Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Former Kuomintang Brings Oolong to Thailand

Formosa's Jewel: Oolong Tea Leaves.

"The general is tall and thin, with silver hair and wild, wispy eyebrows that fly from his face like a set of wings. He sits before the windows of a concrete room painted mint-julep green, wearing a brown winter jacket with a fur collar that rings his wrinkled face. It's cold up here in the mountains along the Thai-Myanmar border; wintry air invades the general's home.

Lue Ye-tein, 92, is known for soldiering. He fought in Chiang Kai-shek's Kuomintang (KMT) army against Mao Zedong. Later, he was instrumental in defeating Thailand's Communist insurgents. But first, before any talk of war, he offers tea -- a pale, peach-colored oolong grown in his garden. 'The plant is from Taiwan,' he says. 'The Taiwanese government gave the plants to the people here to help us grow them.' Tea is key to General Lue's story."

Full disclosure here: I drink tea like water. Few other pleasures in life can rival that fragrant mix of herbs and spices, combined with hot water to produce a vapory brew. I can savor a cup of English breakfast tea over biscuits and scones with friends, at home with a honey vanilla chamomile mug after a grueling day of work, or in a raucous Korean BBQ restaurant, knocking back small cups of boricha (barley tea).

So when I came across this eye-opening piece from Gourmet magazine about a former Kuomintang general who fled Mao Zedong and took refuge in Thailand, later becoming a purveyor of oolong tea there, I was hooked. Lue brought oolong seeds back to Taiwan as an excuse to reestablish communication with his homeland. In the process, this nonogenarian developed a profound love for tea and continues to grow it for pleasure. For Lue, tea is a way of life.

Small wonder that I, too, enjoy tea so much. Tea is something that runs in my family's heritage. My mom and my aunt both love tea. Mom prefers the soothing scent of jasmine and the therapeutic properties of hawthorn (which helps reduce high blood pressure). My aunt, on the other hand, goes for strong oolong tea and British brews, with milk and sugar. I myself am partial to rooibos, or African redbush tea, and a heady cup of Punjabi Indian Chai, made with lots of cardamom, cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg. Recently, I've discovered Rooibos Punjabi Chai. I have yet to try this particular version, but I'll be sure to put it on my to-drink list.

NOTE: This counts as a vegan-friendly post!

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