Tea is the key to keeping warm: perfect remedy for colder weather
THE summer craze for "roughly beaten" lemon tea is coming to an end with Shanghai's rollercoaster-like temperature drop, and a hot cup of tea is becoming the much-needed accessory to warm up the hands and body in the chilling fall breeze.
The drop in temperature and humidity brings a series of dryness problems for the skin and body, and staying hydrated at all times is crucial for maintaining both physical and mental health. But plain water is tasteless and boring, so finding recipes to add flavor to it is great motivation to take extra sips every day.
Also, the Chinese lifestyle has a tradition of drinking hot water and beverages throughout the year, not just in colder months.
Tea is the first choice that comes to many people's minds when making water more flavorful. Chinese green, black and oolong teas are easy to make – simply steep in hot water for the right amount of time – and convenient to store and carry on the go.
Eight-treasure tea is a specialty in northwestern China. It's a hearty recipe with tea leaves as the base, and also includes rock sugar, rose flowers, goji berries, jujubes, walnuts, dried longan (or guiyuan), sesame seeds, raisins and apples.
The entire mix is steeped in boiling hot water and served in "tea bowls." You can sip from the edge of the bowl while holding the lid over the majority of the cup to filter out the rich ingredients.
The unique experience with eight-treasure tea is that every sip can present slight changes in flavor, as different ingredients are releasing aroma and flavor at different times. The tea is sweet due to the added sugar and preserved fruits.
Because matcha is made from crushed tea leaves, it actually packs higher caffeine content than regular tea bags.
Caffeine-free teas like rooibos are growing more popular in China, as many people cannot handle caffeine in the afternoon and evening. More cafés are offering alternative options like rooibos latte, the taste of which is very mild and milky.
Sweet and sour fruity teas are caffeine-free and boast refreshing tastes any time of year. Certain fruits are more suitable for brewing hot teas, like fresh oranges.
Steeping a few slices of an orange in hot water is a remedy for the season, as oranges are starting to arrive in markets in abundance. Sliced orange tea not only makes for a citrusy and flavorful drink, it also helps with the uncomfortable symptoms of a cold. It's crucial to keep the peel on when making the tea, and squeeze the juice out of both ends of the orange into a cup, because it's more difficult to cut thin slices at the ends.
The taste of hot orange tea is milder than lemon, it's less sour and feels much warmer.
When making orange tea, it's important to buy oranges that haven't been polished with wax. The peel should be natural and clean, and rubbing it with salt and rinsing thoroughly removes dirt and residue.
Ginger is a common ingredient in beverages, but people usually have a love-or-hate feeling toward adding it to their drinks.
Hot ginger Coke is a cold remedy where slices or shreds of fresh ginger are boiled into Coke. Fresh ginger slices can also be added to orange tea for more flavor and health benefits.
Herbal beverages with traditional Chinese medicine elements are very popular in China, especially in the fall and winter since the majority are served warm or hot.
Many people add goji berries to the mix and drink these beverages every day for the mild, sweet flavor and health benefits. The berries are packed with amino acids, carotene and vitamins – a superfood that's most often made into beverages and soups in Chinese culinary culture.
From a TCM perspective, goji berries pair well with chrysanthemum. Much sweeter concoctions especially popular with women consist of mixing goji berries with jujubes and dried longan. Dried hawthorn fruit rings are also suitable for brewing in herbal teas due to their pleasant acidity.
Goji berries are native to China, mostly produced in Ningxia Hui and Xinjiang Uyghur autonomous regions. The majority of higher-quality Ningxia goji berries don't sink in water. The fruit is very sweet, but a hint of bitterness lingers in the throat afterwards.
Chrysanthemum tea is a top choice for fall. The floral infusion is especially popular for its ability to soothe the throat and lungs. Chrysanthemum flowers mix well with other ingredients, because they have a gentle, light flavor.
Herbal teas that are suitable for soothing the throat also include honeysuckle tea, which clears heat and removes toxicity, monk fruit tea, which eases coughing and tones the lungs, and brewed pear drinks.
Pine needle tea made of spiky pine tree leaves is believed to help high blood pressure and support stomach health. It's a mild tea with light green color and a gentle fragrance, and TCM shops carry processed pine needles that are safer to consume.
Dried mulberries are infused in hot water to make sweet and sour tea that tonify the liver, eyes, hair and skin. The tea can also be brewed with honey, jujube, goji berries, dried roses and lemon for better taste and health benefits.
Herbs used in TCM-inspired beverages are most common for daily use, but it's a good idea to consult a TCM doctor for herbal tea recommendations based on specific health conditions and the appropriate time to consume them.
Staple-like beverages made of beans, cereals and grains are also very suitable for winter. Apart from making fresh soy milk with soaked soybeans, soy milk makers that many Chinese families have in their kitchens can also blend different varieties of beans and cereals to make delicious, thick drinks that are much like wintertime smoothies.
The leftover rice, for example, can be blended with water, toasted peanuts and a little bit of honey or sugar to make a warm rice drink.
The beverage can also be made with raw rice that's been soaked in water in advance, together with some glutinous rice for better texture as well as water (or milk for richer taste), sugar and nuts/seeds, which are blended together and then fully cooked.
All kinds of beans, grains and nuts can be made into warm and satisfying beverages, but the beans and grains should be soaked in water overnight. An all-black soy milk drink made of black beans, black rice and black sesame seeds is very popular.
And as the osmanthus season is finally here, adding some dried osmanthus flower or osmanthus honey in cereal drinks is a great flavor enhancer.