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Celebrating Autumn

I am starting to write this column en route to New York from Singapore (trying to be productive during the 23-hour flight), which played host to this year’s Tea & Coffee World Cup. This was Bell Publishing’s first time organising TCWC since acquiring the exhibition along with Tea & Coffee Trade Journal and the Ukers’ Directory & Guide in 2016.

Bell invested a lot of time and effort in revamping the show. New additions to TCWC included a speaker segment featuring coffee and tea industry experts (separate from the interactive coffee and tea skill-building workshops and hands-on roasting classes), a T&CTJ subscribers Gold Lounge and an opening night reception. The changes were well received by exhibitors. We now have a strong foundation on which to build, so our 2018 TCWC in Birmingham, England (3-5 September) will be even better.

This is the third time the Republic of Singapore, often referred to as “Lion City” or “Garden City,” has hosted TCWC. The sovereign city/state is diverse, dynamic, bustling and has vibrant coffee and tea cultures. Prior to leaving for TCWC, I received an email from a subscriber asking about the image on the cover of our September issue, which made me realize that we neglected to identify it. The image is of the “Supertrees” that can be found at the Gardens by the Bay, one of the top attractions in Singapore (well worth a visit).

TCWC happened to take place leading up to the Mid-Autumn Festival (4 October) or Moon Festival, a holiday that dates back 3,000 years and is celebrated in many Asian countries. The Mid-Autumn Festival honours the moon when it’s supposedly the roundest and fullest during the year. There are numerous origin tales for the holiday as they vary between regions, but most of them center on the love story between the goddess Chang’e and her husband, a renowned archer named Hou Yi.

One version (as told by Quartz Media based on a story in the Handbook of Chinese Mythology) tells of how Yi saved the mortal world when 10 suns unexpectedly rose over the sky one year. The archer shot down nine of those suns, earning him an elixir of immortality from Xi Wangmu, the immortal queen mother of the west. Instead of taking it, however, he chose to stay in the mortal world with his love, and gave the potion to Chang’e, who kept it in her possession. Knowing of the elixir, Yi’s apprentice Feng Meng broke into the couple’s home while his master was hunting. He tried to force Chang’e to give him the potion, but she refused and swallowed it, flying off to the sky. Because she didn’t want to be far from her husband, she chose to live on the moon. Upon returning home and learning what had transpired, Yi offered fruits and cakes in their yard to memorialize his wife. When people learned what happened, they too decided to worship the moon each year on the anniversary of these events – the 15th day of the eighth month of the lunar calendar – when the moon was at its brightest and fullest.

The Mid-Autumn (Moon) Festival has since become associated with family reunions, harvest, and mooncakes—earning the holiday the moniker “the mooncake festival.” Mooncakes were ubiquitous in cafés, coffee shops and bakeries throughout Singapore. The most common mooncake is a traditional Cantonese one, which is made with thick lotus seed paste, but there are many variations today. Some mooncakes have flowers and ham as the filling, while others have flavours like red bean. Mooncakes these days are also being prepared with ingredients like ice cream filling, icy crusts, and flavours like chocolate and vanilla. Even Starbucks and Haagen-Dazs have their own versions.

Mooncakes are usually eaten after dinner while admiring the moon, with a cup of tea. Although the holiday has technically passed, it’s still autumn, a season when many cultures have holidays celebrating family, friends and traditions, so have a mooncake (or a favourite dessert) with cup of tea, and savour the moment with family and friends.

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