Tea

How does a cup of HK$68 milk tea taste? (iStock)

Song dynasty emperor's brewing secrets in a cup of HK milk tea

As far as a passion for tea goes, cultural historian Cheng Pei-kai meets his match in a tea shop owner in Sham Tseng. The tea connoisseur is an alchemist almost as he varies the ingredients and brewing methods to concoct the most memorable teas.
A general view of a village in Pu'er, Yunnan province, China, 12 May 2022. (Xinhua)

Can’t bear to part: A cultural historian in Yunnan's Pu’er

In Pu’er, Yunnan, if you get the chance to meet the Lahu, Wa, Yi, Hani or the Dai people, you’d be blessed, as cultural historian Cheng Pei-kai was, with their down-to-earth hospitality. Their ties to the land and their traditions are captured beautifully in Can’t Bear to Part, a folk song that every Pu’er native knows.
People tour the Autumn Moon on a Quiet Lake (平湖秋月), known as one of the “ten scenes of West Lake”, in Hangzhou, Zhejiang province, China, 2 May 2022. (CNS)

Cultural historian: Fish as large as submarines in Hangzhou?

On a walk in the deserted Lingfeng Temple near Yuquan Botanical Garden in Hangzhou, cultural historian Cheng Pei-kai muses that peace and quiet is a blessing but a kiss of death for small teahouses trying to make a living. Also, memories of days gone by may be blurry over time. Either that or things have really changed, and one must face the sad reality that the good old days can never be brought back.
A couple takes their wedding photographs on West Lake in Hangzhou, Zhejiang province, China, 13 December 2021. (CNS)

My longing for the elusive fish of spring

Cultural historian Cheng Pei-kai was looking forward to sampling seasonal dishes during his recent visit to Hangzhou. Alas, not all restaurants are well prepared enough to serve up every seasonal dish a diner desires. Better luck next time.
Tea fields in Anxi. (iStock)

Exploring Dehua porcelain and Anxi tea with a Dutchman

Cultural historian Cheng Pei-kai recalls his study tour in Dehua county sampling tea as he visited dragon kilns and pottery workshops. He was delighted to extend warm hospitality to a Chinese-speaking Dutchman who was there to learn about Dehua porcelain and Anxi tea.
Songluo tea-making process: an emphasis is placed on picking the right leaves and controlling the fire when roasting and drying the leaves.

Popular in the Ming and Qing dynasties, will Songluo tea make a comeback?

Songluo tea had once found ardent fans in the literati of the late Ming and early Qing dynasties. The emphasis on kneading the tea leaves into tiny balls after roasting is the secret to Songluo tea’s rich aroma and highly refreshing taste. Will modern audiences perhaps more familiar with Longjing or pu-erh appreciate this tea’s restrained elegance once more?
A pu-erh cake and cups of pu-erh tea. (iStock)

Pu-erh: The raw, the ripe and the Qing dynasty 'tribute tea' from Yunnan

Cheng Pei-kai recalls the mellow, earthy appeal of aged pu-erh, where tea leaves are compressed into cakes and left to ferment for decades to develop a complex flavour. Recently, he also got the chance to taste a young pu-erh — made with tea leaves from a tree that Qing dynasty soldiers used to guard and which was sent to the emperor as “tribute tea”, no less.
How do the ancient Chinese drink tea? (iStock)

How to drink tea like an ancient Chinese

Smoked bean tea, ghee tea or jade porcelain ground tea, anyone? Cheng Pei-kai turns tea-drinking conventions on their head as he shows that in history, tea appreciation was not just the domain of the sophisticated or the elegant. Common folk throughout the dynasties found innovative ways to have a cuppa, often with more than a few surprises tossed in.