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Restorative brew is very much my cup of tea

Updated: 2023-05-05 06:21 ( China Daily )
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Owen Fishwick [Photo provided to China Daily]

With summer around the corner and the mercury slowly rising, it's always good to have a solid strategy of how best to avoid being caught in the oven. That is, stuck outside in the blazing heat in the middle of a scorcher of a day. While remaining indoors, blasting yourself full-bore with the air conditioning is one option, a slightly more traditional technique of regulating body temperature is my cup of tea. No, literally, it's my cup of tea.

I was particularly excited recently about a trip to southern China. Not just because of the opportunity it represented in terms of a much-needed break or the vast opportunities to gorge myself on the lovely cuisine found down yonder, but because of liangcha, or leungcha in Cantonese, or cooling tea in English. It's also known as Chinese herbal tea, though actual tea is rarely used in its preparation. What is used instead are ingredients such as chrysanthemum, honeysuckle, dried longan and lilyturf root — such ingredients that, when brewed together, often for hours, are believed to have medicinal qualities.

I always get excited about liangcha when heading to southern China, or Singapore, or Malaysia, because of its amazing capacity to remedy one of the most pressing issues for me in these places — the unremitting heat. Liangcha, well known by many in China because of popular brands such as Wanglaoji and Jiaduobao (don't get me started on the sordid history between these two), has been used for hundreds of years as a medicinal preparation that can regulate the body's temperature, as well as treat a range of other corporeal maladies.

As with many tenets of Chinese culture, liangcha is about promoting harmony and balance within the body and, in particular, ridding it of too much heat. And it's not just all about the weather. It is believed that different foods carry a different amount of heat or coolness with them, such as nuts, chocolate, cherries and chili all being considered "hot", and beans, bananas, watermelon and tea all being considered "cool". Liangcha can act like coolant for your radiator when it gets too hot, whether from the sun at midday, a particularly fiery curry or if a pesky illness is lurking around the corner.

My first experience with liangcha was many years ago in Hong Kong. I thought little of its tradition or medicinal qualities at the time and was, instead, lured by the giant golden gourds used to house the beverages. Now, Chinese herbal tea comes in many varieties and so it has many different tastes along with many different healing properties. My choice on that day was quite bitter and barky in taste, but nonetheless, being quite a bitter chap myself, I liked it.

It wasn't until the following year, while meeting up with my brother in Malaysia, did I discover the truly magical, medicinal side of liangcha. My family is a fairly disparate group, living in all manner of places around the world, and so, on the rare occasions that we are able to meet up, we tend to make the most of it. One morning, after a particularly convivial night before, I felt rather unwell. My head hurt and my innards ached. I headed out of the hotel to meet up with my brother only to have the oppressive Malaysian heat rub itself against me like an obese man in a sauna. The sweat poured and I feared I wouldn't be able to fulfill my brother's agenda for the day of haggling for watches at the outdoor market.

With vision blurred, I stumbled toward what I had assumed was a 7-11 in search of a bottle of water, when there it was in front of me — a shining golden gourd. I selected my herbal tea of choice — liver cleanser — and sure enough, my recovery was swift and the day passed without incident. And I have the restorative effects of liangcha to thank for it.

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