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Tea Soup (Chatang, 茶汤)

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Tea Soup, or Chatang, is seasoned flour mush and is a traditional Beijing gruel often sold as a snack on the streets or in restaurants. It is made from sorghum flour and/or broomcorn millet and/or proso millet flour and glutinous millet flour. It has a sweet taste and is favored by children. The name is figurative, not literal, as there is neither any tea nor any soup in this dish.

Chatang was invented by an imperial chef during the Qing Dynasty. Upon receiving a large shipment of millet as a tribute to his emperor from Inner Mongolia in 1858, the innovative chef ground the grain into fine dust, added boiling water and mixed it into a thick paste. He then added brown sugar and candied osmanthus flowers into the paste. The emperor loved the dish so much that it became a staple breakfast item in the imperial menu.

An important part of enjoying tea soup is to watch how the dish is served, because it is an amazing sight to see the server pouring tea soup into a bowl from a huge kettle. It often takes years of practice for the server to master the skill. The dish is prepared in two steps. First, flours of sorghum and/or millet are cooked in advance, often stir fried, and after the completion, the flour is ready to be served. When a customer orders the dish, hot water is poured into the bowl containing the flour to create a paste-like mush, and it is served with white and/or brown sugar, and Sweet Osmanthus sauce (桂花酱; pinyin: guìhuā jiàng).

Traditionally, the skill of the server was judged on several factors and one of them was the resulting mush: the most skillful server would be able to create the mush so thick that when a chopstick was inserted into the mush it remained vertical, while at the same time the mush remained fluid. Other criteria for the servers' skills included the ability not to splash any hot water outside the bowl and spill out any flour, because traditionally all ingredients are placed in a bowl into which is poured boiling water from a special copper kettle with a long, dragon-shaped spout called 龙嘴大铜壶 (pinyin: lóngzuǐ dàtónghú; literally "dragon mouth large copper jug") and special skills were needed to handle this equipment. The ingredients are then stirred together and the chatang is eaten with a spoon.

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References

Chatang, en.wikipedia.org

Chatang – A Meal in a Cup, global-gal.com

Babao Chatang (Eight-treasure Seasoned Flour Mush), www.chinaculture.org

茶汤, baike.baidu.com

茶汤, www.hudong.com