How many of you love tea? I am a hard-core tea fan, and am really thankful to the British-East India company ;) to have brought tea into India, even though us Indians brewed the living day lights out of it to make our cup of chai (recipe below if you are fan). Did you know that the most-priced tea is actually made with glossy, young, spring leaves and has a very subtle flavor.
My real affair with tea began many years ago with my regular trips to Hangzhou with an American tour guide settled in China called Tracy Lesh of "Shanghai and Beyond". Every spring Tracy organized tea tours to Hangzhou’s famous Long Jing (Dragon’s well) tea plantations. We’d spend the morning strolling up and down the lush gardens, greeted by little Chinese women carrying huge bamboo baskets swinging from their heads. These ladies spent about 10 hours each day all spring, picking the youngest leaves off the tops of these bushes, and dropping them into their baskets. These lovely women were paid just a few dollars a day, but had the biggest smiles pasted on their charming faces. The baskets were then taken down to the farmer’s houses below (several times a day), where the leaves were spread out on bamboo trays to sun-dry. The partially-dried leaves were then hand-dried in a large iron wok, and when I say hand-dried I literally mean placing your hand on top of the leaves in a cast-iron wok #RESPECT.
Oh, did I mention that it is here that I also experienced the best home-cooked Chinese meal of my life. One of the farmers cooked us a lavish meal of steamed fish with black beans, eggplant, local cai in garlic and what not, served alongside freshly brewed green tea from his farm. It is here that I learnt that the secret to brewing delicious tea lies in the movement of the leaves - the young leaves twirling in hot water displaying a well-rehearsed ball-room dance, followed by their subtle aroma wafting out of the tall clear glass.
I took a long, deep inhale to let the aromas mingle with my taste buds. 5 minutes later - SLURRRRRP! Call me rude, but this is the best way to truly taste tea. Slurping not only cools the liquid down, but also allows it to run all over your tongue, touching every part of your palate. Another big SLURRRP!! and you have now aerated your tea, to bring out the full range of flavor. I felt enlightened.
I took the trip back to Hangzhou every spring after that, and stocked up on little tins of young Long Jing cha for the rest of the year. It’s probably one of the things I miss most about China. Oh wait…. sorry! I changed my mind… I miss TAOBAO the most (I hope Jack Ma sees this lol).
And before I forget, here is my Indian chai recipe...
makes 1 serving
Payal Thakurani is a cooking instructor, consulting chef, and author of the popular Southeast Asian cookbook “Curries for the Soul”. Originally based in Shanghai China, chef Payal has been in the food industry since 2012, working in training and brand development in central kitchens. She was also the proud owner of a cooking school and several food brands in Shanghai. She now lives in Singapore and heads Commune Kitchen in Downtown Gallery, where she hosts affordable, hands-on cooking classes for all ages.