The Traditional Chinese Tea Ceremony (Part I) - Rivertea Blog
Carmen Rotaru | On 03, Feb 2013
Tea was and remains a central piece in the Asian cultures, especially in China where it first originated. Discover the wonderful atmosphere of a traditional Chinese tea ceremony and find out what does the art of drinking tea really means.
The way tea culture and tea ceremonies evolved in the Chinese society mirrors the importance of this wonderful beverage which was first discovered and enjoyed in China. Tea was cultivated in the beginning mainly as herbal medicine and mostly within temples. Monks began to use tea for its peace and calming effects and as a sign of humility and respect for nature.
Chinese tea ceremony was born as a result of the respect for nature and need for peace which the religious ceremonies involved. The philosophies of Confucianism, Taoism and Buddhism have blended together giving birth to the magical Chinese tea ceremony. The traditional tea ceremonies were described as “he” which translates as “peace”, “jing” which translates as “quiet, “yi” which means “enjoyment” and “zhen” meaning “truth”.
As the time passed, Chinese people started to appreciate tea’s enjoyment and social value, besides its medicinal purposes. Tea ceremonies went from being only religious manifestations to becoming social, cultural and traditional events in different celebrations to honor the royal family or to mark different important events in people’s lives.
One of the famous Chinese tea ceremonies is the one named Gongfu tea ceremony, also known as Kungfu tea ceremony. It is known as the Chinese traditional tea ceremony and its place of birth is unknown. Some historians place it in Fujian region, while others place it in Guangdong region. Oolong tea is traditionally served during this ceremony.
Gongfu tea ceremony has been highly commercialized in the last years, for tourist entertainment. Gongfu cha literally translates as “making tea with efforts” and it actually represents the ceremonial of preparing and serving oolong tea as a sign of respect for the guests the tea is prepared for, and humility when it comes to nature. Nowadays the tea shops in China and Taiwan which have a very similar tea ceremony, have been carrying these traditional ceremonies as a way to make tourists and tea connoisseurs to interact with each other and especially with the Chinese tea traditions.
Tea Ceremony History
One of the first written accounts about the tea ceremonies dates as far back as 1200 years ago, during the Tang Dynasty. The serving of tea was also named “cha dao” which meant “the way of tea”. Attention to tea preparation and serving were the preoccupations of the Chinese tea connoisseurs which transformed the way tea was regarded by the Chinese.
Compressed tea such as pu-erh for instance, or powder teas lost their popularity and by the end of the 14th century the loose leaf method gained adepts. This meant that tea ceremonies changed the usual ritual and other tools were being used different from the ones popular in the early days when the tea ceremonies were still novelty. In Japan tea production started around 12th century and followed Chinese models. The tea way in Japan finally evolved into what we call today the Japanese tea ceremony which was meant to be an exclusive ceremony only for political and military elites.
The Gongfu tea preparation began in the 18th century. Some scholars believe trace its origins in Wuyi in Fujian because it was from there that the production of oolong tea for export began, while others think that it was the people in Guangdong who started this particular part of the tea culture.
Tips for a Perfect Chinese Tea Ceremony
The Asian cultures are perfectionists by definition so when performing a tea ceremony everything needs to be perfect. For each tea ceremony starts with preparing in advance the right atmosphere, the necessary tools and especially taking time to prepare your soul for the entire ritual.
When performing a traditional Chinese tea ceremony there are six important aspects to be taken into account before actually performing it.
# 1 Attitude means everything. Chinese people believe that one’s state of mind or attitude can be passed really easily to the others. That is why before actually performing the tea ceremony one needs to relax first, think about positive aspects of life and be at peace with himself or herself and with the entire Universe. The entire tea ceremony needs to be done in a calm and relaxed manner to truly create a peaceful and unique Chinese tea ceremony.
#2 Tea selection is highly important. An oolong tea variety is usually being used for the traditional tea ceremony and sometimes, more rarely, pu-erh can also be used. For the Gongfu tea ceremony green tea is usually avoided. But that isn’t all. The tea variety must be carefully selected in advance taking into account both physical and spiritual characteristics. Physical characteristics refer to fragrance, taste and shape while the spiritual ones refer to the tea’s history, name and origin.
#3 Water selection needs special attention. A perfect tea needs to be prepared with the perfect water. The best quality tea leaves prepared with inappropriate water give a bad taste to the tea. For the traditional Chinese tea ceremony only the purest and cleanest water is used to ensure not only a perfect tasting beverage, but also a tribute of respect and admiration to mother nature.
#4 Necessary tools. You cannot prepare the perfect tea without the right tools. For the tea ceremony the perfect teaware is needed to ensure the right brewing and the magical atmosphere of the entire ceremony. The items must be both practical and aesthetical, the perfect ying-yang combination. The mandatory tools are a Yixing teapot or a porcelain teapot, a tea pitcher or chahai, a brewing tray, a teaspoon, usually three small cups and a tea strainer.
#5 Don’t forget the ambiance. A peaceful and calm ceremony needs a comfortable, quiet and clean room. Chinese usually use artwork and beautiful items to enhance the overall atmosphere and to make their guests feel relaxed and fully enjoy the entire ritual.
#6 The technique needs to be perfect. The perfect tea and atmosphere aren’t perfect without a technique to match them. The manner of serving should be relaxed and graceful reflected mostly through hand movements, facial expressions and the traditional ceremonial clothing.
Find out more about traditional Chinese tea ceremony in the second part of the article.
We’ll soon launch our new incredible tasty tea blends. Join us, there are lots of special gifts waiting for you.