Chaozhou: Kongfu Tea, Snacks and Porcelain

Chaozhou City in east Guangdong Province in the lower reaches of the Hanjiang River has a long history and is home to many celebrities. Apart from legendary scenery, it is most famous for its Kongfu tea, traditional snacks and exquisite pottery.

Take a stroll through the streets and lanes of Chaozhou, and you will be sure to come across people, both young and old, taking a minute to sip Kongfu tea. If you enter any house or office, you will be sure to spot a side table reserved for tea and be invited to stay for a cup of Kongfu tea. So Kongfu tea is an essential ingredient of Chaozhou citizens' daily life.

Although Kongfu tea is a daily recreation for ordinary citizens, it is not without certain etiquette, and its emphasis on skills qualify its name. As a matter of fact, Chaozhou Kongfu tea is representative of the Chinese tea ceremony. There are special requirements for water, heating, tea leaves, tea sets, the tea-making process and the tea-drinking method.

Tap water or water drawn from a well is not suitable for making tea. Only the sweet spring water qualifies. And the citizens in Chaozhou are blessed with affordable mineral water brought from the Phoenix Hill. Charcoal rather than coal, electricity or wood is the ideal fuel for heating the spring water on a little stove. And only tea leaves that reach the required standard are used for Wulong tea, a semi-fermented baked tea. Unlike the tea sets in other places, the cups used for Kongfu tea are as small as the little wine cups in north China and bear a fine and white texture which enables the drinker to see through the color of the tea. The tea pot is not big either, capable of holding only three to four cups of water. The tray has holes and a tea holder below has the function of holding waste water and tea residues.

Both the tea-making and the tea-drinking methods are worth mentioning. First warm the pot and cups with boiling water, put the tea leaves inside the pot and then pour on the water from a high level to make the tea more tasty and pour the tea into the cups from a low level to preserve the original odor. Cups are arranged in a circle, and the tea is poured in circles around all the cups to ensure the tea in each cup is the same strength. And the last drops in the pot are also equally poured into the cups in turn. The tea-drinking method is no less precise. Pick up the cup and first smell the rich aroma of the tea, then take little sips and allow the liquid to swirl in the mouth. When the tea is finished, again smell the remaining fragrance in the empty cup.

As most ancient cities in China, Chaozhou also has a great variety of traditional snacks featured with exquisite shapes and divine tastes. In the old lanes of Chaozhou, children used to sing a 10,000-word ballad about the different kinds of snacks in Chaozhou.

A famous old shop specializing in snacks is called Hurongquan. Dough rolls on the brownish red kneeding board with rolling pins pattering. Out of frying pans and ovens come batches of cookies and cakes, all bearing the red seal of "Hurongquan". The trump card of Hurongquan is Yamunian, a snack the name of which does not give any clues as to what it actually is. In fact it is a kind of dumpling made of glutinous rice flour with four types of filling, black soya bean paste, mung bean paste, taro paste and mashed white gourd. And you can tell which kind of filling by the shape of the dumpling. After boiling in sugar soup, four dumplings, each with a different filling, are put into a bowl together with sugar soup. Some add Chinese dates, lilies, gingkoes, lotus seeds and other nuts to the soup to make it more delicious. A trip for snacks over Chaozhou will be more than rewarding as you sample shrimp-balls, fish dumplings, salt-water highland barley, pot-stewed chickens and ducks and local pickles and appetizers. These, plus all sorts of staples like steamed bread, steamed stuffed bun, cake, noodles, porridge and rice-flour noodles, total more than 100 varieties.

Because both Kongfu tea and snack dishes need containers, the clever Chaozhou natives have achieved much in the art of pottery-and-porcelain making. So another must-see in Chaozhou is Fengxi porcelain. The town of Fengxi is less than 3 km from the city proper of Chaozhou with porcelain shops lining both sides of its main street. Some of the workshops are right behind the shops. Featuring objects like vases, dishes, jugs, portraits, flowers and birds, beasts and insects, cartoons and fairy figures, Fengxi porcelain is famous for its exquisite techniques such as the hollow-out technique. A visit to any workshop will be intriguing as you see how the earth spirals on the round plate, and takes different shapes under the potter's skillful hands. Visitors are also welcome to try their hand here. If you want to purchase pottery or porcelain, then the workshop is the right place. For 10 yuan, you can buy a tea set consisting of one pot and four cups, a hollowed-out engraved porcelain jug is no more than 20 yuan, and special tea sets for Kongfu tea are a little more expensive starting at 50 yuan.

Of course, you should not overlook the rich cultural heritage of the ancient city of Chaozhou. Major sites of historical interest include the Kaiyuan Temple of the Tang Dynasty (618-907), the Wenji Bridge of the Song Dynasty (960-1279), the Memorial Hall of Han Yu and the Phoenix Pagoda. The Chaozhou Tea Culture Tour and the Chaozhou Pottery Culture Tour are two new programs adding new dimensions to tourism in Chaozhou.

Built in 738, the 26th year of Emperor Kaiyuan's reign of the Tang Dynasty, the Kaiyuan Temple consists of four halls on the north-south axis: the Hall of Buddhist Warriors, the Hall of Heavenly Kings, the Hall of Sakyamuni and the Hall of Sutras.

The Memorial Hall of Han Yu, one of the most famous writers of the Tang Dynasty, is to the east of Chaozhou city proper. Through the ages, it has undergone more than 20 renovations. The staircase leading to the main gate of the hall has 53 steps. Several meters higher than the front hall, the back hall has a statue of Han Yu, as well as 36 stone tablets bearing inscriptions by famous literati of different dynasties.

Two km southwest of Chaozhou lies the Phoenix Pagoda that derives its name from the Phoenix Hill opposite the bank of the Hanjiang River. Originally built in 1585 and rebuilt in 1765, the octagonal pagoda has seven stories and a height of 45.8 meters. The foundation has a circumference of 46.6 meters, and the pagoda wall is about 2 meters thick. Along a spiral staircase built between the double walls of the pagoda, one can climb to the top to enjoy a bird's eye view of the ancient city of Chaozhou.

Sitting astride the wide Hanjiang River outside the eastern gate of Chaozhou is one of the four most famous ancient bridges in China, together with Zhaozhou Bridge in Hebei Province, Luoyang Bridge in Henan Province and Marco Polo Bridge in Beijing.

From the Guangji Gate-Tower, you can enjoy a bird's-eye view of the Hanjiang River, the Golden Hill and the Phoenix Pagoda. Spring and summer are the best seasons to view the scene on the Hanjiang River, when the water level is high, and boats shuttle to and from.

Another must-see in Chaozhou is the West Lake Park consisting of the Gourd Hill and the West Lake to the northwest of Chaozhou. Existing from as early as 796, the park now preserves 138 pieces of cliff paintings. Its peaks, the highest at 65 meters above sea level, and the caves scooped into their cliff faces are both of aesthetic and historical value.

Chaozhou is a place endowed with a rich cultural heritage as can be discovered from the ancient streets, houses, wells and gate towers. And the three features of Chaozhou--Kongfu tea, snacks and porcelain--will be a great feast for your senses, your stomach and your heart.