Tea and the Tibetan New Year

The calendar is full of all kinds of special dates, and this tea drinker is starting to pay a bit more attention to them (more reasons to steep a special tea in their honor). In February, it was the Chinese New Year (I missed the Taiwanese New Year). Now in March on the 5th, it’s the Tibetan New Year, called “Losar,” and this is the year of the hare, numbered 2138 in their calendar. Both new years are celebrated as great occasions in a part of that world that are considered the foundation of tea drinking.

Like the Chinese New Year, the Tibetan New Year celebration also spans several days (actually, about 15 days). Not one big hurrah! and then on with life the next day, like a lot of the world does. According to the Tibetan lunar calendar, Losar begins on the first day of the first month, and the celebration starts on the 29th day of the previous month (which is the 12th month of the previous year). Confused yet? Me, too. Never fear, a quick cuppa tea and… ah, that’s better. Now it’s all crystal clear.

Part of the celebration on the 29th day of the previous month of the previous year is the preparation of special noodles (“guthuk”) made of dried cheese, grains, and about seven other ingredients. Sort of like the toppings on a Burger King burger and just as secretive. Dough balls with secret stuff hidden in them are given out. The ingredient in yours is supposed to say something about your character. Chilies mean you’re a bit of a gabber. White items (rice, sugar, wool, etc.) are a good sign, where black items like coal mean you’re black-hearted.

Still confused? Well, let me add here that the next day, the 30th day of the previous year, is for cleaning things. The day after that, which is actually the first day of the new year, is for presenting special cakes at the temple. Afterwards, they gather in the hall of Excellence of Samsara and Nirvana to greet each other with the traditional “Tashi Delek.” Then, it’s a bunch of eating and lots of tea drinking.

The next day is called “King’s Losar” where people again gather in that hall so the Dalai Lama and government officials can greet each other and foreign visitors from Bhutan, China, India, Mongolia, Nepal, and more. Things continue the following day, which is the 3rd day of the new year, with festivals and goes on for a couple more weeks.

Tea drinking is important in Tibet, although an important spot for tea lovers (the Jiuhua – Sacred Mountain) is in Anhui Province in China. Jiuhua tea (Jiuhua Fo Cha) is very special, with leaves that are a bit downy but also very green. The two-leaves-and-a-bud combo float gently in your cup of water heated to about 160˚ F and impart their essence into that water for you to enjoy. Sip it slowly and relish each drop.

There is a story about tea and a teacher of Zen (a type of Buddhist philosophy). In brief, the teacher had a student come to him. He poured the student tea but kept pouring even after the cup was full. He explained that, like the cup, the student’s head was already full, so how could he add to it? The knowledge would just overflow and spill on the ground. Other than the simplistic and totally unrealistic view of the capacity of the human brain, the story is a charming one. To me, the point is to drink your tea from the cup before trying to pour more tea into it and organize the knowledge in your brain before trying to absorb more. I was also amused to see a version of this story used in the movie “The Forbidden Kingdom.”

Try an Asian tea to celebrate. A nice Tie Guan Yin is my personal choice. Enjoy!

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