For more than a thousand years, China traded tea for Tibetan horses

April 10, 2018

If Americans count the colonial era before the U.S. Revolution as part of their history (not counting more than 15,000 years of the native civilizations that were already here when the colonists invaded from Europe), we start with the first colony at Jamestown, Virginia in 1607. That’s 411 years of history for the United States, but China’s recorded history stretches back more than 3,000 years.

What that means is China’s history is overwhelming rich with stories and one of those stories is about the ancient Tea Horse Road.

How many of you have heard of the ancient Tea Horse Road? I didn’t know about it until I first read about it in the May 2010 issue of National Geographic Magazine (NGM).

Tea from China arrived in Tibet as early as the Tang Dynasty (618- 906 A.D.). After that, the Chinese traded tea for Tibetan horses, as many as 25,000 horses annually.

But that isn’t what struck me the most about the NGM piece. For more than a thousand years, Chinese men fed their families by carrying hundreds of pounds of tea across the rugged Himalayan Mountains to Lhasa. Some froze solid in blizzards. Others fell to their deaths from the narrow switchbacks that climbed to the clouds.

This ended in 1949 when Mao had a road built to Tibet and farmland was redistributed from the wealthy to the poor. “It was the happiest day of my life,” said Luo Yong Fu, a 92-year-old dressed in a black beret and a blue Mao jacket that the author of the National Geographic piece met in the village of Changheba.

Did you know that the British stole the secret of making tea from China? That’s another story from China’s history.

Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of My Splendid Concubine, Crazy is Normal, Running with the Enemy, and The Redemption of Don Juan Casanova.

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Sipping Tea in China

December 6, 2017

The Chinese invented tea.  Then thousands of years later, the British stole the secrets of tea making, and you can read about that theft in For All the Tea in China: How England Stole the World’s Favorite Drink and Changed History.

However, whenever I’m in Shanghai, I enjoy visiting this shopping area. Go early; it gets crowded.

The Huxinting Teahouse has been around for a long time, and the last time this pavilion was restored was in 1784.  Then it was turned into the tea house in 1855.

The area in Shanghai around the Huxinting Teahouse is a good place to shop. Hint, do not pay asking prices. Be willing to bargain.  Start low and meet in the middle. Don’t be too cheap either, because the business you are buying from has to earn enough money to survive too.

And if you want to read my review of “For All the Tea in China”, click the link in this sentence.

To learn more about Shanghai, also click and read:
Shanghai
Shanghai’s History & Culture
Shanghai Huangpu River Tour
Eating Gourmet in Shanghai
Chinese Pavilion, Shanghai World Expo

Discover Wu Zetian, China’s only female emperor

Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of My Splendid Concubine, Crazy is Normal, Running with the Enemy, and The Redemption of Don Juan Casanova.

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Eating Turkey in China

November 22, 2017

Turkey is a big bird most Chinese seldom eat. However, eating duck and chicken is common. Duck is even considered a delicacy. In fact, the Unvegan says, “No trip to Beijing is complete without eating some Peking Duck.”

The Virtual Tourist said, “It is thought that Beijing roast duck, like the tradition of roast turkey in America and the UK, owes its origin to the roast goose that is still popular in Europe on festive occasions.”

Most Americans do not celebrate the Chinese New Year (the Spring Festival) and most Chinese do not celebrate Thanksgiving. After all, Thanksgiving is an American holiday that Canadians also celebrate, but earlier in October than when it is celebrated in the U.S.

CBS News.com reported, “America is the world’s biggest producer and exporter of turkeys. As a nation we’re also the largest consumers of turkey …” and “China is the second-largest market for U.S. turkey exports, reportedly buying more than $70.5 million in turkey meat in 2012.”

If you are visiting China during Thanksgiving, you have a choice between Peking Duck, which is easier to find, and turkey.

Go China says, “Just head to your local international grocery store (Jenny Lu’s in Beijing … Cityshop in Shanghai) and stock up on all the fixings: frozen Butterball turkeys, cranberry sauce and pumpkin pie makings. But you better do it fast, there tends to be a run on these items so if you’re shopping on the last Thursday in November, you’ll be out of luck.”

In fact, if you are visiting Shanghai, the Shanghai City Guide helps you find where to buy your favorite food. There are even Walmarts in China (if they sell turkey), and The Beijinger.com tells us where to get stuffed on turkey for Thanksgiving.

Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of My Splendid Concubine, Crazy is Normal, Running with the Enemy, and The Redemption of Don Juan Casanova.

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The Amazing Story of Pu-Erh Tea: Part 3 of 3

September 28, 2017

The fermentation of Pu-Erh tea demands a perfect mix of water, moisture, and air. This provides the conditions for the development of microbes and the necessary fermentation.

The fermentation process produces a substance called theaflavin often called the soft-gold of tea.

Clinical experiments show that theaflavin reduces blood fat and cardiovascular disease among other benefits.

In animal experiments, the mice fed theaflavin had their blood fat reduced by 30% compared to the control group’s 10% blood fat reduction.

Due to the process of producing Pu-Erh, the tea may be stored as long as a century without losing its flavor or health enhancing benefits.

The 110-days of fermentation for Pu-Erh is important to achieve the best flavor and enhanced, health benefits. The time must not be shortened. The temperature and humidity must also be stable and many warehouses are built partially underground to achieve this.

Pu-Erh got its name because it was first sold in a town by the same name.

I buy my Pu-Erh tea from Whole Foods Market or Sprouts Farmers Market, and I drink it early in the morning during my hour of exercise that ends with ten minutes of focused meditation.

Return to Part 2 or start with Part 1

Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of My Splendid Concubine, Crazy is Normal, Running with the Enemy, and The Redemption of Don Juan Casanova.

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The Amazing Story of Pu-Erh Tea: Part 2 of 3

September 27, 2017

Pu-Erh tea is mellowed by aging, the period by which it is transported and stored.

The largest, tallest tea trees in the world grow in the mountains of Yunnan. This region also produces black, green, Oolong and other varieties of tea.

The leaves for Pu-Erh tea are divided into three sizes, and the largest contain most of the health benefits.

For centuries, the process of making tea from picking, to washing, to boiling, mixing, pressing, clustering, baking, and packing has been improved to enhance the flavor.

Dao Linyin, the governor of Xishuangbanna Dai Autonomous region in China says, “Pu-Erh tea contains many vitamins. Very few Pu-Erh drinkers get high blood pressure.”

Standards for selecting the thickest broad leaves for Pu-Erh tea means only about 30% of the tea leaves that are picked pass inspection to be processed into the final product. This selection process is important because the wrong leaves will have a negative impact on the fermentation process.

The fermentation step in the process of producing Pu-Erh tea takes 110-days.

Continued on September 28, 2017 in Part 3 or return to Part 1

Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of My Splendid Concubine, Crazy is Normal, Running with the Enemy, and The Redemption of Don Juan Casanova.

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The Amazing Story of Pu-Erh Tea: Part 1 of 3

September 26, 2017

The Chinese Tea Shop says, “The history of Pu-Erh Tea can be traced back to “Pu Tea” of the Eastern Han Dynasty (25-220 CE) with the drying of leaves in the sun in Yunnan province. The plants in this region have large, soft leaves spaced far apart on large, tough stems. Today, Pu-Erh Tea with “large wild leaves” is highly prized.”

The mountainous region of southwest China in Yunnan Province produces this special tea.

The custom with Pu-Erh is to pick new tea and drink old tea. This refers to a practice unique for Pu-Erh tea of aging it in storage to obtain the unique flavor. The tea leaves are stored in a pile where the natural enzymatic breakdown process of fermentation begins. This creates heat and cooks the leaves adding a highly-prized complexity, depth, and smoothness to the tea.

In addition, modern science has recognized Pu-Erh for its health benefits beyond black tea. “The Pharmacological Elements: Vitamins B1, B2, C, and E, potassium, phosphorous, calcium, magnesium, aluminum, lysine, arginine, histidine, and cystine, linoleic and linolenic acids and  trace amounts of zinc, sodium, nickel, iron, beryllium, sulfur, and fluorides.”

In 225 A.D., when China was divided into the three kingdoms of Wei, Shu, and Wu, the prime minister of Shu led a military expedition to Yunnan.

Historical records reveal that many of the Shu troops came down with eye diseases. After they drank boiled Pu-Erh tea, it was reported that the troops were cured.

The leaves for this tea were from tea trees in Yunnan. Over time, tea drinking for health benefits became a tradition in other areas of China including Tibet.

There is an old saying in Tibet. “Better three days without food than a day without tea.” Historical records show that Tibetans started drinking tea during the Tang Dynasty (618-906 AD) in 641.

Tibet does not grow tea trees, so the famous Tea Horse Road from Tibet to Yunnan was opened. Over the centuries, Tibet traded thousands of horses with China for tea.

In the early 19th century, Emperor Daoguang named Pu-Erh tea as a “Divine Tribute to the Kingdom of Heaven”.

Continued on September 27, 2017, in Part 2

Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of My Splendid Concubine, Crazy is Normal, Running with the Enemy, and The Redemption of Don Juan Casanova.

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Subscribe to my newsletter to hear about new releases and get a free copy of my award-winning, historical fiction short story “A Night at the Well of Purity”.

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Chocolate Tofu Pie

March 21, 2017

China was making tofu from soybeans more than two thousand years ago.

Shape.com says, ““Generally, less processed soy products, like tofu, are safe and healthy for most people. On the other hand, heavily processed soy-based products should be consumed in moderation, if at all,” advises Ochner, who says edamame, fermented soy, and tofu are considered among the healthiest in the soy family.

When in China, I get up early to go to the nearest market that makes fresh soy juice and I buy it without sugar or sweetener added. There is no comparison. It’s warm. It’s fresh. It’s China. It’s different from the genetically altered, American, factory-farmed soy juice sold in American markets. That stuff is “yuk” and I don’t touch it.

The Chinese invented tofu, but some Americans are reinventing it. For instance, I was introduced to Chocolate Tofu Pie at Mother’s Market in Costa Mesa, California, and I was hooked,.

Back home, I figured out how to make it by experimenting. The following recipe was the result.

Ingredients:

  • Two 10-ounce containers of soft or silken organic tofu
  • Two four-ounce packages of baker’s, unsweetened chocolate—but use only six of the ounces. This chocolate has no milk or sweeteners added.  Use six ounces of the eight.
  • One bag of malt-sweetened chocolate bits. There are no dairy or refined sugars in this chocolate. Use half of this bag. If you skip this ingredient, add more of the baker’s, unsweetened chocolate.
  • Agave nectar. This low absorbing sweetener is absorbed into the body slowly. You can use any sweeter you want.
  • One package of ready-made whole-wheat pie crust (recommended for fiber). You could also make a pie crust out of dates and nuts (see next video)
  • Use one tablespoon of arrowroot for a thickener

Directions:

  • Mix the tofu in a blender with the arrowroot or another natural thickener.
  • Heat the chocolate in a pan (double boiler hopefully) until melted and pour into blended tofu and mix.
  • Add the Agave nectar.
  • Taste to make sure it is sweet enough and that the bitterness from the baker’s chocolate is gone. Add more Agave if desired. Our daughter enjoys this step the most, since she is the taster.
  • Blend until it is all one smooth color.
  • Pour equally into the pie pans.
  • Put pies in oven at 350 degrees for 30 minutes.
  • Let pies cool after cooking; put in refrigerator after they are cool.

The pies will be ready the next day.

Note: I usually shop at Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s for the ingredients used in the tofu chocolate pie.

Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of My Splendid Concubine, Crazy is Normal, Running with the Enemy, and The Redemption of Don Juan Casanova.

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