A Recipe We Like: A Yi's Ba Bao Cha

As we've mentioned before, Helen Gao, the head cook in our Ferry Building Teahouse is better known as A Yi ("Auntie"), our unofficial den mother who dispenses concern and good advice with a strong Shanghai accent. Last year when I had a terrible spring cold I couldn't shake, A Yi recommended ba bao cha--"eight-treasure tea"--a nutritious traditional Chinese concoction that aims to bring your system back into balance. Soon I was feeling better and I've been a fan of ba bao cha ever since.

It seems that everyone has a different recipe for ba bao cha. While the name suggests eight ingredients, that's only a guideline (eight being a lucky number for Chinese). Some versions contain real tea, others are simply infusions of various dried fruits and flowers. It's important for the blend to be visually appealing as well as tasty.

A Yi's ba bao cha only has seven ingredients, and no tea. Determining quantities of each ingredient is something of an art. When you look at the mixture you should be able to see each component, but no one item should dominate. A good ba bao cha is all about balance. Flavor is important too, and quantities can be tweaked to improve taste.

I start craving ba bao cha when my system needs a boost or I simply want a warm, soothing, and nutritious noncaffeinated beverage. Now I blend my own, aiming to duplicate A Yi's mix, with fresh ingredients from a Chinese market. You can also order ingredients online. It's possible to buy premixed ba bao cha, but none of the ones I've seen look as fresh or potent as A Yi's. We've talked about carrying A Yi's blend in the teahouse, but decided we couldn't keep it fresh enough.

Once you have your mix, I like to prepare it in a gaiwan. Fill it about one-third full with the dry ingredients, add near-boiling water, and steep a couple of minutes. Continue resteeping as long as there's good flavor (increase steeping times accordingly).

Here are the ingredients (all dried) in A Yi's ba bao cha. If you try your hand feel free to experiment...and come back to the blog to share your experiences!
  • Chrysanthemum
  • Rosebuds
  • Long yan (sometimes called longan in English--dragon eye fruit. Get the peeled, pitted variety)
  • Go ji (sometimes called wolfberries in English)
  • Hong zao (Chinese red dates--get the pitted variety if possible)
  • Chen pi (tangerine peel--break it up into fingernail-sized pieces)
  • Chinese rock sugar (comes in large, tawny rocks that you'll need to break into small chunks)