fruits? Here is my list:
- Cassia Classic
- Red Cloak Grande
- Meishan Classic
- Cream Stout
- Narcissus Classic
- Tieguanyin Classic, etc
Most black teas
- Red Jade
- Imperial Topaz
- Keemun Traditional Supreme
- Wild Tree Black
- Himalayan Finest Flowery
- Dianhong Classic, etc
Certain green teas
Certain white tea
How to prepare
Depending on how much taste from the condiments you intend to add to the tea, the approach to tea preparation would vary accordingly. The idea is to aim for a stronger infusion when you want more added taste, and a moderate one for a lighter embellishment.
Say for example you want to add only a slice of strawberry, you basically infuse your tea as you normally would.
However, if you want to add a bunch of things like dried fig slices, coconut pieces and dried longan to steep into the taste of the tea, give 15% more leaves and the normal amount of steeping time. Put the condiments into a pre-warmed gaiwan or a similar lidded cup before you decant tea into it and cover it to let the ingredients steep into the tea. This is the luxurious version.
You can do a more convenient version by throwing most of the condiments into a glass teapot and decant all of the infused tea liquor into it to let the whole thing steep for a few more minutes. To serve you simply scoop the dried fruit pieces out to divide amongst cups. Or let your guest enjoy their appearance in the glass teapot.
I do not advocate altering the original taste of tea in many other occasions, but for something as big as Lunar New Year, we should all have some fun.