THE CAPITAL • ANNAPOLIS, MARYLAND • HOMETOWNANNAPOLIS.COM • CAPITALONLINE.COM
Usher in Year of the Rat with tea
Published February 04, 2008
Leave it to the Chinese to know exactly when we've hit the doldrums between major holidays. Hallowthanksmaskah Season is over. Presidents Day Weekend and the Burning of the Socks are still weeks away.
What to do?
Learn to say, "Gung Hay Fat Choy!" Which, in Chinese, means Happy New Year! The official Chinese New Year of 4706 starts Thursday. In China, everything slows down for two weeks to observe the changing of the lunar calendar. It was begun by Emperor Huang Ti in 2600 B.C. when he introduced the first cycle of the Chinese zodiac.
This is the Year of the Rat. Locally, Jing Ying kicks off the New Year on Feb. 11 with a week of evening workshops. To celebrate, Billy Greer, owner of Jing Ying Institute, has scheduled performances, martial arts demonstrations, classes and workshops. The institute is at 1195 Baltimore/Annapolis Boulevard in Arnold, near Chesapeake Academy. An open house is scheduled for Saturday, Feb. 16. with a Lion Dance performance, Kung Fu weapons, forms demonstration and an introductory class.
Some workshops are free, others have a registration fee. Details are available on Jing Ying's Web site, http://www.jingying.org/ or by calling 410-431-5200.
During the events, Jing Ying students will be passing the hat. The past three years, Jing Ying has raised money for the Indian Ocean tsunami and local charities ARC and SPAN.
This time, the cause is closer to Mr. Greer's heart. His youngest brother, Al, was paralyzed from the waist down in an auto accident 30 years ago. Despite his injuries, Al Greer became a self-sufficient wheelchair athlete. He works to support himself and pay his mortgage. More recently, neuropathy - damage to the peripheral nerves - has developed in his left arm. The limb is gradually losing strength and mobility.
According to his big brother, "Al has already found a way to help him keep much of his independence. He has been approved by the state to own a service animal - specifically a service monkey." A little capuchin monkey, the type that used to work with organ grinders, not a chimp or gorilla. Capuchins can be trained to retrieve items from high shelves, turn pages in a book, bring over a wheelchair or grab a drink from the fridge.
Capuchins cost $25,000 to $35,000 to train. Jing Ying hopes to raise at least $5,000 for the monkey's training and care.
One of the workshops is the Tea Tasting from 7 to 9 p.m. on Wednesday, Feb. 13. Registration fees are $10.
Billy Greer dropped into the nearby office of Classical Acupuncture & Wellness Centre at 1300 Ritchie Highway, run by Lynayn Mielke, to sip some tea with her. Yes, she's named for the late Ayn Rand, author of "Atlas Shrugged" and "The Fountainhead." Ms. Mielke also owns the East-West Tea Emporium.
Her sunlit antechamber is nearly all white - white walls and wicker furniture. The better to show off red and black Asian artworks. Candles in red containers give off a light, clean fragrance.
Surprisingly, Ms. Mielke finds little to fault with Lipton tea products - except the instant stuff that contains mostly chemicals and very little real tea. She prefers more exotic fare, though, including a rare tea that's been aged for several decades and costs $3,000 a pound. Holy Tea Bag. That makes the $300 a pound Kopi Luwak or Civit coffee a relative bargain. (Just don't ask what Kopi Luwak is made of.)
"I belong to an underground community of faithful followers of tea. I'm a lifelong lover of tea," she explained. "When I became an acupuncturist, I studied the health benefits of tea. I ordered teas for my clients to drink and then I added a tea shop to my practice. I host educational tea tastings."
Mr. Greer and Ms. Mielke meet during an event hosted by the Greater Severna Park Chamber of Commerce and clicked instantly. "She turned me on to pu-erh teas," smiled Mr. Greer. "They are aged black teas."
Ms. Mielke, a 1983 graduate of Severna Park High School, pulled out special black teas that are cultivated as tribute "gifts" for high-ranking Chinese officials. Whether the recipient is an empire employee or communist commander, tea is an integral part of Chinese politics and social life.
One tea is, perhaps, ideal for Marylanders - it's called "Hairy Crab." It's an Oolong black tea composed of whole leaves that have been hand-rolled, fermented and dried without use of any chemicals. Up close, the still moist leaf is twisted to look like a hairy crab, a Chinese delicacy. She offered a taste of the tea - it had a deep, mellow buttery flavor. Surprisingly, some Oolong teas can be rebrewed up to eight times.
Peach White tea is completely different. The tea leaves are smaller as they are newborn buds when plucked. They are air-dried with peach slices draped atop the leaves, infusing them with a sweet, peachy flavor and aroma.
The tea in tea bags is a type referred to as CTC - cut, torn and curled.
Tea leaves, she'll tell anyone who attends the Tea Tasting Workshop, are plucked from camellia and sinensis bushes.
She said tea is surprisingly easy to brew. Ms. Mielke held up one "pot" that looked a lot like a plastic travel mug. In her other hand, she had a Ying teapot, handcrafted from dark clay.
Despite what mama told you, it's okay to slurp your tea if you want to enjoy its full panapoly of "nuances, flavors or notes."
Don't try this at home - "Professionals cup their tea, slurp and spit, just like professional wine, coffee or Scotch whisky tasters," she said. "Everyone else can swallow."
"In Chinese culture, pouring tea for someone else is considered one of the nicest things you can do. It is a huge gesture of friendship and respect," Ms. Mielke said. "Tea has an amazing ability to bring people together. It leaves you energized, yet calm."
Wendi Winters is a freelance living on the Broadneck Peninisula.