Babaocha: Eight-trea­sure Tea

Beijing (English) - - CONTENTS - Trans­lated by Sun Hong­shan Edited by David Ball

Served in a del­i­cate teacup with lid, is a healthy and flavour­ful drink that is made by mix­ing tea with seven other in­gre­di­ents, hence the name eight­trea­sure tea.

Babaocha (eight-trea­sure tea) is a spe­cial kind of bev­er­age that is made by mix­ing tea leaves with dif­fer­ent in­gre­di­ents. The drink is pop­u­lar in north­ern, and es­pe­cially north­west­ern, China. Since it is usu­ally brewed in a cup with a lid, peo­ple also re­fer to it as gai­wan­cha (cov­ered- cup tea) or san­paocha (three-brew tea). The eight in­gre­di­ents gen­er­ally found in babaocha in­clude wolf­ber­ries, lon­gans, raisins, red dates, dried fruit, rock sugar, se­same seeds and tea leaves. Ac­cord­ing to the time of year or one's per­sonal pref­er­ences, chrysan­the­mums, wal­nuts, rose petals, gin­seng or cas­sia seeds can also be added. As dif­fer­ent com­bi­na­tions of in­gre­di­ents can bring about dif­fer­ent ef­fects, peo­ple can pre­pare healthy teas with var­i­ous flavours.

Peo­ple first be­gan drink­ing babaocha more than 2,000 years ago dur­ing the Zhou Dy­nasty (11th cen­tury–256 BC). The ear­li­est form of the tea was said to have been used by eth­nic mi­nori­ties along the an­cient Silk Road for en­ter­tain­ing guests. As the say­ing goes, “When guests come from afar, gai­wan­cha should be served.”

Babaocha makes most peo­ple think of north­west­ern Ningxia Prov­ince, which is mainly in­hab­ited by the Hui peo­ple who drink tea with a zhong (“han­dle­less cup”), or gai­wan (“cup with lid”). Spe­cial in­gre­di­ents added to the tea make the Hui mi­nor­ity's “gai­wan­cha” unique. Hui fam­ily will un­doubt­edly serve tea to their vis­i­tors. They in­vite Mus­lim guests to sit on their kang (heated brick bed) af­ter ex­chang­ing greet­ings and of­fer the tea, which is col­lo­qui­ally known as “san­pao­tai.” Be­sides tea leaves, the bev­er­age also con­tains rock sugar, lon­gans, dates and se­same

seeds, giv­ing the tea a mel­low and fra­grant flavour. Hosts will usu­ally top up their guests cups' when they are drink­ing. There is usu­ally hos­pitable con­ser­va­tion as well.

Babaocha is not only pop­u­lar amongst the Hui mi­nor­ity in Gansu, Ningxia and Qing­hai, but also among the Han, Dongx­i­ang and Bao'an eth­nic group; and so, has be­come an im­por­tant drink for en­ter­tain­ing guests. Peo­ple from the Dongx­i­ang eth­nic mi­nor­ity es­pe­cially love babaocha. They con­tinue to make re­fine­ments to the tea set, tea leaves and the pro­por­tions of in­gre­di­ents, in­vari­ably choos­ing a “san­pao­tai” tea set which con­sists of a cup, lid and saucer. The finest clay is also used to make the set to en­sure its qual­ity. The choic­est leaves are used along­side pure wa­ter, such as freshly-melted snow or spring wa­ter. The leaves are then put in a san­pao­tai cup and rock sugar, wolf­ber­ries, red dates or wal­nuts are added ac­cord­ing to per­sonal pref­er­ence. Fi­nally, boil­ing “mu­dan­hua” wa­ter is added. Any float­ing leaves are sub­merged by gen­tly rub­bing the sur­face of the tea back-and-forth with the lid. When drink­ing the tea, the saucer is held in the left hand, and the lid is lifted with the thumb, fore­fin­ger and mid­dle fin­ger on the right hand. The lid is then slanted a lit­tle and rubbed against the brim of the cup slightly. The well-brewed tea should smell fresh and fra­grant. To prop­erly drink the tea, it should be sipped, savoured and swal­lowed slowly. The strong scent of the sweet and faintly sour tea will fill the nos­trils, cre­at­ing a re­fresh­ing feel­ing.

Dur­ing the Ming Dy­nasty ( 1368– 1644), the trade of horses for tea flour­ished in the Hezhou area, pro­mot­ing tea drink­ing as a cus­tom amongst the Dongx­i­ang peo­ple. Over time, babaocha be­came in­dis­pens­able to the Dongx­i­ang and fi­nally a unique tea- drink­ing cul­ture emerged. To­day, lo­cal peo­ple still main­tain a cu­ri­ous cus­tom. When a young man is to go on a date with a girl, he will try to in­quire about her tea- brew­ing and cook­ing skills in ad­vance. This is be­cause some peo­ple be­lieve there is a close con­nec­tion be­tween the taste of babaocha and the ap­pear­ance and brew­ing skills of a per­son. When brewed by dif­fer­ent peo­ple, the same tea with the same in­gre­di­ents, will taste dif­fer­ently. There­fore, this is a method by which young men can dis­cover whether a girl would make a good wife. The be­trothal gift given by a young man to his fi­ancée is called “tea money,” and the en­gage­ment is known as “songdingch­a” ( giv­ing tea money).

When it comes to babaocha or gai­wan­cha, it is im­por­tant to men­tion the peo­ple of Sichuan, as the gai­wan (cup with lid) was orig­i­nally de­vel­oped in Chengdu, Sichuan Prov­ince. The Sichuan peo­ple are very par­tic­u­lar about tea. Le­gend has it that the gai­wan was cre­ated by the daugh­ter of Cui Ning, gover­nor of Sichuan, dur­ing the Jianzhong pe­riod of Em­peror De­zong's reign (AD 780–805) of the Tang Dy­nasty (AD 618–907). At that time, peo­ple of­ten scalded their fingers be­cause there was noth­ing be­neath the teacup, so Cui Ning's daugh­ter in­vented a wooden saucer to sup­port it. Later on, to pre­vent the teacup from slip­ping away, she fixed the cup by putting a ring of wax in the cen­tre of the saucer, thus cre­at­ing the first ever chachuan (saucer, lit. “tea boat”). There­after, peo­ple used paint in­stead of wax to make it more con­ve­nient to use, and the ring evolved into var­i­ous forms. There­fore, the pe­cu­liar chachuan cul­ture, also called gai­wan tea cul­ture, emerged in the Chengdu area. This unique way of drink­ing tea spread from Sichuan to sur­round­ing prov­inces and grad­u­ally reached all of the parts of south­ern China.

Chengdu is a land of tea and tea­houses and is a par­adise for tealovers. The short, cold, rainy au­tumns there make tea­houses the per­fect places to meet with friends. Peo­ple in Chengdu em­ploy var­i­ous, sub­tle hints when drink­ing tea. If they place the lid up­side-down on the ta­ble, it means that they have no tea left and would like the waiter to add more wa­ter right away; if they leave the ta­ble and put the lid on their chair, they want to show that they will be back soon and to sig­nal to the waiter not to clear away their tea set. Wait­ers in Sichuan are skilled at sim­mer­ing, boil­ing and brew­ing tea. How­ever, the per­son most skilled is usu­ally the cha­boshi (“tea mas­ter”), who shut­tles from ta­ble to ta­ble car­ry­ing his teapot.

Babaocha is not only nu­tri­tious and en­ergy- giv­ing, it also brings tea- lovers great joy. Le­gend has it that gin­seng babaocha— re­ferred to as “im­pe­rial babaocha” by Em­press Dowa­ger Cixi ( reign: 1861– 1908)— also con­tains eight in­gre­di­ents: the male flower of Eu­com­mia ul­moides, gin­seng, wolf­ber­ries, lon­gans, red dates, hawthorns, liquorice and black Tar­tary buck­wheat. This kind of tea was en­joyed by the im­pe­rial fam­ily for many cen­turies. With its de­light­ful fra­grance, it is suitable for drink­ing dur­ing any sea­son. Reg­u­lar con­sump­tion is good for one's health.

Bei­jingers are par­tial to jas­mine tea and make babaocha with jas­mine flow­ers. They place a few jas­mine tea leaves into a gai­wan, add Chi­nese wolf­ber­ries, wal­nuts, lon­gans, se­same seeds and dried fruit and add wa­ter to the cup for the first time. At first, the tea as­sumes a light colour and has a weak taste. How­ever, af­ter the lid is placed over the cup and the tea has brewed for a while, a dis­tinc­tive taste from the fruit and lon­gans de­vel­ops. It is del­i­cate and slowly be­comes stronger. As wa­ter is added for the third time, the se­same seeds ab­sorb the tea and float to the sur­face, and the melted rock sugar dis­solves, as­cend­ing like a pall of smoke. The tea leaves have all com­pletely un­folded, and the del­i­cate scent of the tea fills the nos­trils. It is truly won­der­ful that such a small cup of tea can have so many flavours.

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