Happy Chinese New Year! Saturday 25th January ushers in the Year of the Rat. An auspicious year indeed as we have our very own rat here at National Tea Day – yours truly, Carole! I spent several years living in China so it’s a celebration that’s close to my heart. Memories of firecrackers and fireworks, elaborate feasts, red lanterns hanging everywhere. Here’s what I learnt about Chinese New Year along with my recommended teas to celebrate with!
Year of the Rat
The Rat is the first of the zodiac animals and represents wealth and surplus. In fact couples would pray to them for children because of their reproduction rate! If you were born in 1924, 1936, 1948, 1960, 1972, 1984, 1996, 2008 or indeed this year, 2020 – hello fellow rats! We are considered to be instinctive, clever and adaptable and like to live a quiet peaceful life. We are kind and sensitive to other’s emotions, though can be timid and stubborn, sometimes coming across as rude or impolite.
There are 12 animals in the Chinese zodiac, with the cycle repeating every 12 years. So easy to check if it’s your year, just divide your age by 12! The zodiac animals represent different characteristics and meaning. In Chinese culture they can be used to determine your marriage compatibility, career, life events and your fortune for the year. You would think that your year would be a lucky year, but the opposite is true. Your year is a year full of bad omens and mishaps! Fear not rats, 2020 is forecast not to be so bad, and if you wear red undies all year you’re all good.
How long is the holiday?
Chinese New Year is based on the Chinese Lunar calendar, so shifts every year in the Western calendar. It’s the longest holiday of the year in China and is celebrated for 15 days, from the first day of the Lunar calendar until Lantern Festival. This year, that’s 25 January – 8 February.
Chinese New Year is a time for family reunions and everyone is expected to be there. That means a lot of travelling. Chunyun, or Spring Festival travel season, sees the largest human migration on the planet with over three billion passenger journeys.
Red envelopes (hóng bāo) are envelopes containing money given by elders to children, with the hopes of passing along good fortune and blessings. Though usually a tradition between close family, red envelopes are now exchanged between friends and co-workers. They have even moved into the digital age so even easier to send and receive!
Food, food, food
Food is incredibly important in Chinese culture and naturally plays a big role at Chinese New Year. Family dinners are carefully planned and prepared with dishes that signify wishes of prosperity and happiness. Whilst each region has its own traditional foods, common dishes are spring rolls, steamed fish, lots of dumplings, and New Year rice cake (nián gāo).
Which tea to celebrate with?
Of course, China is famous for its tea. So here come five exquisite teas to help you celebrate Chinese New Year.
Pu’er tea is an aged tea from Yunnan in Southern China. It’s prized for its earthy, woodsy aroma and rich, smooth taste and is also renowned for its numerous health benefits. Pu’er can be divided into either raw or ripe. Raw pu’er is unfermented and has a fresher ‘green’ taste with a light colour. Raw pu’er has been through a fermentation process and has a dark liquor, with a more earthy, mellow taste. The tea is compressed into tea cakes or bricks requiring equipment to prepare the tea. As well as the traditional tea cakes, TEASPEC have a range of loose leaf and teabags, including Raw Dazzle, making pu’er more accessible so anyone can have a try!
Dragon Well, or Long Jing, is China’s most famous tea and comes from Hangzhou in Zhejiang province. This green tea has a very distinctive spear-like shape, smooth and perfectly flat, made from the highly skilled shaping in a hot pan known as pan frying. It gives the tea its lovely nutty toasty aroma. Beautifully balanced with the fresh grassy flavour, and a velvety smooth finish.
Tie Guan Yin, also known as Iron Goddess of Mercy or Iron Buddha, is one of China’s most famous oolongs, grown in Anxi County, Fujian province. It has a wonderful sweet floral aroma of orchids and honeysuckle, with a rich and creamy flavour with vegetal notes. Refershing and energising, Tie Guan Yin is perfect as a pick-me-up!
Jasmine Dragon Pearls, or Mo Li Hua Zhu, is a premium green tea naturally scented with jasmine flowers form Fuzhou, Fujian province. The tea leaves are layered with freshly bloomed jasmine flowers which allows for the jasmine oil to infuse the tea. The leaves are then hand rolled into little tea balls which is how the tea gets its name.
Silver Needle, or Bai Hao Yin Zhen, is the most highly revered of the white teas as only the top soft downy buds are picked. They are left to slowly dry in the sun and produce a gorgeous delicate sweet flavour and a light champagne coloured liquor. This beautiful Silver Needle tea comes from the Fuding and Zhenhe districts in Fujian province.
So there you have it! There are so many amazing Chinese teas to choose from, I hope this gives you some inspiration to try out a new tea this Chinese New Year. Xīn nián kuài lè! (Happy New Year!)
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