Chinese Tea Ceremony: celebrating the ordinary serving of tea.
Gongfu Cha is the original Chinese tea ceremony, designed principally for the preparation of oolong tea. This developed in Chaozhou in Guangdong province. There is a reverence shown to the tea: its delicate aroma is appreciated and its lingering taste is experienced in small cups where the taste is contemplated slowly. To enjoy as many as three cups in succession is typical.
Before preparing tea the Chinese consider it essential to consider these things:
- Attitude means everything – relax, have positive thoughts and be at peace.
- Tea selection is important – aroma, taste and provenance.
- Use only the cleanest, purest water.
- It is essential to have the right accessories: a yixing or porcelain teapot, cups, a jug, tray and strainer. A glass chahai jug for serving tea brewed in a yixing teapot is especially important.
- Ambience: the room needs to be comfortable, quiet and clean. The Chinese ensure that there is suitable artwork to be seen.
- Serving the tea should be done in a relaxing and graceful manner and the host should be dressed in traditional ceremonial clothing.
To prepare the tea the following steps are taken:
- Collect the water from a mountain stream (bottled spring water if not available!).
- Douse the pot and cups placed on a tray with boiling water.
- The small ungflazed gongfu teapot is filled with leaves.
- The pot is filled with boiled water and immediately emptied to rinse the leaves.
- The pot is again filled with boiled water and allowed to infuse for two minutes.
- The tea is poured into a chahai from which the uniformly infused tea is poured into the cups.
- The tea is poured into the cups arranged together, in an anti-clockwise circular motion known as Gongguan xun cheng: “Gongguan walks around the city wall”.
- The cups are only half filled as the other is filled with ‘friendship and affection’.
- On drinking, one first smells and appreciates the aroma of the tea.
- The tea is savoured and drunk slowly.
The Chinese tea ceremony is traditionally conducted by brides and grooms at their wedding when they offer tea to their new parents in law. The bride serves the groom’s parents and the groom the bride’s parents. Tea is significant as it symbolises new beginnings as the tea tree cannot be replanted but is grown from seed. Since the Song Dynasty (960-1279 AD), tea has formed an essential part of the gifts the groom’s family gives to the bride’s family.
Conventionally tea was given from a kneeling posture in deference to the more senior members of the family. However, this tradition is less common now as it is seen as a regressive step in modern China.
Despite the importance of the Chinese tea ceremony at important events the essence of the ceremony is the celebration of one of the most ordinary daily routines of life: the serving of tea.
Read all about Chinese teas.