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Thursday, March 25, 2010

Chinese Tea customs

Tang Dynasty Palace Tea Ceremony 唐代宮廷茶

Qing Dynasty Palace Tea Ceremony 清代宮廷茶

Performance with Jiangnan Tea Service 江南茶语

One Form of Scholars' Tea 漢族文士茶

Another Performance of Scholars' Tea 漢族文士茶

Wedding Tea 漢族新娘茶

Another View of Wedding Tea 漢族新娘茶

Bamboo-Tube Tea of the Dai People 傣族竹筒茶

Roasted Tea of the Lahu People 拉祜族烤茶

Roasted Tea of the Lahu People 拉祜族烤茶

Green Bamboo Tea of the Blang People 布朗族青竹茶

Three-Course Tea of the Bai People 白族三道茶

Tibetan Butter Tea 藏族酥油茶

Tibetan Butter Tea 藏族酥油茶

Tibetan Butter Tea 藏族酥油茶

Miao Eight-treasure Tea 苗族八寶茶

Dragon-Fights-Tiger Tea of the Naxi People 納西族的龍虎鬥

Dragon-Fights-Tiger Tea of the Naxi People 納西族的龍虎鬥

Hani Earthen-Pot Tea 哈尼族土鍋茶

Yi Tea Salad 彝族涼拌茶

Hui Tea 回族茶

Zen Tea 禪茶

Zen Tea 禪茶

Taoist Tea Ceremony 道茶

There are 56 different ethnic groups in China. Although they have different languages, cultures and customs, they all share one thing in common: Tea.

Tea in daily life:
In China, the common expression "開門七件事" (kaimen qi jian shi) literally means 'seven things to open the door'. This refers to seven essentials that Chinese people see as necessary for daily life. These seven essentials are: fuel (typically firewood), rice, oil, salt, soy sauce, vinegar and tea. In Chinese, that's 柴、米、 油、鹽、醬、醋、茶 (chai, mi, you, yan, jiang, cu, cha). These seven items have been essentials for Chinese families for thousands of years.

When a guest visits a family in China, the first thing done is to serve a cup of hot tea to express respect, welcome, and friendship in a simple and convenient way. When family or friends get together, they drink tea. When someone needs to make a serious apology, a cup of tea is prepared or poured to express remorse. Children serve tea to their parents and elders as a sign of respect and obedience. Similarly, students offer a cup of tea to their teachers as a way to show respect. In addition, there is a custom along the Yangtze River, that when someone comes over to wish you a happy new year, you should serve a cup of 'gold coin tea' (for which a Chinese date or fresh olive is added to the tea) as a symbol of good luck and wealth. Moreover, tips given to others for their assistance are called "茶钱" (cha qian) 'tea money', which means the money is to help them buy tea.

Tea in weddings:
In Chinese marriage customs, tea is a symbol of unbreakable love, purity, fertility and happiness. On the most basic level, tea is part of the wedding ceremony because tea is a necessary part of etiquette. When did this start? According to tradition, we have to go back to the Tang Dynasty. In 640, when Chinese princess Wen Cheng married Songtsän Gampo, the thirty-third king of the Yarlung Dynasty of Tibet, she brought tea and tea culture to Tibet. Since then, tea has been an integral part of Chinese weddings. Of course, tea may well have developed as a vernacular wedding custom independent of princess Wen Cheng and her trip to Tibet, but it's a popular story.

When a couple is engaged,the prospective groom has to prepare some gifts for his fiancé, such as wedding supplies, jewelry, clothes, cash, high-quality tea, etc. These gifts are called "茶" (cha li) 'tea gifts', which is understood to mean betrothal gifts. If the bride-to-be wife accepts the betrothal gifts, this is called "吃茶" (chi cha) 'eating tea' or "受茶" (shou cha) 'receiving tea', which confirms the engagement is consentual. This means you have to be very careful giving tea to others as a gift, because if they accept, it means you have to get married!!! Or maybe be domestic partners, depending on who it is and relevant laws.... Ok, not really, but sometimes sharing tea can be romantic.... uh, anyway, where was I? Ah yes! One interesting Chinese expression related to marriage is "一女不吃家茶" (yi nü buchi liang jia cha, lit: 'a woman doesn't eat tea from two families'), which means a good woman shouldn't have more than one husband. Of course, now that women have careers and can buy tea for themselves, many young ladies find such sentiments rather old-fashioned.

In a traditional Chinese marriage ceremony, both the bride and groom kneel in front of their parents and serve them tea. This is a way to express their respect and gratitude. After that, the bride and groom cross arms and share "交杯茶" (jiao bei cha, lit: 'cross-cup tea'). Peanuts, lotus seeds, longan or Chinese dates are added to the tea, which indicate the wish to have children. In addition, their round shape represents completeness. In Yunnan province, both bride and groom offer one another a cup of bright red Puerh tea to express their eternal love for one another. In some minority cultures in China, for example among the Zhuang people in Guangxi Province, a daughter-in-law serves tea to her parents-in-law the day after her wedding, showing that she has become a part of their family and to express her deference and acceptance of her new obligations.

Tea and worship:
The practice of serving tea as an offering at funerals in China started around 493CE. Tea is also served at many other religious rituals, for example on 農曆新年(nongli xin nian, Chinese New Year) and 清明節 (qingming jie, lit: 'clear bright festival'), which is an annual holiday when families visit the tombs of their ancestors to clean them and make offerings.

When honoring traditional gods, Buddha or ancestors, Chinese people normally serve three cups of tea. This is called "奠茶" or "祭茶" (dian cha or Ji cha) 'libation tea' and demonstrates reverence and gratitude. Three is an auspicious number in China. In addition to three cups of tea, three pieces of fruit or other food will also be offered, and three incense sticks will be burnt. Moreover, there are generally three types of tea offering in such ceremonies: 1) tea offered in a tea bowl or teacup; 2) loose dry tea leaves offered on a plate; 3) an empty teapot or teacup that represents an offering of tea.

On every holiday and celebration, my parents invite my grandparents and great-grandparents who died many years ago to have a meal and celebrate with us. We usually serve three cups of fine tea to welcome them. Then we offer them food and serve them more tea after they have had some time to eat their meal. Since my childhood, I have always been the person in my family responsible for preparing tea for them. I enjoyed it every time because it was a moment of connection between me and my ancestors, although it was in a silent way.

As a daily ritual, either just for oneself or with others, drinking tea represents respect, friendship, gratitude and good manners. Would you like to add some color of tea to your life?

About Me

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Seattle, WA, United States
I grew up with tea, and it continues to fill my life with so much beauty and discovery, pleasure, peace and friends. It is always leading me toward a greater understanding of culture, nature, myself and others. It is my hope to use this space to share the joy of tea and tea culture with you.