There are five province-level ethnic minority autonomous regions in China: Xinjiang, Tibet, Inner Mongolia, Guangxi, and Ningxia. Among the five, Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region stands out as it has the largest Hui population, namely Chinese Muslim people, situated further inland with Afghanistan and Russia borders only miles away of distance.
Winding across the vast plain of Yellow River, Ningxia has been hailed as “Jiangnan on the Frontier” (Jiangnan: southern parts of Yangtze River) thanks to its easy access to abundant water resources. With such gift of nature and cultural heritage of Hui People, Ningxia breeds distinctive northwestern tea culture.
Ningxia is known for being home to millions of Hui people. It’s a wonderland where versatile Hui culture gets rooted and blossom. Speaking of Hui culture, the Babao Tea is a vivid example of traditional Hui culture being vibrant in today’s life. Babao Tea is named after its eight ingredients, i.e., wolfberry, longan, raisin, red dates, walnut, sesame, rock candy, and lastly the fundamental part, the green tea leaves. According to a published culture study, Babao Tea was served by Hui people dwelling along the ancient Silk Road for bustling merchants (1). To date, the tradition of serving Babao Tea to accommodate is still fairly active among Hui community in Ningxia. What is more, such tradition even has crossed the ethnic boundary and been practiced by a considerable amount of Han Chinese in urban teahouses.
Unlike most other types of tea, Babao Tea embodies the generous and inclusive spirit of absorbing a variety of substances apart from tealeaves. In fact, the combination of the eight ingredients, as we listed above, is not static; people add supplementary components into the tea according to change of season or even just personal likes.
However, it is important to note that the eight main ingredients are not chosen at random. Instead, they are in accordance with the dry and alkaline land in Ningxia. Fruits like red dates or wolfberry, are what Ningxia people have for snacks or side dishes every day.
As a matter of fact, it is more like you “eat” Babao Tea instead of drinking it: the majority of the tea is actually edible delicacies. It is believed that Babao Tea helps drive out the chill and promote the digestion.
We think of Cassia as a Chinese botanical medicine, but in Ningxia the Cassia seeds are grounded and roasted to make tea. Apart from its medical usage, Cassia contains multiple vitamins and rich amino acids. In recent years, the health value of Cassia has been realized by increasing numbers of population and thus taking a sip of Cassia Tea in scorching summer is becoming a new trend.
Cassia grows wild across the Chinese land, yet thanks to the distinctive seasons of Ningxia, it particularly abounds in this northwestern province.
There is an anecdote story about Cassia Tea in which the tea itself has been shrouded in mystery. Folklore has it that once upon a time, a 100-year-old Taoist monk lived a reclusive yet healthy life in Ningxia. Words spread in other parts of China and followers swarm into Ningxia to seek for immortal arts from the old monk. The monk however, explained that there was no magic power but everlasting habit of drinking Cassia Tea.
According to the modern pathological research, Cassia seeds are a wonderful alternative herb that can alleviate blood pressure, reduce hyperlipidemia and obesity. Similar to Babao Tea, you are also free to concoct assorted Cassia Tea of Cassia seeds and green tea leafs.
Pengyang Thyme Tea
Thyme is a special agricultural product in Pengyang County, Ningxia. Spreading across the Liupan Mountain area, thyme is used not only as fine pasture but also herbaceous wild plants for honey sources. Additionally, the locals also have thyme with boiled water as tea. Recently, the Thyme Tea has been further commercialized as factories in Ningxia are developing processed Thyme Tea products in the national market. Fine Thyme Tea is no less expensive than rare delicacy since the market price could surpass 1,000 RMB (approximately $160) per pound.
Due to its fragrant characteristic, thyme is nicknamed as Fragrant-within-One-Hundred-Miles. The stem of thyme stretches and grows onto the lowland with small and long leafs. The dry thyme tea leafs resemble flat light green petals. When steeped in boiled water, the flat leafs would gradually unfold and endow the water with a refreshing aroma.
Thyme Tea helps reduce heat in the body and improve eyesight. Nonetheless, it is suggested that people with chronic stomach diseases should restrain from having Thyme Tea.