Chinese tea ceremony in Portugal

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Publishing a tea magazine comes with many challenges, but also amazing opportunities. One such opportunity came about last month when our friend, tea expert Jing Hong, came to Portugal. You know her from the first issue of eighty degrees magazine where she was featured in a photo essay from Yangshuo.

 

Jin Hong stayed in Lisbon only for a few days, but for us, it was a marathon of wonderful tea sessions and discussion. As a tea professional, she has worked with tea for over 10 years and has specialised in Chinese dark teas and wulongs, so it wasn’t a surprise that she brought over an impressive  variety of speciality teas, including precious wulongs and pu’ers.

Let’s face it — when you think Portugal, you don’t think tea. You might think ‘bica’ (a short, very strong espresso), there are many coffee die-hards here. You might, therefore, be surprised to know there is also a small, but growing tea community. And so, we grabbed this opportunity to organise a tea ceremony with Jin Hong at the wonderful local tea shop in the heart of Lisbon, Companhia Portugueza do Chá.

Sebastian, the owner, happily offered to facilitate this event and provide his tea haven of a shop for us as a venue. If you ever venture into Lisbon, it’s very much worth paying a visit to this temple of tea, designed the style of Catherine of Brangaza, the “mother of tea” in Portugal.

 
 


For this special event Jin Hong kindly offered two truly rare teas.

There was a selection of rou gui wulongs from Wu Yi Mountain, namely Horse Meat, Tiger Meat and Beef Meat. These traditional names — new to our ears — caused some laugher and left the bemused audience lost when asked to choose which they would like to try. Collectively, we opted for Horse Meat — a wulong, named after a cliff on the upper part of the Wu Yi Mountain — called  Horse Head — which is very rare and hard to come by.

It boasts an incredible floral aroma Jin Hong awoke by shaking the dry leaves in a heated gaiwan before the first brew. This is done not to wash the tea leaves, but to allow the leaves to hydrate and open in the steam. Having a specialist like Jin Hong in the room, our teas were prepared the gong fu style, naturally!

 
 

The true pleasure (and a real necessity) of tasting such exquisite teas lies in sharing. High quality wulongs are intense and can be brewed 20 times over — a session for one or two people may be overwhelming (in the spirit of not wanting to waste such high quality leaves). Thus, a larger audience is ideal.

Thirty minutes of cup-flipping, aroma-sniffing and liquor-slurping, we moved onto the star of the evening — a pu’er from Bingdao (lit. “Iceland”, a village in southwest China) named the Queen of Teas. This wonderful, pressed, aged raw pu’er took the audience like a storm. Most participants had never tried a raw pu’er before — this act may not be easy to follow! Again, a limited production tea from the heart of Yunnan province, it was truly spellbinding.

I had had many experiences with aged teas and in my case pu’er teas have always been a hit-and-miss kind of deal, so, naturally, I was approaching this tasting cautiously. Being a lover of good wulongs, for me there was going to be no competition from the onset. However, this experience changed everything. Horse Meat is an exquisite tea, but the Queen of Teas is named so for a reason. It was a rollercoaster for our taste buds. The delicate and complex flavour with a hint of nuts left a beautiful honey-like aftertaste without any bitterness at all.

Maybe it was the keenness of the participants, or the kindness of Sebastian and the beauty of his shop, or perhaps the guqin music playing the in the background that made this event so special. Whichever the case, it was an absolute pleasure to work with Jin Hong and we can’t wait to do this again!

 
 
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