Wednesday, October 22, 2008

A sip of Chinese tea and a number for love

A petite Chinese girl with porcelain skin and baby doll hair shows us into a tiny tea room. The wallpaper has a clay teapot design in shades of ochre, taupe and rusty browns. We sit down at a small table laid with tea sets and glass jars filled with tea leaves and flowers.

On the wall to my right hangs a scroll with Chinese calligraphy in honour of tea culture. On my right sits Yan Dan and Chen Zhi Hua, bright eyed and super keen to share their knowledge of tea and the history of China.

"This place in called 'The Great Xing Tea House' and it originates from the Xing dynasty," says Yan Dan and then looks to the tea master in front of us for more guidance.

Or perhaps I should rather say 'tea mistress'. She is so pretty in that red silk dress. When she starts to speak my eyes glaze over. I feel like I have been struck by magic. You see, I have this fantasy of being a pretty Chinese girl with silky black hair. One who pours tea into delicate China cups and serve them to men skilled in martial arts and sword fighting.

What's more, I wish I could speak all the languages in the world. The structure of a language can say so much about the mindset of the people. Each language presents different ways of saying things and thus broadens the possibilities of what can be expressed. Simply listening to a foreign language pleases me. Especially in a traditional setting such as this.

The fact that Yan Dan enthusiastically translates every word makes me feel eternally grateful. She explains how ingrained tea is in the local culture. She draws the symbols for tea and tasting and demonstrates how the symbol for tasting is made up of three mouths. Therefore a tasting has to be done in three sips only.

First we taste a Ginseng Oolong Tea which the tea mistress pours from one procelain cup to another. The empty cup we swirl around our eyes because "it's good for seeing".

The next tasting is quite a show. Our tea mistress pours the Jasmine Green Tea from high up into tiny cups.

"This tea is also called 'The Eye of the Phoenix' because the tea leaves and flowers are rolled into little balls that look like eyes and the Empress of the Xing dynasty favoured this tea".

We taste a couple more teas including fruit and flower teas but the Jasmine Green Tea remains my favourite.

"Strong tea such as Oolong and Dark Green Tea must be brewed in clay pots while fruit and flower teas should be prepared in glass teapots or even wine glasses in order to appreciate its visual beauty," I learn, "Porcelain pots are for milder teas."

By the time Chen Zhi Hua calls me a taxi I feel like I am stepping out of a dream and I am sad to say goodbye to these generous hosts. Not only did they give me a perfect memory but they also left me with a lucky number: 11, one and one, "for love".

Xie-xie, 'thank you'.


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