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The rich history of Chinese tea culture dates back to more than 4,000 years ago. Green tea, the oldest of Chinese tea, was a luxury beverage drunk by emperors before it became part of common culture along with formalised tea ceremonies. Today, this tea-centered way of life is not only still prevalent in the country, but it has also spread to other countries and influenced other cultures. Tea is the most popular refreshment in China, with the average person in China drinking 400 cups of tea a year according to US-China Institute. 

Navigating its vast history, here are what we think are the 8 must-knows of Chinese tea and its culture! 

 

1. Medicinal properties  

 

A famous legend tells the story of Sheng Nong who was poisoned after a day of eating various wild plants. As he lay on the ground barely alive, he noticed a bunch of fragrant leaves and out of habit, ate them as well. These leaves turned out to be tea leaves that detoxified his body of the poison and made him well again, portraying the benefits of tea on our bodies.  

More recently, tea has been found to have inflammatory properties due to its antioxidants. The multi-purpose beverage also helps with weight loss and reduces the risk of cancer. The Chinese also believe that different teas have ‘heating’ and ‘cooling’ effects on the body to balance out the body’s 氣 (qi), or life force.  

 

 2. Tea Across Cultures 

There are 6 main families of teas originating from China, namely white, green, black, yellow, wulong (better known as oolong) and pu’er tea.  While some of these teas are wildly popular and can be drunk in various places around Asia, they are not grown in the same area. In fact, different regions in China grow and harvest specific different types of tea, and they also have distinctive tea cultures and preferences! People in Beijing prefer flower-scented teas while Tibetans enjoy buttered tea. Mongolians enjoy their tea with milk and the Northern Chinese enjoy black teas and pu’er which is tea that has been fermented. 

Next time you make a visit to China, be sure to observe what the locals like to drink. You might be surprised at what you find! 

 

 3. A Sign of Respect 

With its long and deep-rooted history, tea is held in high regards. It was a tradition for someone of a lower rank to serve tea to someone more senior as a sign of respect. Nowadays, serving tea to seniors, colleagues or even guests, regardless of their status, has become a widespread symbol of respect in China. Don’t be surprised if you’re served tea after a pleasant chat with the shopkeeper of a hole-in-the-wall store! 

 

 4. Meaning ‘Thank You’ 

 

In traditional Chinese weddings, the bride and groom serve tea to their own and each others’ parents by kneeling in front of their families and presenting the cup of tea while bowing. This is done as a deep symbol of thanks for raising them into adulthood. As the Chinese also strongly believe in fate, the meeting between husband and wife may also be seen as only possible due to their parents’ years of care and guidance, another reason for serving tea as a sign of gratitude. 

 

 5. Tea Houses 

Tea culture in China isn’t just limited to it’s tea alone. There are over 25,000 tea houses in China. With the purpose of drinking tea and socialising, these tea houses are seen as a gauge of the country’s and cities’ economy. The more glorious the tea house, the more prosperous the country. Tea houses in China are also the birthplace of xiangsheng, or crosstalk — comedic monologues or dialogues rich in puns and allusions.  

 

 6. The First Pot Isn’t Drunk 

Surprise! The first pot filled with hot water is not drunk but actually thrown out. Hot water is first poured into the pot and left to settle for one minute to warm the vessel. Doing this ensures that the temperature of the water is optimal for brewing tea leaves. Warming the walls of the pot will prevent the second round of hot water from cooling down quickly, thereby bringing out the strongest flavour of the tea! 

 

 7. Strengthening the Teaware  

The most famous type of teapot in China is the Yixing clay teapot that’s been around since the 15th century. While the Chinese brewed tea for personal enjoyment, they also brewed tea to ‘wash’ their clay pot and cups. Pouring hot brewed tea on both the inside and outside of the teaware, they believed this would strengthen the mould and shape of the clay and deter erosion, allowing the clay to last longer. 

Nilufer Tea

If Chinese tea isn't your cup of tea, perhaps organic herbal tea may be more up your alley. After all, everyone has their own preferences and unique taste in tea. We recommend the Rose Paradise tea. It is full rosy goodness and strawberry sweetness. To add the cherry to the top, it creates a beautifully soft pink tea, perfect for your instagram feed!

With Chinese New Year (CNY) just around the corner, we believe preparations to celebrate the festive occasion is in full swing. After all, what is a festival without hearing the good ol' practices that our parents have iterated ever since we were young. Growing up, haven't you thought that these practices might be a tad bit ridiculous? Do you observe the various taboos associated with the season? These silly superstitions dictate the frenzy that we all go through right until the eve of CNY, so read on to know your New Year no-no’s and avoid all that misfortune!

1. Don’t sweep or take out the trash

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Sweep the floor or take out the trash on the first day of CNY and you’re sweeping (or dumping) all your good fortune out! Do a big spring clean and toss your garbage beforehand if you want to be presented with money-making opportunities.

 

2. Don’t wash your hair

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The first and second day of the Lunar New Year is associated with the birthday of the Water God plus ‘head’ is synonymous with ‘beginning’ in Chinese hence don’t wash your hair. Flaunt your freshly-washed luscious locks and you’ll sever your luck and derail a good start to the year! We admit that this can be a challenge for the regular gym-goers because let’s be real, no one wants to smell horrible at school or work post-gym. Anyhow, whatever the state of your personal hygiene, cleanliness is generally frowned upon during this time. #justsaying

 

3. Don’t curse or utter unlucky words

Utter “die” and it might lead to actual death. The Chinese believe that anything said during CNY will linger throughout the year so mince your words, mind your tongue and replace with euphemisms. Includes ghost stories and foul language too.

4. Don’t wear black

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Black hides food babies and unwanted fats but the colour is associated with death and mourning. Choose a cheery colour for the season before your superstitious relative shakes his or her head in complete disapproval. Red is considered as a vibrant, happy colour which will lead to a bright future. If red is too bright for your soul, opt for yellow, orange or gold. Your appearance and attitude sets the tone for the rest of the year so put away those black threads for awhile.

5. Don’t use knives/scissors or do needlework

 

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Sharpen up your chef knives and what not before CNY if you wish to retain good luck in the new year because anything to do with cutting is about cutting off your luck. It’s apparently an omen for possible arguments with others too. Oh, and women should not knit or do any needlework – it’s believed that if you use a needle and have a child that year, your little one’s eyes will be as small as the eye of the needle. Truth or plain silly? You decide. For an extra peace of mind, all sharp tools are to be avoided for any accidental injuries, inauspiciousness and the depletion of wealth in general. We guess you’d have to find another way to open that bag of bakkwa

While these taboos sound a bit unbelievable, there is a special flavour of the festive season that comes with believing in them. It reminds most people of their younger days when they hear stories that, while sound somewhat ridiculous, serve as a form of entertainment and amusement. Let us know if these taboos are true and in the meantime, here’s to a happy and prosperous CNY! Enjoy your long holidays and may the luck and fortune of the year of the dog follow you through!

The festive season is upon us! Break out the red packets, mandarin oranges, gold ingots, new clothes and of course the new you for this Lunar New Year! If you haven’t been paying attention, it is the year of the dog and according to the horoscope, it is going to be a good year in all respects, but also an exhausting one. You will experience a rollercoaster of emotions, from happiness and frustration, to feeling rested, dull, cheerful and tired. But do not fret! We humans are well equipped for such situations, just lean on your friends and family in the upcoming joyous new year and if all else fails, stuff your face with some yummy new year goodies!

Speaking of which, I know we all love the usual sinful treats that come with Chinese New Year like bak kwa, love letters, pineapple tarts and my biggest weakness: shrimp rolls. As I am writing this, I already cannot wait to get my hands on my favorite brand of shrimp rolls. However, is it a common phenomenon among all of you who – like me – love indulging, to gain weight, feel sluggish and even have breakouts after the new year is over? I always prep myself for the onslaught of weight gain because I love snacking so much but it’s time to be healthier, and have the willpower to eat healthier alternatives so our bodies are well nourished. All who wish to embark on this journey to health and wellness, here is a list of healthy alternatives to the usual goodies, do pack these in a Tupperware container to carry around while visiting so you won’t be tempted to indulge.

1. Almonds

 

Almonds are a type of tree nuts that are renowned for their health benefits. Experts often rave about how much healthy fats, fiber, protein, magnesium and vitamin E almonds have and how they can lower blood sugar levels, reduce blood pressure, reduce hunger and lower cholesterol levels. Those of you out there who are on the path to weight loss, this snack just might be your holy grail! Almonds are low in carbs, and high in both protein and fiber with increase satiety and thus reduces your hunger and helps to lower your overall calorie intake – ie. Eat almonds, eat less overall and eventually lose weight. The recommended serving size is approximately 23 almonds or a handful, portion control is key, it will be pointless if you stuff yourself with a hundred almonds to combat hunger. Ration your nuts wisely throughout the day!

2. Edamame

Odds are, many of you have heard of or even tried edamame but you don’t actually know what they are and how they benefit you. Edamame are young soy beans that are actually harvested before they have ripened and hardened. Japanese restaurants often serve them in their pods and they are rather fun to pry open and pop into your mouth, but they can be purchased both fresh and frozen. Edamame is rich in calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, vitamin C and E, riboflavin and many more. These nutrients are important in keeping our skin healthy and age resistant, strengthens the immune system, strengthens our bones and even reduces the risk of cardiovascular diseases. The recommended serving size is about ½ a cup of edamame. Pop a bean every now and then whenever you feel hungry, they will surely leave you feeling fresh and rejuvenated.

3. Dark Chocolate

 

I know how hard it is for fellow sweet tooths out there to survive this dastard holiday, the temptations are everywhere! Sweets, pineapple tarts and the cursed cookies! So if you are in severe need of a sugar fix, dark chocolate is your best friend. The higher the percentage of cocoa the better, because it has less sugar and more flavor than milk chocolate and you can really taste the strong hint of the cacao plant. However, for beginner dark chocolate enthusiasts, I recommend working your way up before you try 90% dark chocolate because you might just spit it out. Start at 50-60% and as you appreciate the bitter taste more and more, try higher percentages. You might think even though its dark chocolate, it is still unhealthy. Wrong! It has been scientifically proven that dark chocolate has tons of antioxidants, Fiber, Iron, Magnesium, Copper, Manganese and a few other minerals that can lower blood pressure, the risk of cardiovascular diseases and improve your blood flow. However, it is still something to be eaten in moderation, like all other snacks. The recommended serving size is about 100g twice a week, not daily.

4. Hummus

Hummus is a thick creamy Levantine spread that is commonly found in the Middle East, it is primarily comprised of mashed chickpeas and other beans, tahini, lemon juice, mixed with some oil and seasoning. Hummus is a good source of plant based protein, can help balance blood sugar levels, is anti-inflammatory and it can help boost your energy. It has a unique taste and serves to widen your food palette – stop eating so much laksa and chicken rice! Try something new. You can eat hummus with some whole meal bread, whole grain crackers and even use it to top dishes like Mediterranean fish. It is also incredibly easy to make from scratch so you have to buy it from a store. The recommended serving size is about 100g.

5. Plain popcorn

 

Read the header again, “PLAIN”! I bet a few of you were ready to dash to the movie theatre to load up on some sweet caramel popcorn. Only when eaten plain, does popcorn have many nutritional benefits. Popcorn is a type of grain and it is rich in fiber, antioxidants, manganese, magnesium and more. Popcorn helps improve digestion and facilitates regular bowel movement, lowers cholesterol levels, prevents aging, and can aid in weight loss. Note again that this is only true for plain popcorn, try not to douse it in salt, butter or caramel because that would make it moot. The recommended serving size is about 3 cups of popped kernels. Pop some in your microwave and enjoy a round of Netflix, you deserve it you superstar.

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