Last Summer I met a really cool fellow named Marty. He lives in Xining City in China (西宁市,中国*) and studies Mandarin and Tibetan. He is very passionate about improving the relationship between the Chinese, Muslims and Tibetans who all share this diverse region. According to Marty, the most popular tea among the Muslims in this area is called Ba Bao Cha (八宝茶) (Eight Treasure Tea).
A few months after Marty returned to China, a mutual friend named Nicole also traveled to China. She visited Marty in Xining and at his request brought a package of Ba Bao Cha and a package of Tibetan brick tea home for me to try!** (I promise to blog about the Tibetan tea later.)
Ba Bao Cha is a blend of: green tea, rock sugar, herbs, flowers and dried fruits. Different people have different recipes for Ba Bao Cha, but each recipe usually has eight ingredients because eight is a very lucky number in China. A recent Internet search revealed the follow ingredients to be the most common: wolf berry (aka goji berry), raisin, apricot, sesame, longan, walnut, jujube (aka red date), chrysanthemum, nasturtiums, honeysuckle, lemon peel, ginseng root, tangerine peel, and bingtang (aka candied hawthorn).
I decided to wait until Christmas morning to try the Ba Bao Cha with my wife, my sister and my brother in law. I now know that I didn't brew the tea correctly. I used "Chip" (a 20 ounce teapot) while the Chinese will typically use a 6 ounce gaiwan. Also, I reserved the sugar to mix in at the end because I normally don't like sweetened tea, but the Chinese will put it right into their gaiwan so that it will melt while the tea is brewing. Finally, I only steeped the tea for five minutes. That may have been OK if I had been using a gaiwan but our tea turned out far too weak brewed in Chip.
We decanted the liquor into our teacups and tried it first without sugar. It tasted fine, like a slightly smoky Chinese green tea, plus it had a nice fruity aftertaste. Then we each mixed in a heaping teaspoon of rock sugar. Unfortunately it was now way too sweet for our tastes. The sugar did bring out more fruity flavors but the cloying taste of weak tea and too much sugar was almost unbearable. We then steeped the Ba Bao Cha one more time for about 10 minutes... but the results were the same as our first infusion so we decided to move on to another tea.
I found the Ba Bao Cha to be a very interesting and pleasant brew. I only wish I had another package so that I could try brewing it again in the correct style. Someday, I may even be inspired to make my own Ba Bao Cha recipe.
* For this post I used "Simplified" Chinese characters instead of the "Traditional" characters which I typically use and study. The reason I chose "simplified" characters is because the Ba Bao Cha's packaging and the city of Xining also uses this system. In the "traditional" system treasure is written 寶 (as opposed to 宝) and Xining is written 西寧 (as opposed to 西宁).
** Dear Marty and Nicole, 谢谢你们. Thank you so much. I was very surprised and delighted by your exotic gift!