By Yunus Kemp
BEIJING, July 6 (Xinhuanet) -- Milk, sugar of cream? Grande, Vente? Those are words never uttered at a Chinese teahouse.
At Starbucks, yes. Food and beverage chains all rely on add-ons to get the consumer hooked one way or the other.And of course, speed of delivery. Fast food, after all.
Ethiopian colleague Zacharias reckons Starbucks sells “watered” down coffee. and he should know -- coffee is a major export of his country.
Starbucks’ coffee may be a tad light for his expert coffee tasting palate, but brand recognition and their omnipresence in major cities means a continued dominance in the market at, perhaps, the expense of discernment.
A favorite St George’s Mall coffee joint is hands down better, brew-for-brew. My Argus bru Ryan Cresswell will attest.But taste, after all, is, subjective. Or, as a result of circumstance.
Tea has a much older presence than coffee in China.
With tea tasting ceremonies, suspend the Western palate’s craving for a familiar chai experience. For starters, there are no tea bags in sight.
Gongfu Cha or Tea with Great Skill relies on experts going into the Chinese mountainside and handpicking the next crop, one of which -- the Da Hong Pao tea -- sells for about RMB1,200 yuan (about 197 U.S. dollar) per 10g. It is a premium variety of the Wu Yi Yan Cha or Wuyi Rock Tea. Try ordering that Grande, with skim milk and no foam.
Then there are the clay teapots -- they are placed on a tea-table by the Tea Master, who starts by boiling mineral water which is first used to slowly pour over the teapots. After a few more elegant and mesmerizing swishes of the wrists and the picking of the tea leaves with the adroitness of a brain surgeon, the tea is served by the “master” in the smallest cups of tea ever that require a miserly three sips -- first sip: always start with tasting with the tongue, second sip: let it swirl in the back of the mouth, third sip: suspend with ceremony and bypass tongue and back of the mouth and straight down the hatch.
A typical tasting will include green tea, black tea, chrysanthemum tea and sometimes the rock tea, which is said to have cured the mother of a Ming Dynasty emperor. Legend has it that the emperor sent red robes to cloth the four bushes from which that tea originated, thus the Da Hong Pao tea.
Tea ceremonies, slow and methodical in nature are a throwback and pay homage to the old China. It may yet prove too languid an experience for a world hurtling along at great big, multiple megabytes per second.
The Aroma Zen Tea Club, an oasis nestled in a tree-lined Beijing hutong, doesn’t see too many young people through its doors. The fast-food coffee culture with its promises of quick fixes and free Wi-Fi is far more alluring. Old habits may die hard, but new ideas may just kill them in this ever-changing world.
*Yunus Kemp is the Deputy Editor of the Cape Argus. He is on a 10-month scholarship with the China Africa Press Centre