Do you play the tea game? Feminini-tea. Spontanei-tea. Communi-tea. Plausibili-tea. Inani-tea. I don't know why I get such a kick out of that but I do.
For Christmas, Miss A. sent something special from Shanghai that I had never tried before - Chinese flowering tea balls. I had heard of these and seen photos, but never gotten to try one. With the cold weather we're having inside our 140 year old house on these freezing days, tea is perfect because it warms from the inside out. Especially tea that has a flower that smells of the warm and sunny tropics.
Since part of what's fun about this is seeing it "bloom," you're supposed to have a lovely clear glass teapot or at least a glass bowl. But I can report I enjoyed it just as much using one of the canning jars we use for cups around here. You put the teaball in, pour hot water over it, the teaball rights itself and slowly opens, revealing a flower in the center.
Here's what I found online about these special teas:
"Artistic flowering tea balls are handmade in China, using green tea and real jasmine, chrysanthemum, and other flower varieties - globe amaranth, lily, acanthus, carnation, or marigold.
This is a highly specialized, ancient art - flowers are sewn together, combined with green tea leaves, rolled and dried. The finished product is a tight roll of dried tea and flowers, sometimes round, sometimes mushroom-shaped. The tea is very aromatic, a nice sip, with the flavor redolent of the flowers.
When you have finished your teas, you may cover your bloom with cold water and display it for up to one week. Shelf life of the unbrewed ball is 3 years. Artistic flowering tea balls make beautiful gifts, or will make an unforgettable presentation at your next party."
It's boggling to think that somebody made these by hand, but it's clear that they did. Long tea leaves are gathered tightly around the bottom and sewn together - you can see the thread holding it in place. That tightly gathered bottom is the self-righting mechanism when the water is poured in.
My tea ball had in its center a chain of tiny jasmine flowers that had been sewed together so that they floated aromatically to the top. The taste was clear and light, even the second cup. I hadn't realized I was supposed to save the tea flower to display for my next party. But I did enjoy the knowledge that this kind of tea is accorded curative properties in traditional Chinese medicine. It cured me of freezing.
If you come to my house I'll give you some. Call it hospitali-tea.