Lunar New Year Sweet Tea

Lunar New Year Sweet Tea
February 4, 2021 Leo Kwan
In Perspectives, Techniques
Sacred Lily blossoms

Sacred Lily, which name is borrowed to name the subcategory of oolongs of the Shuixian varieties, is a popular flower for the Lunar New Year for its superb and cleansing fragrance

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.

Keemun black tea with strawberry as condiment

A beautiful tradition has to live up to the challenges of the time. As conditions around us change, adapt new materials to make the spirit of our heritage live on. In this photo: Keemun Traditional Supreme with strawberry as condiment, for its colour for the traditional preference for this festive bright red, also a wonderful addition to the aroma of the tea. Bouquet: Fire-cracker Flower, freshly cut from the wild 50 steps from my door. A native in Southeast Asia and named for its timely blossom and resemblance of a bundle of the gunpowdered noise maker widely employed in the old times to announce the First Day of New Year. Nibbits are indispensable in any occasions during Lunar New Year and auspicious meanings are always linked with each item. For people with traditional Chinese heritage, this is far more the case. So I have this little game for those who know any of the Chinese languages: can you be creative and give similar well-wishing ideas behind these much safer and healthier snacks in the photo? From upper left to lower right: broad bean, pistachio, almond, konjac jelly, wasabi pea, purple sweet potato chip, sun-dried longan. All from safer sources. In Chinese: 蠶豆(aka 佛豆、羅漢豆)、開心果、杏仁、蒟蒻啫哩(aka 魔芋果凍)、山葵豌豆、紫薯片、生曬龍眼. Write you ideas in the comment section.

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.

Tea choice

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:

Deep-baked oolongs

Post-fermented pu’er

Most black teas

Certain green teas

Certain white tea

How to prepare

A porcelain teapot

Always brew your tea in a good infusion vessel

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.

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