Prior to moving to Asia, I lived about eight years in the UK. Needless to say that during my time spent there, I had countless cups of tea at work. It was the perfect and, in my opinion, very British excuse for a little break. Mostly the tea that was drunk by everyone at the office was English Breakfast. Builder‘s Tea, as I learned later, meant a very strong and sweet cup of English (black) tea, similar to the Asian style Milk Tea in taste (but definitely not strength). After many years of countless cups of black tea each day, I tried to become a bit healthier so tried to opt for a cup of green tea from time to time. I have to admit though that I never particularly liked the typical Sencha tea bags you‘d get in the supermarket. Too strong for my liking. While being pregnant with my second child, drinking green tea made me feel so nauseous that I completely stopped consuming it until we moved to Japan.
There I had many opportunities to drink Matcha – powdered green tea – either during traditional tea ceremonies (called sadō 茶道) or more casually, mostly as a foamy hot or chilled latte at tea houses or cafés. Even though I cannot deny the beauty of the intense green of matcha, I wouldn’t want to drink it on a daily basis. So I was grateful when I discovered Genmaicha – green tea with roasted brown rice – which you can easily find in any supermarket and which tastes delicious hot or cold. I was surprised to see many, often very young, Japanese kids drinking tea. It took me some time to figure out that this was mainly Mugicha (roasted barley tea) which is caffeine-free. You can find this tea at nearly every vending machine and it‘s also common to receive a cup of it (again, hot or cold – depending a bit on the season) first thing when sitting down in a restaurant. I got very used to it, however, never fully liked its, slightly bitter, taste. Japanese swear on the drink‘s near medicinal qualities. Always looking for healthy food and drinks to add to my diet, I could see myself giving Mugicha another try eventually though.
Whilst living in Japan, the real revelation for me, however, was Hojicha – roasted green tea. This tea is also commonly served complimentary instead of water at restaurants and can be either hot or cold. I love the roasted, nutty taste of Hojicha and when I smell the dried tea leaves, I am reminded of caramel. There is a sweetness to it. This tea works perfectly well with milk and any sweetener and I‘ve seen it popping up at café menus here in Hong Kong so it is definitely no longer a tea that can only be found whilst in Japan. Taking about tea and Japan, the ending -cha (茶 or ちゃ) literally stands for ‚tea‘ which is the same in Mandarin.
But let’s move on to Pu’er; the tea I solely wanted to write about initially. I re-discovered it here in Hong Kong when I visited the Lockcha tea house at Hong Kong park shortly after we moved. Traditionally produced in China’s Yunnan Province, a mountainous region in the Southwest, it‘s well-known for its rich and earthy flavour, a taste which some people upon drinking it for the first time might even declare as muddy or mouldy. That’s at least what I thought when I tried it for the very first time nearly 25 years ago. The tea‘s unique taste comes from the way it‘s produced; it‘s an aged tea. Whilst the tea leaves mature, a fermentation process happens simultaneously.
I came across Pu‘er for the first time when I was still in high school. My friend’s mum, who‘d grown up in Japan, was very much into tea and the whole family drank Pu‘er on a regular basis. When visiting I was regularly offered a cup of it but not drinking any tea at that age (besides some herbal ones as a remedy for sickness), I couldn’t find anything to like about the taste at all. For someone from a small town in Germany it tasted far too exotic, unlike anything I had ever tasted before. I am therefore grateful for the seven years spent in Asia that taught me to discover and appreciate all sorts of new tea varieties amongst so many other things.