Wine 1: Jinjiayu Wine (金罈于酒)

This was made in the household of Yu Minzhong1. There are two types: sweet and astringent, with the astringent one being the better. It is so incredibly delicate and refreshing that the sensations go straight to one’s bones. Its colours are that of pine flowers2, and its flavours are similar to Shaoxing, but much cooler and fresher.

金罈于酒
于文襄公家所造,有甜澀二種,以澀者為佳。一清澈骨,色如松花。其味略似紹興,而清冽過之。

Notes:
1Yu Wenxianggong is the postumost name of 于敏中, the head of the Emperor’s grand council. He was just two years Yuan Mei’s senior but passed away almost 20 year before him.

2This is a direct translation since songhua could either refer to the staminate (male) pine cones of the pine tree or the abstract crystalline patterns reminiscent of pine branches or needles (e.g. on pidan). In fact, in modern slang, the term alludes to male homosexual love. The first meaning is most likely though it’s not clear whether this is simply referring to the cones’ yellowish-brown colour or if the wine is clear or opaque.

Wine (酒)

It is in my nature to not drink. And since I am strict and discerning in what I consume, I have in turn gained a deep understanding and knowledge in the flavours of wines.1 Today, Shaoxing is ubiquitous all the way from the sea to deep inland, but considering the delicate freshness of Cang wine, the cool purity of Xun wine, the fresh sweetness of Chuan wine: how could they be ranked lower than Shaoxing! In general, wine could be compared to a old and aged Confucian scholar: the older the more precious. That from a freshly opened jar is the best, as indicated by the proverb: “Wine heads, tea feet”.2

However, when wine is inadequately warmed, it will taste too cool, if over-warmed it will taste weak and flavourless, and when warmed too close to the flames its flavours will change. For the best results one should warm it by simmering it in water, carefully covering the opening of the warming vessel where the vapours could escape. I have chosen the more drinkable wines and listed them below.


余性不近酒,故律酒過嚴,轉能深知酒味。今海內動行紹興,然滄酒之清,潯酒之冽,川酒之鮮,豈在紹興下哉!大概酒似耆老宿儒,越陳越貴,以初開壇者為佳,諺所謂「酒頭茶腳」是也。燉法不及則涼,太過則老,近火則味變,須隔水燉,而謹塞其出氣處才佳。取可飲者,並列於後。

Notes:
1 Whether Chinese rice wine should be even call “wine” continues to be a matter of active debate in the Chinese and Chinese culinary studies, with otherwise sane and well-meaning people arguing that it should be call everything from “liquor”, to “ale”, and even the long-winded “Chinese alcoholic beverage”. My own belief is that the product itself is unique enough from a manufacturing and chemistry standpoint that no Western term can adequately encompass it, and the best way is to adopt the Chinese word “jiu” and leave it at that. However, given that these blog posts are for laypersons mostly likely not directly embroiled in the academic terminology tussle, I’ve decided to just use the well-worn English term (more than a century) for referring to Chinese alcoholic beverages “wine”.

2Not sure what this is supposed to mean. Maybe the aged wine is best at the beginning when the jar is cracked open (like vintage port) and tea is better nearer to its end (when the tea leaves has fully opened up)?

Tea 4: Dongting’s Jun Mountain Tea

The tea produced in Dongting’s Jun Mountain has the colour and flavours similar to Longjing, however the leaves are slightly broader, much greener, and the quantities plucked are very low. Military console Fang Yuzhou once conferred me two jars of it, and indeed it was incredibly good. Afterwards, others have given me this tea as gifts, but they were all not the real thing from Jun Mountain.

洞庭君山茶
洞庭君山出茶,色味與龍井相同,葉微寬而綠過之,採掇最少。方毓川撫軍曾惠兩瓶,果然佳絕。後有送者,俱非真君山物矣。

Tea 4a:

Other teas such as Liuan, Yinzhen, Maojian, Meipian, Anhua could be more or less dismissed.

此外六安、銀針、毛尖、梅片、安化概行黜落。

Tea 3: Changzhou’s Yangxian Tea

Yangxian tea has the deep colour of green jade, the shape of sparrow tongues, and look like large grains of rice. Its flavour is similar to Longjing but slightly stronger.

常州陽羨茶
陽羨茶,深碧色,形如雀舌,又如巨米。味較龍井略濃。

Note:
I think this is yet another green Longjing-like tea. Yuan Mei prefers this class of teas, an we shall see.

Oops!

Someone asked me last week whether there were any recipes in the Suiyuan Shidan for rice cakes to which I said: “Well, yeah, of course!” But while I was looking for the specific translated recipes here along with their links, I discovered to my surprise that I completely missed posting the entire chapter on Appetizers! And to think, it’s one of the most interesting chapters of the book, which includes a whole bunch of cakes, breads, and pastries, many of them with Central Asian and Persian influences.

So, I take back how I will be done posting translations of the Suiyuan Shidan this year. Considering that there are around 50 other sections left, it will be another half a year before everything is posted and finished-up. To keep things well grouped and ordered, I will be finishing the Tea and Wine chapter before going back to finish up Appetizers. And here, I was thinking that I would be done and ready to announce the next project…

In any case, onwards ho!

Tea 2: Longjing Tea

The mountain teas of Hangzhou are all delicate and refreshing, but the ones from Longjing is the most well known. Each time I return to my place of birth to visit the family tombs, upon meeting the grave keeper he would served me a cup of tea that is clear as water with the greenness of the tea leaves. It is something that even the wealthy could not hope to savour.1

龍井茶
杭州山茶,處處皆清,不過以龍井為最耳。每還鄉上塚,見管墳人家送一杯茶,水清茶綠,富貴人所不能吃者也。

Note:
1Bonds forged from the mutual histories of families that money cannot buy.

Tea 1: Wuyi Tea

I used to dislike tea from Wuyi, and found it thick and bitter as if one was drinking medicine. However in the autumn on the year of Bingwu1, I was vacationing at Wuyi and touring Manting peak to visit several temples. The monks and Taoists there fought to offer me tea. Their cups were as small as walnuts and the teapots were small like citron with each holding no more than one liang of tea. When drinking it, I held back and did not immediately swallow, but breathed in its fragrance then tasted its flavours, and in this way savoured, meditated, and dwelled on the experience. Indeed, its pure refreshing fragrance wafted up2 my nose and left a sweet aftertaste on my tongue.
After the first cup, I went for one or two more, which left me completely relaxed and at peace, bathed in joy and contentment. From this I started to feel that Longjing, although delicate and refreshing, is rather thin in taste, and that Yangxian, although pleasant, still lacked in charm.3
Nevertheless, it is rather like comparing jade with crystal, with each desirable for their different traits. Wuyi is praised and renowned throughout the world and indeed it fully deserves it without modesty. The tea can be steep three times without any depletion in its flavour.

武夷茶
余向不喜武夷茶,嫌其濃苦如飲藥。然丙午秋,余遊武夷到曼亭峰、天遊寺諸處。僧道爭以茶獻。杯小如胡桃,壺小如香櫞,每斛無一兩。上口不忍遽 咽,先嗅其香,再試其味,徐徐咀嚼而體貼之。果然清芬撲鼻,舌有餘甘,一杯之後,再試一二杯,令人釋躁平矜,恰情悅性。始覺龍井雖清而味薄矣﹔陽羨雖佳而韻遜矣。頗有玉與水晶,品格不同之故。故武夷享天下盛名,真乃不忝。且可以瀹至三次,而其味猶未盡。


Notes:

1Yuan Mei had two Bingwu years in his life according to the Chinese sexagenary cycle: 1726CE and 1786CE. Given that he likely didn’t go on his Wuyi trip as a 10 year old boy, he went there 1786. This means that Yuan mei was around 70 years old when he understood the point of Wuyi tea.

2The translation of Pu (撲) may actually closer to “invaded”, as in “invaded my nose”. I would have actually like to say “tsunami-ed” into the nose, though that sounds dumb, thus the more gentle and possibly more typical “wafted”.

3Had some problems translating the term “yunxun” (韻遜), but in this context and reading, I know I’m not too far off.