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Tea traditions spring back

By Zhao Ruixue (China Daily)

08:27, September 12, 2012

Dawan cha is the preferred beverage of choice by the side of Jinan city's famous springs. (China Daily/Ju Chuanjiang)

Jinan is known for its natural springs. And these abundant water sources are giving new life to a disappearing tradition. Zhao Ruixue reports from the Shandong capital.

Tea shops and stalls were popular all over the country in harder times. They were convenient and cheap, and provided respite for the hardworking on hot dry summer days when the sun beat down mercilessly. Holding a big bowl of tea, passers-by could quench their thirst and mop their brows, relaxing a little while they sipped their drink.

It was nothing fancy, just a diluted brew of low-quality tea sold at only 2 fen ($0.03). The dawan cha (big bowl tea) stalls were common enough along the streets, wharfs, factories and farms, and even by the rural fields.

But as the country got richer, and people's livelihood improved, the stalls gradually faded from popularity.

Fast-forward a few decades, and the scene sharpens again into focus.

By the side of the city moat running around Jinan, the Shandong capital, Wang Yiyan, an out-of-town visitor from Mudanjiang, Heilongjiang province, is cooling off in the shimmering heat with a large bowl of tea in his hands.

"It not only cools me down but gives me a taste of tradition," he says as he gulps down the bowl of tea.

It is a transplanted tradition, since dawan cha is more emotionally tied to Beijing, although it is very hard to find now in the bustling Chinese capital.

There is even a Beijing folksong that recalls the big bowls of tea sold in Qianmen, one of the nine gates of the Forbidden City.

The lyrics say it all:"When I am back in Beijing, I cannot help tasting the dawan cha of my childhood even though I have been away so long.

"There are hundreds of other beverages in the world, and our tea may cost the least, but its mellow taste clings to my memory no matter how far I wander."

The big bowl tea definitely belongs to the common man. It is simple and unpretentious, and doesn't require the good manners or money invested in delicate purple clay teapots and the most expensive leaves. It is tossed back with gusto, drunk in large bowls, and its main function is to ease the tired and nourish the thirsty.

That is probably why there is now a tea renaissance in Jinan. Dawan cha is enjoying instantaneous popularity now that it has been re-introduced to the city of natural springs.

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