A Guide To Tea Ceremonies

Black Tea When it comes to drinks, tea is second only to water in popularity and is the drink with the longest history. Ceremonies involving tea drinking are common in countries all around the world. Some of the most well-known tea ceremonies take place in China, Japan and Korea. These countries are recognized for turning tea drinking into an art form. The Chinese, Japanese and Koreans have made tea drinking more than just an activity. In cultures such as these, there are several steps before the actual drinking occurs. These include choosing and growing the right kind of tea, brewing the leaves, using the right tea set and selecting the right environment. Each step, including the process of offering and drinking tea, can alter its meaning, purpose and effect on the drinking experience.

The trend in tea drinking has changed significantly since tea was first discovered almost 4700 years ago. Legends vary on how tea was originally discovered. One involves the Chinese emperor Shen Nung, drinking hot water tainted by leaves while sitting underneath a tea tree. In India, the lore involves Prince Bodhidharma chewing tea leaves in order to stay awake while meditating. From China, tea leaves journeyed to other places such as Japan (729 AD), Europe (16th century) and the American colonies (1765).

Chinese Tea Ceremonies

There are five types of tea used in China, each different from the other in terms of processing. Green tea is the product of unfermented leaves. Black tea or red tea is the product of fermented leaves before they are baked. Wulong is a combination between the black and green tea types, produced after a bit of fermentation. Compressed tea involves what the name implies. Leaves are squeezed and formed into a particular shape until the leaves harden. They are more commonly found in the form of bricks, hence its other name brick tea. Jasmine is a form of scented tea made with mixing flowers during processing. This is the type that foreigners are most accustomed to. Dried tea is placed in ceramic or metal containers to preserve its freshness. Containers are now commonly sold separately from the tea leaves with intricate designs.

The Chinese traditionally wait five years before harvesting. Once the tea plant reaches its 30th year, it is no longer considered productive. Part of the trunk is regularly removed to compel the plant to produce new stems. Chemical fertilizers are rarely used as residents commonly use organic manure. Pest-ridden plants are removed when found, reducing contamination and avoiding the use of pesticides.

What makes the Chinese tea ceremony different from the Japanese is that the activity emphasizes more on appreciating the qualities of the tea being served. Drinkers note the taste and smell, comparing it to previous experiences. It is a quiet ceremony, a casual gathering of people. One formal occasion which often calls for a traditional tea ceremony is a wedding. It is the Chinese counterpart of the exchanging of vows. The couple offers tea to one other, raising their cups to symbolize respect for each other. They also present tea to the parents and elder relatives, symbolizing their respect and appreciation. There is a ritual in how the tea is presented and in what sequence. The family reciprocates this by giving red envelopes containing money or valuables. Putting lotus seeds and two pieces of red dates into the tea is often done during weddings in the belief that this would help the couple produce children quickly. The sweet taste also represents the hope for sweet relations between the couple and the family.

Tea is also offered as a gift prior to the wedding. The groom’s family may offer tea to the bride’s family as Cha-Li or a bridal gift. If the bride’s family accepts the gifts, a dowry is then sent by the groom and his family. This signifies that the marriage between the two is approved by both families.

Japanese Tea Ceremonies

The Japanese first consumed tea as medicine during the 12th century, brought in by a priest from China. Around this time, Chinese masters may have also introduced the idea of a tea ceremony. By the 15th century, the ceremony had been refined to using more specific elements. Referred to as chado or the way of the tea, the ceremony was performed in a space measuring four and a half tatami mats. This space would be the basis for Japanese tea rooms.

During the 15th century, Sen no Rikyu removed all elements and movements that he considered unnecessary. His idea of wabi-sabi encourages appreciation of the modest forms. There are currently seven secrets and four principles to the Japanese tea ceremony. These secrets and principles were adapted from Sen no Rikyu’s idea of wabi-sabi, with some taken from beliefs based in Confucianism, Buddhism and Shintoism.

Tea is consumed for a variety of purposes. During times of war, it was used to draw battling armies under one roof and establish peace. During the Tokugawa period, it was used to confirm the new political order. Over time, the process of tea drinking imbibes a number of other symbolisms.

The ceremony may last for up to four hours. Before entering the tea room, guests must wash their hands in a stone wash basin located in a quiet garden. Guests enter the room on their knees to signify equality. The host will start a fire and serve a meal. A single bowl of thick tea is passed around the room, symbolizing fraternity. Thin tea is then served afterwards. Other elements of the Japanese tea ceremony or chanoyu are also strictly followed.

Korean Tea Ceremonies

The traditional tea ceremony has been practiced in Korea for more than a thousand years. It is a formal but relaxed gathering which involves wearing traditional clothing. Women wear a dress known as Hanbok with a chima skirt while the men wear a jeogori top with baji pants. A green tea known as Panyaro is served to guests. There are different types of tea ceremonies to suit a variety of events. Organizations and foundations help preserve the traditional way of serving tea.

There are several steps involved when serving tea in a traditional manner. One host watches over the ceremony and is solely responsible for the preparation and serving of tea. Hot water is transferred from a kettle to a lipped bowl. From here, the water is poured onto a smaller empty pot. As the water warms the pot, the water is poured into the small cups and then thrown away. This process is repeated twice. Tea leaves are then placed in the smaller pot. Again, water is poured from the kettle to lipped bowl before it settles with the small pot. From here, the water with tea is poured into the individual cups. No water must remain at the bottom of the pot to prevent any bitter taste from forming. The cups with tea are then given to the guests, one at a time. Only the host serves the tea to the guests.

A routine way of drinking is also observed. The guest holds the cup in both hands to view the color of the tea. They then inhale its aroma and let it linger on their tongue to taste before swallowing. Each sip is said to contain five to six different flavors including salt, sweet, bitter, sour and peppery. Depending on the quality of the tea, three to five rounds may be made with a single batch. The used tea leaves may then be used in cooking, washing the hair or removing refrigerator s