The tradition of the tea ceremony goes back many centuries to the beginnings of Ancient China when monks started to prepare and consume this natural beverage for both its medicinal powers and the state of tranquility it was able to transmit to the consumer. Like many other customs that started as religious rituals, the drinking of tea went in time from being a way to pay respect to nature, which usually happened within the premises of a temple, to becoming a means of celebration and peace for every Chinese family.
Nowadays, tea ceremonies are held in China for many occasions, including weddings, the celebration of social events, or every time guests are welcomed into a house. However, the process of serving tea has conserved an important part of its religious roots, with steps that need to be carefully followed by both the host and the guests, exactly as in a religious sermon.
Therefore, if you are planning to host a tea ceremony for your family or friends, you should try to stick to the fixed Chinse customs, and ask your guests to adjust their gestures accordingly. This event is less about consuming the beverage, and more about paying respect to the nature that delivered the leaves for the tea and the finding of peace. Although it may seem complicated, the etiquette includes requests that have to do with common sense, so with just a bit of attention, you should be able to pull it through.
Once the invitation has been sent, the host should take into their hands the arranging of the space for the ceremony. They should procure the tea, the instruments, and other accessories that are required for the ritual. So let’s take a look at what is absolutely indispensable for a complete ceremony:
- A complete tea set. A traditional Chinese tea set should include a teapot for serving, cups, a tray to prevent the wasted tea or water to leak on the table, a sieve, a brush to wipe the wasted tea all over the tray, and optionally one or two clay animals to be displayed on the tray for decoration and luck purposes. Last but not least, the set should include a kettle and a tea tool kit consisting of a funnel, needle, digger, tongs, shuffle, and a vase. The kettle can be electric, but if you truly want to respect the tradition, we recommend you use a traditional copper tea kettle, which will help reveal the special taste of the tea while completing the atmosphere. Plus, they come in all kinds of shapes, with beautiful inlays and a neuter shiny nuance that works with every tea set, no matter the color.
- Tea. As everything revolves around this magical beverage, you should pay great attention when choosing it. The most common pick for a Chinese ceremony is an Oolong tea variety. Green tea can be used as well, or more rarely a Pu-erh variety. Other criteria to follow when picking the right combination of leaves are the physical and spiritual characteristics of the tea. If the first ones refer to taste, shape, and fragrance, the latter include tea’s history, origin, and name. Apart from that, you should also take some time to find a reliable supplier that can deliver only natural and highly-qualitative tea leaves.
- Décor. The ambiance is essential. You cannot hold a tea ceremony in a loud or crowded space. The room should be clean, fresh, and able to transmit the calmness specific to this type of ritual. You can choose to decorate it with artwork or beautiful items, which will enhance the atmosphere, making the guests feel more relaxed and comfortable.
Although the guests’ role is to enjoy the ceremony and pay their respects for the efforts of the host, spiritual preparation is recommended. Furthermore, they should choose clothes that are suitable for the occasion, which should reflect elegance and cleanness. It is customary for the guests to bring home-made sweets to be served with the tea which can vary depending on the season and occasion.
The Ceremony Step by Step
- Introducing the tea. Once the guests have occupied their seats at the table, the host starts by presenting the tea and its characteristics. Every guest should smell the leaves and express their impressions and admiration.
- Warming the cups. Hot water should be poured into every cup as a way to prevent the tea from cooling once it is served. The high temperature of the water will warm the cups’ walls, lending them a pleasant coziness.
- Preparing the tea. Use a spoon to scoop the tea and place it in the teapot. The quantity depends on the number of guests and the quality of the product. Most tea bags come with indications to help you get the right proportions. However, if you are in the possession of a traditional recipe, you shouldn’t be afraid to use it.
- Serving the tea. Invite your guests to taste the tea by offering them the cups with both hands. Every guest should receive it with their right hand and appreciate the guest’s effort. The tea should be consumed calmly, and the guests should avoid taking big mouthfuls.
- Expressing gratitude. The host has put a big effort into preparing the event, so appreciation is in order for almost every step of the ceremony. The tradition is for men to stand up, hold their fists, and take a lean to the right. Women should put their palms together and take a bow, before taking their seat at the table and enjoying the tea.
Every single step and arrangement in the Chinese tea ceremony is carefully thought to create a peaceful atmosphere, so rudeness or bad habits like smoking or drinking should be out of the question. If you are a guest, make sure to dress appropriately, be polite, and enjoy the tea and conversation. On the other hand, if you are the guest, keep in mind that you held the highest responsibility for a successful ceremony, so make preparations in advance and create an atmosphere to be enjoyed by every one of your guests.