Posted in Kafevend Blog
Today marks the beginning of the Chinese New Year Festival, also known as the Spring Festival. This is the biggest festival of the year in China, more akin to Christmas with presents and gifts of money being exchanged. It's also a three day bank holiday, though many work places close for a full seven days and schools are off for a month. Rather like Easter, Chinese New Year is always shifting position because it's based on the lunisolar calendar. It starts at the second new moon after the winter solstice and finishes at full moon two weeks later with the Lantern Festival.
We're in the year of the monkey this time round. China is home to many types of monkey, though the macaque is present in the largest numbers. Of course, we usually cover tea and coffee in the Kafevend blog, so let's take this chance to consider a very special tea indeed; one that also has a link with monkeys! Perhaps you'll have heard of monkey picked tea, or seen it advertised for sale. Legend has it that at some point in the past monkeys were taught by monks to pick the very best leaves from wild tea trees. The young, tender leaves were out of reach of the monks, so the monkeys were encouraged to climb up and gently gather the harvest with their nimble little paws. Whether the wonderful image this creates ever really occurred or not, it's certainly true that the term 'monkey picked' is still used today to denote a tea of exceptional quality.
As far as the New Year celebrations are concerned, tea has its own key role to play. Chinese children will have made tea for their parents and grandparents this morning as a mark of respect. In fact, if there are more than two generations present in the household proper etiquette is for the oldest generation to be served tea by the next generation down, then the youngsters serve tea, first to their grandparents and next to their parents. At the bottom of the tea cup there will be pieces of candied fruit, symbolising fortune and prosperity. In return each child will receive a red envelope with a gift of money inside. It's important that the envelopes are red because it's a colour strongly linked to both good luck and happiness.
One of the many foods eaten during the festivities are marbled tea eggs. Eggs are a symbol of new life and new beginnings – no surprises there, but where exactly does the tea come in? Well once the eggs have been hard boiled, the shells are carefully cracked but left in place around the egg. The eggs can then be simmered in a pan of tea, with soy sauce and a variety of spices added to the mix. Later, once the eggs are cool and the shells removed, the marbling effect will be apparent. Definitely an idea to try with the children!
It only remains for us to wish you a happy new year...again!