Yum cha, or "tea lunch," is a treat for the entire
family. Many Chinese families reserve Sunday mornings
for this outing. It is not only an opportunity to
savor the delights of dim sum, but to visit with
friends as well.
The Chinese call the little delicacies served at tea
lunch dim sum, which translates as "touching your
heart." And that indeed is what these small morsels
do. The advantage of sampling them at a teahouse is
the great variety available. It may take you several
visits to determine your favorites. There are steamed
shrimp and pork dumplings, deep-fried egg rolls and
taro-root dumplings, green peppers with shrimp
filling, and on and on.
Dim sum is based on Cantonese dim sum, it is all good
at color, fragrance, taste and shape, its
characteristic is that the ingredients used are of
best quality and plentiful, variety is numerous, style
is novel, tastes are various, it suits the needs of
every eater and four seasons.
The first step in yum cha is the selection of your
tea. The waiter will ask you for your choice, and you
might take this opportunity to try a variety you
havenít tasted before, such as loong jaing (dragonís
well), po nay, jasmine and so on.
There is no need to ask for a menu. The food will come
to you on carts or on trays. Some items are on plates,
some in metal or bamboo steamers; each serving
contains 2 to 6 pieces, depending on the item. There
are four main groups of food from which to choose. The
first is made up of steamed dishes like shrimp or pork
dumplings and pork buns. The second group is the
variety group, such as parchment chicken, pickled
mustard greens and duck or chicken feet. The third
classification covers deep-fried items: egg rolls,
rice rolls, pork triangles and others. The fourth
group is comprised of sweet items like sponge cake,
coconut jelly, and delightful custard tarts.
Adapted from :
The Chinese Art of Tea Drinking
(Traditional Chinese Culture in Taiwan: Tea)
Wherever Chinese go, the custom of drinking tea
follows. The Chinese were the first to discover the
tea leaf, and have drunk tea for uncounted ages. When
you arrive in the beautiful island of Taiwan, you may
see some elderly gentlemen seated in twos and threes,
perhaps in a temple up some old street. They may be
leisurely gathered around a simple but attractive
teapot about the size of a fist, each holding a small
cup, mixing chat with drink. This is the traditional
Chinese "old men's tea" ceremony (lao-jen ch'a). While
strolling down the bustling streets of metropolitan
Taipei, your nose might also lead you to a "tea art"
shop, identified by a large sign with the Chinese
character for "tea" (ch'a) on it. If the prospect of a
tea-tasting experience intrigues you, an expert on the
beverage will initiate you in the basics of "kung fu
tea," or the traditional tea-steeping and drinking
Tea is an indispensable part of the life of a
Chinese. A Chinese saying identifies the seven basic
daily necessities as fuel, rice, oil, salt, soy sauce,
vinegar, and tea. The custom of drinking tea is deeply
ingrained in almost every Chinese, and has been for
over a thousand years. During the mid-T'ang Dynasty
(618-907 A.D.), a man named Lu Yu entered the Buddhist
monkhood early in life, but returned when older to
secular life. He was later best known for summarizing
the knowledge and experience of his predecessors and
contemporaries into the first compendium in the world
on tea--the Tea Classic (ch'a Ching). This work helped
to popularize the art of tea drinking all across
China, making avid tea drinkers of everyone from
emperor and minister to street hawker and soldier.
Even the neighboring countries of Korea, Japan, and
Southeast Asia came to adopt the tea drinking custom.
Chinese were the first to discover tea.
In the early 17th century, the Dutch East India
Company introduced Chinese tea for the first time to
Europe. By the mid-17th century, afternoon tea had
become a standard ritual of the British nobility. It
is interesting to note that the two different
pronunciations for "tea" most common in languages that
borrowed the word from Chinese-cha and tee-originate
from different dialects of Chinese. Languages of
countries that once imported the leaves from the north
of China, such as Turkey, Russia, and Japan, adopted
some variation of the sound cha, such as chay, chai,
or chya. Countries on the southern maritime lines of
China, such as Spain, Germany, and England, borrowed
the word in the forms of te, Tee, and tea
respectively, based on the southern Chinese
Tea is made from the young, tender leaves of the tea
tree. The differences among the many kinds of tea
available are based on the particular methods used to
process the leaves. The key to the whole process is
the roasting and fermentation. Through fermentation,
the originally deep green leaves become reddish-brown
in color. The longer the fermentation, the darker the
color. Depending on the length of the roasting and
degree of fermentation, the fragrance can range from
floral, to fruity, to malty.
Tea that has not been fermented is called "green tea."
Tea steeped from green tea leaves is jade green to
yellow-green in color, and gives off the fragrance of
fresh vegetables. Examples of green tea are "Dragon
Well" (Lung-ching) and "Green Snail Spring"
(Pi-lo-ch'un). The Chinese call tea that undergoes
full fermentation "red tea" (hung-ch'a); in the West
it is known as "black tea." Tea made from black tea
leaves is reddish-brown in color and has a malt-like
aroma. Oolong, or "Black Dragon" (Wu-Lung) tea is an
example of a partially-fermented tea. This tea is
unique to China, and Taiwan is one of its most
representative areas of production.
Oolong tea comes in three degrees of fermentation:
lightly fermented, moderately fermented, and fully
fermented. The identifying features of lightly
fermented Oolong tea, such as Paochung, are a full
aroma, clarity, and a golden color. Moderately
fermented types such as "lron Buddha" (T'ie-kuan-yin),
"Narcissus" (Shui-hsien), and "Frozen Peak"
(Tung-ting), have a brown color, a full "mature"
flavor that appeals more to the sense of taste than
that of smell, and a vaguely sweet aftertaste. Tea
infused from moderately to heavily fermented tea
leaves like "White Hair" Oolong (Pai-hao Wu-lung) has
a red-orange color and a fruity aroma.
To make a good pot of tea, special attention must be
pald to the quality of the water, water temperature,
the amount of tea leaves used, and the type of teapot.
Soft water (water with a low mineral content) that is
clear and fresh is required to steep tea; hard water
should by all means be avoided. The correct water
temperature varies from tea to tea; for most fully
fermented and moderately fermented kinds it should be
near boiling (100 or 212); however, it may be low as
90 (194) or less for lightly fermented or green teas.
"Cultivating teapots" through repeated use is a
popular and refined pastime in Taiwan.
The proportion of tea leaves to water also depends on
the kind of tea leaves used. The teapot may be filled
from one-quarter to three-quarters full with tea
leaves, depending mainly on how tightly curled the tea
leaves are as a result of the rolling and roasting
processes. The teapot is then filled with water.
Steeping time starts at one minute, but varies from
tea to tea. The time required for subsequent brews
from the same leaves must be proportionally
lengthened. The best kind of teapot to use for most
fermented teas is a purple clay ceramic pot. The size
of the pot should be in correct proportion to the size
of the cups. Ideally, the cups should have white
interiors, to facilitate accurate assessment of the
color of the tea.
People enamored of tea drinking also usually enjoy the
beauty and feel of teapots. Small teapots are used to
steep tea (in the "kung fu" steeping method) in most
homes in the Republic of China today. This particular
method has been passed down to the present day from
the days of Ming Dynasty Emperor Shen Tsung in 16th
century China, so it boasts a 400-year history. The
full aroma and sweetness of the tea can be brought out
when using a small teapot to steep tea. During the
Ming (1368-1644) and Ch'ing (1644-1911) dynasties, the
purple clay ceramic teapots of Yihsing, Kiangsu were
the most famous. Any pieces made by a master potter
are sought after everywhere, and are worth their
weight in gold. While master potters in the Republic
of China continue to produce traditional purple clay
ceramic teapots, they have also developed a number of
creative new teapot designs which have received
enthusiastic public response. Collecting teapots has
become a fashionable pastime.
Tea is China's national drink. Tea contains vitamins,
tea derivatives, essential oils, and fluoride. It is a
diuretic, attributed with the properties of improving
the eyesight and increasing alertness, so Chinese
believe that frequent tea drinkers enjoy an increased
life span. Its medical properties and benefits to the
human body have in fact been scientifically proven,
and tea has come to be generally recognized as a
natural health food.
Tea is a cash crop in Taiwan.
Tea is a cash crop in Taiwan, an agricultural product
that is a source of foreign exchange earnings.
Specialized tea shops all over the island continue to
actively promote the art of tea drinking. New style
"tea art houses" with elegant, classical interiors
have quickly become a common sight around the island.
Each local area also holds its own tea-tasting
competitions, attracting the participation of large
numbers of tea farmers, tea merchants, and tea
connoisseurs. The price of any tea that is designated
as a superior grade in one of these competitions
immediately soars. This feature gives tea competitions
extra appeal and vigor. The custom of tea drinking has
become part of a sophisticated spiritual life; and the
"tea art" spirit, which reveres nature and knows no
bounds, is just like Chinese interpersonal relations :
warm and mellow.
The Art of Tea Drinking
By Olivia Yang, San Jose, California
The Chinese people are without a doubt the ones who
best understand the nature of tea. Tea has a long
history over 2,000 years old, and is a common thread
running through our culture. Tea drinking has become a
form of artistic and intellectual expression in
Chinese culture, and is rich in tradition.
Many relationship with tea, though of superficial
origins, grew more and more profound over time. The
significance of tea began to assert itself in the Tang
and Song Dynasties. It was during this time that the
art of tea was born. The Tea Classics, written by Lu
Yu during the Tang Dynasty, helped to elevate tea
drinking to a high status throughout China.
It was somewhere between the Tang and Song Dynasties
that the custom of tea drinking was brought to Japan,
which readily adopted the Chinese custom. But there
were, and still are, differences between the Japanese
and Chinese interpretations of the art of tea
Chinese people tend to view tea drinking as a natural
form of enjoyment, unlike the Japanese, who approach
the concept in a very strict and ritualistic fashion.
In spite of its popularity throughout the ages, the
Chinese have never elevated tea to the god-like status
it enjoys in Japan. Rather, tea is something one
drinks after a meal; it is merely a part of one's
life. For a Chinese to say anything more of tea than
this would be to misunderstand its purpose, which can
be anything but to be worshipped. The attitude Chinese
take toward tea drinking is in many ways symbolic of
their relatively balanced position towards different
attitudes and behaviors. One could say that in the
Chinese interpretation of the art of tea, one can find
the source their open mindedness.
But it wasn't until the Song Dynasty that tea drinking
really became in vogue. Even the Emperor indulged in
this new and wonderful custom, which subsequently drew
tea-growers to the capital every spring to pay tribute
to the Son of Heaven. The Emperor gave tea as a gift
to those worthy of the honor, which not only helped
increase the drink's popularity, but also helped
spread elevate its value. Books, poems, and paintings
about tea became increasingly popular.
With the passing of the Yuan, and the start of the
Ming and Qing Dynasties, the technology of tea
production was constantly being improved; not only in
an effort to enhance its flavor, but also to further
simplify its production. By this time, tea houses were
popping up all over the country. Tea-drinking
establishments could be found at any public gathering
place or point of interest; temples, palaces, even
famous mountains had their respective tea vendors.
Li Ri Hua, a Ming Dynasty scholar, once said: "One
should clean out a room in one's home and place only a
tea table and a chair in the room with some boiled
water and fragrant tea. Afterwards, sit salutarily and
allow one's spirit to become ranquil, light, and
natural." Li Ri Hua used tea drinking to calm his
spirit and clear his mind. He practiced the art of
living naturally, avoiding outside influences.
During the same period, a man by the name of Luo
likened the drinking of tea to a spiritual release,
unique to every individual. It was people like Luo who
cultivated the artistic conception of tea, which
represents the Chinese way of turning the mundane
things in life into ones of higher meaning.
Though its history is indeed lengthy, the art of tea
drinking is not without competition. The introduction
of coffee by the West, along with its own culture, is
believed by some to be destroying the virtues of tea
drinking in the modern age with slick advertising that
promotes outside values and life-stles. Now, coffee
houses in Taiwan outnumber their tea-peddling
counterparts, driving them slowly out of business.
Even though the quality of Taiwanese tea has improved
over the years, tea drinking simply cannot compete any
Over the last few years, through the efforts of people
who care deeply for the culture and history of tea,
various tea associations have been founded. This,
along with the publication of many books and articles
on the subject, has begun a tea revival of sorts. But
we must be careful not to let the art of tea drinking
become some complex concept that is difficult to
appreciate or to understand. Only by returning to the
old principles of simplicity and universality can we
hope to see the art of tea regain its popularity or
Adapted from :