The Flavorful Tea Culture of China’s Dai Ethnic Minority

Yes, tea is good for you, but how so? (Image:  pixabay  /  CC0 1.0)
Yes, tea is good for you, but how so? (Image: pixabay / CC0 1.0)

The Dai people are one of many ethnic minorities who are native to China. The Dai live in the mountainous southwestern province of Yunnan, which shares borders with Vietnam, Laos, and Burma. The Dai enjoy tea flavored by the robust plant life of Yunnan. The three types of teas below sum up Dai tea tradition. Both the preparation and tea etiquette are special to the Dai people.

Bamboo tube tea

The Dai put sun-dried tea leaves into a bamboo tube, then roast it over a fire. After six minutes of roasting, the tea leaves soften in the tube. They then push the leaves further down the tube with a wooden stick, add new tea leaves on top, and continue roasting. This process is repeated over and over until the bamboo tube can’t hold anymore. After all the tea leaves are completely roasted dry, they crack open the tube and take out the cylindrical-shaped mass of tea leaves. When it’s time to drink, the flavor of the bamboo and spring tea leaves bursts in the mouth.

Flower tea

The Dai people love flowers, and Yunnan has many varieties. The ornaments they wear on their heads during the holidays are not precious metals or jade like other groups, but a bundle of delicately prepared fresh flowers.

The Dai use these flowers to prepare teas. Older Dai people drink tea made from the osmanthus flower. There are different grades of quality in making osmanthus tea. Golden osmanthus makes the best grade of tea, and only the oldest Dais can drink it. Silver osmanthus is the next grade down, and people who reach a certain age can drink it. Ordinary osmanthus is the lowest grade, and only married people can drink it.

Other types of flower teas include rose tea. Only the young drink it. Young Dais in love always drink rose tea together, especially when out on their first date. And jasmine tea in Dai traditions is only for married women.

Eight Treasures Tea is popular in part because of its many health benefits. (Image: Marc-Anthony Macon via flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0)

The Dai people love flowers, and Yunnan has many varieties. (Image: Marc-Anthony Macon via flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0)

Lemon tea

Lemon tea is known as the tea of romance. It’s the most romantic of the Dai people’s teas. The flavor of the lemon is sweet, tart, and citric, like the feelings of being in love. The lemon used has to be fresh, and the tea leaves must be of high quality. It’s best to brew it with Chinese-style black tea, and then add honey or ginger. Lemon tea tastes sweet and tart, and quenches your thirst. It’s also a good drink between meals. The favorite drink of most young Dai people is lemon tea.

Lemon tea is known as the tea of romance. It’s the most romantic of the Dai people’s teas. (Image: pixabay / CC0 1.0)

Lemon tea is known as the tea of romance. It’s the most romantic of the Dai people’s teas. (Image: pixabay / CC0 1.0)

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