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So, its been a crazy past 2 weeks. I spent all waking hours trying to prep and then lead an educational trip to Inner Mongolia while managing Chi Fan for Charity, teaching on Saturdays, and training for my 9K. The great news is that the trip went very well, all 52 of us back home from ChiFeng safe and sound, smiling and stinking! *Post to come later. I also ran in my first official Chinese race, a Li-Ning 6K which according to my watch was actually a 7K, and got my personal best time! Seems like Heyrobics running camp is paying off.

I arrived back into Beijing at 5am on Saturday morning from an overnight bus and spent the next few days furiously trying to get the charity ticket sales going. That’s has been one of my biggest work challenges ever, as I am NOT computer savvy and don’t exactly have a paid staff to help. Stayed up til 3:30am on Monday night finishing the Paypal integration and headed to Hong Kong at 6:30am for the beginning of yet another trip. Unfortunately my plane was delayed and I arrived in late in Wenzhou for my connection. I skipped baggage claim and headed straight to check-in, but was sadly too late. Despite my misfortune, I got two lucky surprises:
1. I actually understood (in Chinese) what the woman was telling me. (That it wasn’t their fault because I didn’t book directly through the airline, the connection was too short of a time, and that I would have to pay to stay in the Wenzhou Airport hotel til the next morning because there’s only one daily flight from Wenzhou to Hong Kong. Terrible news, but at least I was also able to express how I thought it was the airline’s fault!)
2. Another Singaporean girl booked the same exact flight, spoke perfect English, and agreed to share the hotel room with me.

SO… my new friend Christina and I have been in Wenzhou for the past 24 hours, in a hotel room that we’re paying for but at least eating free meals courtesy of China Eastern. She somehow slept like 20 of the last 24 and I’ve been catching up on work via the surprisingly fast internet. I haven’t ventured out of the hotel because of work, but I’m not sure I’m missing much, as my text from a co-worker kindly informed me:
Sorry to hear about the hassle for you, on the bright side wenzhou is supposedly the ugliest big city in China.

Soon headed to Hong Kong to help set up and participate in Erin Manfredi’s charity dinner and visit the Kligler’s, I’m hoping for better luck!

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As promised, here is the information I have been compiling for the Hutong’s Maliandao Tea Tour (which I sometimes lead.) On the tour we discuss in more detail the tastes and characteristics of tea and the Chinese tea ceremony, while eating an incredible lunch and visiting local family shops.

Buying tea in China can be an overwhelming prospect… where do you start?

Most Chinese teas are grown in Southern provinces; however, large quantities are shipped north to Beijing’s Maliandao Tea Street for purchase and export around the world. Although a lot has changed since the emperors ruled, this tea migration still mimics the journey of the finest teas that traveled from southern plantations to the emperors and on to the Silk Road. Today, Maliandao still houses thousands of tea shops, mostly family-owned, that represent the seven main tea-growing areas in China (Zhèjiāng, Jiāngsū, Fújiàn, Ānhuī, Hénán, Sìchuān, Yúnnán) and vast array of Chinese teas. The street has become a bit more touristy since 2005, but retains its authenticity through being the largest tea distribution center in Northern China.

Tea Basics…
Did you know that all “true” tea comes from the same plant? To call that beverage in your hand ‘tea’, it must come from the camellia sinesis plant. The camellia sinesis plant originated in China, near the base of the Himalayas. India also has a camellia sinesis plant native to their base of the Himalayas. China and India are known for their teas because, like grapes, aspects such as the age and variety of the plant can affect the overall taste. While a tea tree 50-60 years old would be considered “new,” some Chinese tea bushes are over 800 years old, which is why it’s nearly impossible to create a taste similar to that produced by Chinese tea plants. True teas include white, green, oolong, red/black and pu’er. Herbal teas made from ingredients like mint, chamomile, rooibos or mate actually form another category of brewed drink, called a tisane. Although they are commonly referred to as teas, this is an incorrect name in the technical sense.

Soil, climate and variety of plant affect the different overall tastes of the tea leaves, but the most important elements of distinction between types of teas are oxidization and fermentation. Oxidization refers to the amount of time tea leaves are exposed to the air and the process of the leaves turning dark, similar to a cut apple turning brown. Fermentation refers to the decay of the tea leaf and is a process that is continuous after the leaf has been dried.

White Teas
White teas are popular abroad and originated in Fújiàn, China. These teas are made from only one variety of tea plant. They are first oxidized (exposed to the air until the leaves wilt and turn slightly brown) and are left in sun to dry. These teas are light and sweet, and have wide appeal. Often tea drinkers who are turned off by the grassiness of green teas enjoy white tea. It is a common misconception that white teas do not have caffeine. The white tea leaf itself retains more caffeine than other teas that are cooked during processing, but its effect it less strong because the caffeine doesn’t come out while brewing. White tea is becoming famous for its many health benefits, one of which is its beneficial effects for arthritis sufferers.

Green Teas
Green Teas have a flavor closest to the camellia senesis plant itself, and perhaps surprisingly, have the highest caffeine content. Green teas are picked, sweated, cooked and dried. The variety of plant, picking time, picking technique, cooking techniques and drying techniques, all produce different types and flavors of green tea. Common Chinese green teas include Lóngjǐng (Dragon Well) from Zhèjiāng, Bìluóchūn (Spring Snail) from Jiāngsū, Mǎofēng from Ānhuī and Mǎojiān from Hénán. Taìpǐng hóuguí (also from Ānhuī) is perhaps the most expensive and renown green tea because it is China’s national tea. It is hard to ship and handle because it is processed in long, thin strips and stands up straight during brewing. This tea can last up to ten infusions.

Japan also has a strong green tea tradition, producing varieties such as Sencha, a powdered green tea called Matcha and Bancha. Bancha is a lower grade Sencha that includes stems and Genmaicha is Sencha mixed with toasted rice. Unlike Pǔ’ěr, it is best to drink green teas as soon as possible after their harvest to retain the most flavor.

Oolong Teas
Any tea with less than full oxidation (like a black tea) is categorized as an Oolong. Oolongs typically come from Fújiàn, Guǎngdōng and Taiwan. The tea variety, amount of oxidation and rolling techniques all significantly affect the end flavor. For example, Yùlán is a type of Oolong tea made from a bush that produces a flowery, Magnolia-flavored tea. Rock Oolongs or Yánchá are from from Wǔyíshān Mountain in Fújiàn and are highly oxidized, dried and toasted. Wǔyíshān is known to have thousands of different tea varietals, and Wǔyí teas are robust with mineral characteristics. Dàhóngpáo, for example, is famous because the tea tree grows in red soil on the rock mountain. Ānxī, a county south of Fujian is famous for producing Tiěguānyīn or Iron Goddess of Mercy. These teas are lightly oxidized, then bruised and tightly rolled. They are fragrant, fruity teas with orchid or peach characteristics. Oolongs are sometimes mixed with the Osmanthus flower, which is a small, yellow, fragrant flower grown in Southern China. Taiwan also produces a variety of high-quality Oolongs, such as Dongding.

Red/Black Teas
Black teas, known in China as hóngchá (red tea) are fully oxidized and seen less in China than other parts of the world. Common Chinese black teas include Zhēngshān xiǎozhòng and Diānhóng (Yunnan Imperial). Chinese black teas are robust and often malty. Red/Black teas are more like what you would traditionally find in Western countries in a teabag. Teabags are filled with crushed and broken tea leaves (those which aren’t good enough for loose leaf tea), with a high surface area. This creates a sudden, full burst of flavor, which quickly dissipates, meaning the teabag is really only good for one steep.

Pǔ’ěr Teas
Pǔ’ěr is a fully cooked tea that is made in China, Hong Kong and Taiwan. The pǔ’ěr name comes from the pǔ’ěr region of Yunnan, where this tea was originally processed in imperial China. Known in China as heīchá (black tea), pǔ’ěrs are created through a microbial fermentation process that involves both fermentation by organisms growing in the tea and oxidization. Pǔ’ěr is picked and cooked, often heat-blasted in a wok, and then dried immediately in the sun. The sun drying process creates a base material called Saiqing maocha, which is then further processed into shóu or shēng pǔ’ěr. Shēng pǔ’ěr is steamed and pressed into caked or bricks of tea and then baked to remove any final moisture. Shóu pǔ’ěr goes through wodui processing, which was invented by the Menghai pǔ’ěr factory in the 1960s to mimic the flavor of aged shēng pǔ’ěr teas. The process was a state secret for many years. Pǔ’ěr continues to ferment and change in flavor the longer it is kept, and is the only tea to increase in value with age.

Nowadays pǔ’ěr may be the most famous tea in China, but it has only been this way for less than 50 years. The combination of Chinese investment into pǔ’ěr bricks, the introduction of this tea into the international markets via Chinese immigrants in San Francisco, and the perceived health benefits of pǔ’ěr have caused the price and popularity of pǔ’ěr to sky-rocket. In fact, in efforts to regulate the quality of pǔ’ěr for investment purposes, as of December 2008, only teas produced in Yunnan province’s 639 towns and 11 prefectures and cities can be labeled “Puer.”

You can now see disks of pǔ’ěr bricks in most tea houses and lots of souvenir shops around China, as it has become a national phenomenon. Oddly enough, pǔ’ěr stored in Beijing may be less dark and flavorsome than when stored in other areas of the world with different climates and more moisture!

*The Hutong offers an 8-day Biking, Culinary and Tea Journey to the beautiful countryside and tea plantations of Xishuangbanna, so you can experience tea country first-hand, and even pick your own tea brick, and supports Tea Journeys, an innovative tea company that offers private tea ceremonies, unique flavor infusions, corporate gifts and more! http://www.t-journeys.com/

Email: erin@thehutong.com for details.


Helpful Chinese Tea Words

茶 chá Tea
绿茶 lù chá Green Tea
乌龙茶 wūlóng chá Oolong Tea
红茶 hóng chá Black (red) Tea
白茶 bái chá White Tea
黑茶 hēi chá Pu’er Tea
普洱 pǔ’ěr Pu’er Tea
生普洱 shēng pǔ’ěr “uncooked” pu’er
熟普洱 shóu pǔ’ěr “cooked” pu’er
茉莉花茶 mòlihuā chá Jasmine Tea
菊花茶 júhuā chá Chrysanthemum Tea

香气 xiāng qì scent
香味 xiāng weì taste
口感 kǒu gǎn ‘mouth feel’

好喝 hǎo hē tastes good
不好喝 bú hǎo hē tastes bad
我喜欢 wǒ xǐ huan I like it
我不喜欢 wǒ bú xǐ huan I don’t like it
很浓 hěn nóng very strong
很淡 hěn dàn very weak

斤 jīn Tea weight measurement=500 g
克 kè gram
一两 yī liǎng 50 grams

茶壶 cháhú teapot
茶杯 chábēi teacup
盖碗 gàiwǎn traditional Chinese tea brewing cup
茶具 chájù teaware

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Compiled by and from: Sherry Zhang, Joel Shucat, Celestina Swanson, Sofia Courtney, Erin Henshaw, chinaculture.org and time.com

It’s the longest break period I have ever had between posts, which is a testament to how busy life in Beijing has become. A little over a year ago I was constantly lost, didn’t have a job or know a single person here, and was one visa run away from heading home. Now I know more about the gems of Beijing than many locals, have worked on an array of unique projects with different companies, and have become friends with some of the most inspiring and supportive people I have ever met. I’m happy to say that every challenge has made me a tougher and more competent person, and I’m truly confident that we made the right choice in moving here and sticking it out in China. My bank account and lungs may not agree, but my mind and spirit do.

I know for the future that my personal survival pack for transferring to any new city must include:
-A map
-A bike
-Good cell phone
-Supportive company (got lucky with this one)
-Foreign Grocery
-Fun exercise group (here I love Heyrobics, The World Heath Store and Yoga Yard)
-Expat website or publications (The Beijinger and more…)

In trying to think about this post, I also came up with a few “you know you’ve been in China too long-isms,” so here goes:

-When you stamp your foot in a hallway when there’s a light switch
-You refer to your co-worker “Seamouse” without batting an eye
-You stand on the western toilet, because it’s too dirty to sit from all the squatters, and you don’t mind striking up a conversation between stalls, either
-You ride on your bike opposite traffic and weave through buses like an idiot
-You don’t wince (as much) when seeing a 2-year old stand in the middle of a scooter on a family trip
-Despite all efforts, you eat way too much rice
-You realize that Chinese people are not always mad at each other, they just speak in tones!
-You have become (almost) accustomed to hawking, honking and loud speaking, and feel like other cities are quiet.
-You insert “mafan” into English sentences because the meaning is so much more appropriate than saying “annoying”
-The answer, “because it’s China” has almost stopped inciting fury in your mind…and probably will next year

I’m dealing with a period of re-adjustment in many ways. I thought I would only be in China for a year, am trying to strike a balance between life and career opportunities, and understanding how to balance my Western desires with Eastern interests. I often feel like I’m cheating a bit living here, because I have transitioned from eating street food, living cheaply and learning a lot about the Chinese language and culture to working primarily with foreigners, living a quite comfortable lifestyle and indulging in things like western groceries and pricey yoga classes. I also work a lot more and travel a lot less. While thinking about all of these things, I constantly consider both sides to moving back to the US or trying to work in another country…but I still feel confident in staying here now.

I mean, I’m leading a group of Indian tourists on a bar crawl on Saturday night and a German family on a journey through Tiananmen and the Forbidden city on Monday…where else could I do that?! In between I will be furiously finalizing details for an educational student trip to Inner Mongolia, visa run to Hong Kong, and bike tour of Yunnan! Upon my return, the Chi Fan for Charity website will go live and I will soon be managing more events at The Hutong, ah!

Alright, in the future I plan on writing more about navigating Beijing as an expat, Charity in China, Traditional Chinese medicine and Chinese tea…but for now I’m pooped. Below are photos that nicely illustrate my attempts to live up the best of both Chinese and Expat culture here; Anne Baughman and I hitting up all the Beijing sites, Danny Boselovic and crew who flew in from the US for one night of DJing at Club Latte, the charity dinner I planned with Chef Jeff Powell at The Hutong and The People’s Olympics (an awesome, outdoor, big-kid field day event that friends put together in Chaoyang Park.)

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