Monday, April 13, 2020

Eight treasure tea

Green tea leaves form the base for this traditional hot tea from the Hui parts of the Chinese Northwest. It is then seasoned with things like rock sugar, red dates, wolfberries, dried longans (dragon eye fruit), walnuts, apricot pits, and raisins. Additional herbs and flowers are added to add up to the nominal “eight” ingredients, but these are decided by local and personal preferences.

Other areas in China have their own versions, such as Sichuan. There the tea often contains some local green tea, ginseng, rock sugar, licorice root, wolfberries, raisins, red dates, and finally both jasmine and chrysanthemum blossoms. And instead of green tea, it sometimes is made there with black tea or even dark compressed teas like pu’er.

I’ve tried innumerable variations on this tea over the years, and there’s really no hard and set recipe, as it all depends upon the time of year, what you have available, what you are serving it with, and your personal tastes. But here is a basic recipe that you can tinker around with as you find the combinations you like best.

One thing I do want to point out is that a really good quality tea is important, as it provides that tannic edge that balances the sweetness and fruitiness of the other ingredients. Also, try to hunt down the small yellow chrysanthemums that are grown in Hangzhou, Zhejiang province (Hángzhōu júhuā 杭州菊花), as their fragrance is clean and fresh.

This tea is almost always prepared and served in thin, covered cups that hold around 8 ounces of water. The ingredients are added to the cups, the hot water is poured over everything, and the cover is placed on top. Then, you wait, for it takes around 5 minutes for the flavors to really bloom. More hot water can be added about halfway through the cup, and if you want more sugar, drop a few small pieces in too.

Eight treasure tea
Bābǎochá 八寶茶
Serves 1 (can be multiplied infinitely)

1 teaspoon good green tea leaves
2 small or 1 large Chinese red dates
1 teaspoon wolfberries
1 teaspoon rock sugar
1 teaspoon sweet apricot pits (nánxìng 南杏)
2 dried longans
1 walnut half, lightly crumbled
3 dried chrysanthemum blossoms
1 teaspoon raisins
Boiling water

1. The traditional way to prepare this type of tea is to place the tea leaves, dates, wolfberries, apricot pits, longans, walnut, chrysanthemums, and raisins in a 8- to 12-ounce covered cup before dousing them with enough boiling water to rinse them off. The cover is then angled against the cup as this water is poured off and discarded. Or, if you prefer, you can place these ingredients in a small sieve and simply rinse them under the tap before placing them in your cup.

2. Pour fresh boiling water over the tea’s ingredients, add the sugar, and cover the cup. Wait for a few minutes before sipping so that the tea leaves, fruits, and nuts have time to release their aromas and the sugar to melt. Angle the cover up with one hand to corral these ingredients as you gingerly hold your hot cup with the other and take your first sips. Most of these solids will sink to the bottom of the cup as they swell up, and you can remove the cover at that time, if you wish.