The Tradition of Chinese Tea Ceremonies.
Updated: Jan 11
The story of tea begins in China...
It was first discovered as medicine during the Han Dynasty (206 BC–220 AD) and was originally used as a cure for deceases. Surprisingly, it took a while for people to discover that tea was pleasant to drink. Before it was developed into the aromatic beverage we know off today, it was eaten as vegetables and used in cooking and making of dishes. Additionally, it was so commonly used in ritual offerings, that a deep-rooted custom of funerals having to be conducted with tea, still holds its significance with Chinese people and the minority tribes in China, today.
Photo: Sami Mosadegh
Why is tea so closely linked to funerals?
Well, the Chinese tea ceremony was born as a result of respect for nature and the need for peace. The Chinese strongly believed that tea could be used as an offering to the earth, to the sky, to Gods, to Buddha and also to the ghosts. It was also a discovery that was never exclusive or privilege to the royals, the rich and the upper class. The actual act of using tea in ceremonies was a universal right, consequently, the aromatic fragrance of tea could be experienced at every remembrance. And the most functional reason would be tea's cleaning and drying properties that would help absorb foul smells and preserve a dead body. We can trace this absolute passion all the way back to the year of 493 AD, when Emperor Wu of the Southern Qi Dynasty wrote in his will that, “there must be no animal offerings at my tomb. Baked goods, tea, rice and wine will be sufficient enough.” Earlier than 2100 years ago the Chinese people buried tea leaves with the deceased.
Tea as a form of art.
As time passed, people started to appreciate tea’s enjoyment and social values. Now tea is considered beyond just being a drink, it is a form of art.
Apart from the distinct qualities that make tea so special, such as its complexity, its depth and its characteristics, the ceremony, preparation and the use of artwork and beautiful items to enhance the overall atmosphere, makes the whole experience differ completely from how we handle it in The UK.
On the table, in a traditional Chinese tea ceremony, you will find:
Decorations to make a beautiful tea table
What is the difference between Japanese and Chinese tea ceremony?
Japanese tea ceremonies evolved from the Chinese Han Dynasty. They developed their high skilled techniques in making green tea and grinding it into powders, known as matcha powder. This fine and powerful powder is widely used today for its detoxifying, metabolism-boosting, alertness enhancing, and meditative state enabling properties. However, previously green tea powders were reserved in Japan and exclusive to the royal family and the upper class. Due to this, even to this day, the Japanese have retained the importance of formalities in their tea ceremonies.
China claims to take a different approach, they work to understand and evolve the tea. There is definitely evidence of evolvement throughout history, with the Ming Dynasty playing a huge role in how tea was served. Before the Ming Dynasty tea was served fermented and pressed into various rounded shapes, almost like a tea cake. These tea cakes were known as Pu'er Tea. It was during this dynasty that cake tea was abolished and loose leaf tea was promoted that revolutionised the simplicity of tea drinking.
For the Chinese, the tea ceremony is not just about the formalities, but the taste of tea is a very important part of the tradition. People do not believe in adding flavours to their beverage, they drink the tea as it is. Normally the leaves can be infused for seven, eight, or even more times. So, each infusion is served and people experience the tea as it evolves through the different infusions.
The real sculpture of flavours comes from ageing tea. Black tea, Oolong (rock) tea and Pu'er teas can be kept to age for 20, 30, 40 and more years. These rare delicacies must be stored under good preservation conditions so that the tea can rest, change, and become more complex and astonishing in flavour with time.
Photo: Sami Mosadegh
The tea ceremony.
Warm up the teacups and sets to keep the temperature. Clay teapots made from purple clay are the best, as they breathe and absorb and give back the aroma of tea.
The manner of serving should be relaxed and gracefully reflected mostly through hand movements, facial expressions and the traditional ceremonial clothing.
Take the tea leaves and infuse them with pure water that has just been brought up to the boiling point, but not beyond it.
With relaxing music playing in the background, like wine tasting, taste the tea to get an idea of the flavour and aroma you will get from the leaf and the shape of the cup.
Smell the scent of the tea leaf.
Serve and appreciate the good tea and concentrate on enjoyment from the colour, atmosphere, flavour and scent alike.
Pause between each cupful and meditate upon the experience.