Saturday, 19 May 2012

my Nana could feel us down here thinking of her

Shanghai tea house in Hamburg
While planning my trip to the US, I considered bringing enough tea from home. I have enough, and really don't need any new tea. But such is the quandary of a tea obsessive. I don't need any, but...I desperately want to try new tea. Although I write about tea shops in Germany and around Europe, I have several American tea sources I like. I use these trips while visiting family to take advantage of the places I like the most.

Here I was going through Upton Tea's website ordering one from Java and another tea from India...(a black one I'd never even heard of) and I'm sure I'll get around to talking about here. At some point, I intend to incorporate all the tea I'm drinking on my trip, but as you know I like to write about non tea-related things here, as well.

While I was wrapping up my order, Upton Tea suggested a sample of a tea that they were nearly out of. As I read about it, I thought, 'Oh, my. This is eerily appropriate for the purpose of my visit.' My maternal grandmother passed away recently, and the family is scattered all over. We arranged to meet this weekend. Despite what sounds like it could be a sad and depressing situation, we really had a good time celebrating her life rather then mourning anything.

'What does any of this have to do with tea?' you're wondering. I'm glad you asked. So the tea I read about was called China Pre-Chingming Golden Pekoe. But that'd mean nothing without what I'm going to tell you next. Here's the direct link to the description of the tea that was provided.

As it says:
The festival of Chingming (Qingming) is a 2500 year-old tradition in which people visit the burial sites of their ancestors to pay respect. It is significant in Chinese tea culture because it serves as a demarcation between a distinct pre-Chingming plucking period and the subsequent plucking period occurring after the festival date (usually around April 5). Pre-Chingming teas are prized for their delicacy and subtle, fresh nuances.
So, it's a tea for the ancestors. Honouring one's ancestors specifically. How ideal is this? Like I was almost led to it just in time for my trip. Then I read more about the holiday Ching Ming, which actually takes place every year on 5 April (Here's more about that in Ching Ming). We're weren't willing to wait till next year for 5 April to come rolling round again. We had ancestor-honouring to take care of.

I mentioned my Aunt Elise when I wrote getting into tea in Tucson, and I knew she and her daughter (my cousin Alyssa) enjoyed drinking tea and would appreciate the symbolism of doing so in my grandmother's honour. My mother really likes tea, so it was a foregone conclusion that she'd be game for just such an endeavour.

If there was ever a perfect scenario for throwing out the first infusion, this was it. I'd read years ago that many Taiwanese, as well as Mainland Chinese I assume, discard the first infusion as some sort of symbol to the ancestors. Something like you're giving tea to the spirit of those that came before you. Yet, I had no intention of doing it. I don't like throwing tea away.

But the funny/spooky thing that happened? I unwittingly spilled the first infusion. All of it. If that's how the ancestors want to get their first infusion from us, that's the least we could do for them. Then the actual next infusion was poured and enjoyed by me and these ladies (my mom and aunt) who've meant so much in my life.

The tea was a tad bitter the fist few sips, but that settled down quite nicely. A nice caramel taste in the cup, I definitely drank this in my grandmother's honour. She might not have understood what on earth we were doing with a Gaiwan and those little cups, but I'm hopeful my Nana could feel us down here thinking of her.

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