He Became She and then Came Tea

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Our 2012 spring pluck Tieguanyin Clear Fragrant and Tieguanyin Traditional teas are here!
I thought it would be appropriate to announce the arrival of these teas with an updated post that appeared on this blog several years back.

Many tea enthusiasts have discovered the delightful taste of one of China’s most famous oolong teas – Tieguanyin. This semi-ball rolled style tea is made in twenty-seven tea villages located in the vicinity of Anxi in southern Fujian Province. This region is comprised of steep mountains, deeply-cut valleys and terraced tea gardens as far as the eye can see, and it is serious tea country. Many households are engaged in the tea business in one way or another, and when the plucking season is in full swing, the activity in these villages ramps up to match the rhythm of the tea gardens.

Tieguanyin is manufactured in both modern and traditional oxidation styles. Some of these teas are roasted and perfect for drinking now. Roasted tea, including Tieguanyin, can be aged – it will become richer and more flavorsome with the years. Some Tieguanyin is un-roasted, and features intoxicating, floral aromas in the cup.These teas are best for drinking right away.

The fresh leaf from the Tieguanyin tea-bush cultivar differs in several ways from the leaf of other tea bush cultivars grown in the Anxi region, such as Ben Shan, Mai Xie and Huang Jin Gui. The fresh leaf from Tieguanyin tea bushes is both strong and yielding at the same time. It is thick and requires more kneading and twisting in the processing than the fresh leaf from other Anxi area cultivars. The fresh leaf is given a slower oxidation and a long processing time, factors that contribute to the soft, apricots-and-peaches character of Tieguanyin.

Tieguanyin is a great example of how terroir ( soil, climate, weather, tea bush cultivars, history and tradition and more ) contributes unmistakable personality to each tea. The influence of terroir works with the efforts of tea workers in the tea gardens and tea factories to produce distinctive tea that taste like no other tea made in China.

But how many of you know that this tea is named for a Chinese god – Guan Yin – and a god with a very interesting past, to boot ?

A few years back, I had the opportunity to sit in on a class on Buddhist Thought at Smith College led by the Buddhist scholar, Peter Gregory. The topic for the semester was thus: why was the Indian bodhisattva Avalokiteśvara slowly transformed ( ‘domesticated’ ) by Chinese Buddhists from a male deity to a female deity named Guan Yin sometime during the 8th century?

In an attempt to come to an understanding of ‘how’ and ‘why’ this gender re-imagining occured, we studied Buddhist canonical sources and historic imagery to discover how these texts and depictions interacted with Chinese ‘beliefs’ and popular notions of gender, family, filial piety, and cosmic resonance.

I thought that somewhere within the rich mass of thought and ideology that has shaped China’s culture, social order, philosophical and religious views we would find the reason ( the ‘ahaa’ moment ) why this deity who entered China as a young man was re-imagined in several ways ( first as a gender-less guardian of the human race, then depicted as a devote Chinese princess Miaoshan ) before she lastly became a compassionate Mother who provided solace to all who needed her but especially to women.

But, as is often the case with issues of religion, there is no one concrete answer to this question. Many thoughts come together on this topic. Additionally, adding to the mystery and ‘strangeness’ of this gender transformation is the unlikeliness of this occurrence even taking place in the Buddhist religion where males have always held the dominant roles in the hierarchy. It was men who  interpreted Indian Buddhist dogma and practice and applied it to China. Women did not occupy positions of rank or importance in the early days of Buddhism. So why then was a powerful and compassionate female deity created out of a male god?

Perhaps the reason is actually quite simple. Some Buddhist scholars make a believable case for the idea that devout Chinese women needed a powerful god ( not just a lesser god or local, village gods ) that they could appeal to for assistance and compassion in times of need, and that this contributed to the transformation of Guan Yin.

Placing a female god high in the ranks of a ‘bodhisattva’ would have added validity and solace to women in Chinese society at that time, and would also have created an inclusive community that allowed women from all communities to feel connected to a female deity who was, unlike local gods, watching out for the interests of all women across China. While the cult of Guan Yin continues today with both male and female followers, it is mostly middle-aged women who worship Guan Yin and make the annual pilgrimages to pay respect and offer incense for favors sought or favors granted.

So, for those of you looking for a toothsome topic ( and a great exercise to get the little grey cells moving ) to delve into over the fall and winter months, I highly recommend a trip to your local library for some literature on this topic. In class we read three books: Kuan-Yin: the Chinese Transformation of Avalokiteśvara by Chun-Fang Yu;  Personal Salvation and Filial Piety by Wilt L. Idema, and The Legend of Miaoshan by Glen Dudbridge, plus many papers and articles exerpted from scholarly journals.

But, back to Tieguanyin, the tea. Legend has it that the Qing emperor Kangxi
(r. 1661-1722) prayed to the goddess Guan Yin for the return of his health during a bout with smallpox. She answered his prayers and later appeared to him in a dream. In the dream she brought him to a place where the farmers were very poor but where a few tea bushes grew on a mountainside. To repay her kindness, she asked him to help the people of this region cultivate these tea bushes and prosper from it in her name.

Guan Yin then showed the emperor that the leaves of these tea bushes bore a marked impression. He plucked one from the bush, after which the leaf bore the impressions of both of their thumbs. These two tiny marks have always distinguished the leaves of true Tieguanyin bush varietals. Emperor Kangxi proclaimed Tieguanyin famous for all eternity in China, and from that time the Tieguanyin tea industry has thrived. The Qing emperor Qianlong ( r. 1736-1795 ) selected Tieguanyin to be one of his Tribute teas. *

* from The Story of Tea, Ten Speed Press, 2007

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Our first 2012 China teas have arrived!

Yesterday the delivery man lugged 5 large boxes of tea into the store. When he asked us what was in them, and we said TEA he looked unimpressed. I didn’t have the heart to tell him how many more of these boxes he will be bringing us in the next few weeks.

So, now, finally, the long winter wait is over! The China spring tea harvest is beginning in earnest.

In Western China teas from Yunnan and Sichuan Provinces are coming to market quickly and in great abundance. Eastern China tea regions are beginning to buzz with energy as the demands of the harvest increase each day.

Our first teas to arrive again this year are from Yunnan. Our ever-popular, fresh, sweet-tasting,and slender Yunnan Spring Buds are back (did I mention reasonably priced ? ) and this year we will have a sweet, flavorsome modern-style Yunnan Bai Mudan white tea once again. This is one of the prettiest we have ever had, and something delicious for the fans of last year’s Yue Guang Bai. We have missed this tea so it is good to have it back again.

Chinese Year of the Dragon

2012 is the Chinese Year of the Dragon.

In Chinese mythology, dragons ( long ) are the largest supernatural creatures, embodying strength and authority. It is said that Chinese dragons are comprised of the features of other creatures: head of an ox; eyes of a prawn; ears of the elephant; mouth of the donkey; horns of a deer; whiskers of man; body of the snake; skin of a fish; feet of the Phoenix bird.

Nine Dragons, Chen Rong, Chinese, first half of the 13thC, Southern Song dynasty, dated 1244, ink and color on paper. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

In the West the dragon is considered evil and dangerous, a malevolent being that must be slain. In the East the dragon is seen as a benevolent creature, and one that is revered as a magnificent and powerful protector of all beings.

Chinese dragons perform beneficial acts for mankind, such as generating clouds and rain which replenishes the earth and brings forth vegetables, grains…. and tea. But an angry dragon can bring on storms and water related disasters so it is best not to cross them.

The mysterious dragon can wish himself visible or not, large or small, slender or stocky. Dragon are usually depicted carrying a pearl in their mouth or under their chin, or with a pearl hovering just out of their reach. Scholars debate the meaning of the pearl, and some believe that it represents the wisdom imparted by the Sakyamuni Buddha to the Naga King (a serpentine, cobra-like creature with a human head), the first creature to receive Buddha’s teachings. When Buddhism became rooted in China, the Dragon replaced the Naga in texts and imagery.

Dragons are beloved symbols in China, and dragons images are depicted at all levels of high art such as jade carvings and scroll paintings. Chinese emperors chose to align themselves with the power of the dragon and chose the symbol of the dragon to imply their supreme authority.

In Chinese astrology, dragon years promise success, high achievement, good fortune and prosperity.

Nine Dragons, Chen Rong, Chinese, first half of the 13thC, Southern Song dynasty, dated 1244, ink and color on paper.  Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

Get your dragon on with our Chinese green teas – Longjing ( Dragonwell), Dragon Whiskers and Curled Dragon Silver Tips

                                                                                  

Yongde-cha

Tea enthusiasts looking for a refreshing tea to drink hot or iced during these hot days of summer, would be well served to consider this light, refreshing, regional, loose-leaf interpretation of sheng Pu-erh.

This tea is made from the Dayeh variety of big leaf and was plucked in the Yongde region of Lincang Prefecture in southern Yunnan. The leaf has undergone short withering or wilting, and a quick de-enzyming ( kill-green step ) in a tea firing pan. The leaf was then removed from the pan and rolled and twisted by hand to generate internal cell changes within each tea leaf. Finally, the leaf was given a partially drying in the shade  ( to allow the residual moisture to begin natural fermentation ) and then final drying in the sun.

Yongde-cha is similar in appearance to mao cha, the semi-processed, stable leaf that is used to make Pu-erh, but the difference is that Yongde-cha is finished tea.  Those who had the pleasure of drinking the charcoal-fired Ba Da Ba Ba Cha sheng Pu-erh that we featured last year should know that this tea is reminiscent of that, but it has a lighter, sweeter flavor without the influence of the charcoal-firing.

This tea is only lightly fermented and pleasantly so. In fact, the level of Pu-erh ‘taste’ in this tea is more like a flirtation than an exclamation point. It is delicious drunk plain as an easy-going, refreshing and light sipping tea.

Harvested from old-growth tea bushes during the spring of 2007, this tea has gained some age and has been stored in superb conditions. It is aged just enough to have given up its youthful, woods-y astringency. Drink now or keep another year or two or three.

Curious about loose-leaf Pu-erh and Yongde-cha? Click below for more information.

http://www.teatrekker.com/shop/pu-erh-br-yongde-cha/

The First of Our 2011 Spring Teas from China have Arrived !

YES !  Tea arrived to our store late yesterday, April 5th, which was coincidently the day of the Qing Ming Festival holiday in China. We felt that it was a happy coincidence that the first shipment of our Pre-Qing Ming teas ( tea plucked before April 5th ) should arrive on such a celebratory day.

We spent all day today opening boxes, tasting tea, taking photographs for the website, and generally preparing the tea for sale.  Now it is time for everyone to celebrate the arrival of the new tea.

Keep tuned for more new 2011 arrivals in the next few weeks, and some very special Taiwan oolongs from the fall and winter 2010 season.

This is a listing of our new season teas:

 

 China Green Tea:

2011 Pre-Qing Ming  Sweet Dew Gan Lu – Sichuan Province

2011 Pre-Qing Ming Taimu Shan Xue Ya ( Snow Sprout )  – Fujian Province

2011 Pre-Qing Ming Taimu Shan Spring Beauty (Mao Jian ) – Fujian Province

2011 Pre-Qing Ming Yunnan Spring Buds – Yunnan Province

2011  Pre-Qing Ming  Zhenyuan-Yi Spring Green – Yunnan Province

China White Tea:

2011  Pre-Qing Ming Sun Dried Buds – Yunnan Province

2011  Pre-Qing Ming Fuding Wild Curly-leaf – Fujian Province

Please click here to read more about these delicious 2011 green teas on our China green tea listing page

And click here to read more about our 2011 China white teas