Chrysanthemum tea is one of those beverages that, to me, actually tastes like spring. Not the spring of torrential downpours or hay fever or, in Beijing, Mongolian sandstorms. But the first days of transition, when people on the street are actually smiling again, that ugly down jacket is shoved back into storage, and eating lunch outdoors seems like putting the ectasy back into your relationship with nature. So it seems fitting that on these first few days of tshirt-and-light-jacket weather, I've been sipping chrysanthemum tea nonstop.
Chrysanthemum tea (菊花茶 júhuāchá) is actually a tisane, or herbal tea. Instead of using tea leaves, herbal brews extract flavor from flowers, herbs, fruit, and grains. The little flowers that make up the loose "tea" range in color from white to pale yellow to bright yellow. You can steep it in a pot or a cup, but because blooming flowers floating in water is a bit more photogenic than tea leaves, restaurants sometimes present it in a big glass teapot. It is also served with a dish of bingtang, or rock sugar; just one or two cubes brings out the slight sweetness in this mellow tea.
According to Chinese medicine, chrysanthemum tea is also one of the best things to drink for "cooling" your system. Eat too much Sichuan food or drink too many whiskey shots over the weekend? Then drink some chrysanthemum tea to get rid of the excess "heat" in your body. It purportedly prevents sore throats and reduces fever, maybe even reduces blood pressure. As for me, I drink it because it's soothing and, unlike coffee or even green tea, I can sip it all day long knowing I won't toss 'n turn at night.
If you're not in China and surrounded by bags of dried chrysanthemum at every grocery store, or can't find it in a Chinatown or natural foods store near you, you can still order it online. The Tea Farm and Enjoying Tea are two sites where you can order it in loose form.
And don't forget the bingtang.
Learn more about other teas: