Families around the world and throughout Guam gathered together on the eve of Chinese New Year on Tuesday evening to ring in the Year of the Pig, kicking off 15 days of celebrations.
For local restaurateurs and Chinese expats Selina Wang and Jeff Zhang, husband-and-wife owners of the hidden gem Chapter One in Tumon, that meant hosting not just customers but their entire family. The holiday is China's most important and most loved celebration, Wang says, two weeks when the entire family comes together after spending most of the year scattered around the country and even the world.
"Chinese people, we are very (caring) about family," Wang says. "Chinese New Year (is a) very good reason all the family members sit down together, have dinner together. ... All the Chinese family members sit down together ... because people are in different cities, so like Chinese New Year is the different one."
The Guam Daily Post was invited to experience a traditional Chinese tea ceremony, now available to all customers at Chapter One for about $30, with the option of being served by Wang – though Wang says the price will vary based on how long customers stay to enjoy their tea.
Wearing a ceremonial white, floral embroidered dress, Wang laid traditional tea snacks like peanuts and edamame around an elevated wooden tray, which held two small pots and an even smaller cup made of purple clay. The small size and the material both were chosen specifically to serve oolong tea, Wang says.
As she explained the history and traditions of Chinese New Year, Wang poured boiling water into the pots and cups until the water spilled over the sides. This round of rinsing prepares the pot so that it will be warm enough to steep the tea and to wash away any dust that might have settled.
Next, Wang opened a golden packet of loose-leaf oolong tea, which she poured into what looked like a typical, albeit tiny, teapot. She poured water in until the pot was nearly overflowing, then immediately poured the water into the second pot, a similarly shaped bowl that resembled a teapot with no lid. Then she poured the water over the tea tray, the top of which is simply a wooden grate.
The first rinse was complete, effectively washing the leaves in preparation for the actual tea. Wang moved onto the second rinse, a repeat of the first rinse but this time letting the oolong tea steep for just 15 seconds before pouring the water into the second pot, which holds the infused water separate from the tea leaves so that it doesn't become too strong and overly bitter.
"You can see different round tea has different color," Wang says, pointing out how the tea had turned a deeper shade with the second pour.
Wang then poured the tea in the second pot into a clay cup, which she presented to me. Upon accepting the cup, I quickly discovered that it was literally too hot to handle – a surprise, since Wang had handled the earthenware without so much as a grimace.
"It goes several rounds and it gets pretty hot," Wang says. "Your hand needs to be used to this temperature."
Smell and then sip
I gave it a few minutes and picked up the cup as gingerly as possible, smelling (it's a Chinese custom to smell tea before drinking) and sipping the fragrant and subtle oolong tea, as Wang went into more detail about the tradition of tea in China.
"Tea's a different culture in China, so people drink tea like always," Wang says. "Like the whole year."
Wang explained that in China, people rarely drink anything cold, water included, because it's believed that drinking warm water is better for your health. And centuries ago, before modern-day sanitation and water purification technologies existed, boiling water ensured clean water.
Gathering people together
Today, Chinese tea is steeped in history and culture, and continues its tradition of gathering people together, similar to the role of coffee in America.
"When ... we need to have a business meeting, so people ... were drinking tea while they're talking some business," Wang says. "Also, for example, we're very good friends and we have something we want to talk, like some very private things I want to share to you. And we will go to a very private tea house and sit down together while drinking the tea and talking."
But at other times – like now, in the middle of the cold, Chinese winter – tea is served in celebration, welcoming in a new year of happiness and prosperity.
"We want to have all the family members be (happy) in the new year, so we will have a really big dinner," Wang says. "All my family members will come to Guam ... because people love travel. ... Not always like, go back to your hometown but always like, go somewhere – but together."