Chinese Tea Ceremony
The Tea Ceremony is what first comes to mind when a Westerner thinks of Chinese Tea, and this image depicts an elegant and minimalist setting, a meditative figure pouring tea to the sound of some beautiful Asian stringed instrument, and on the table, many utensils whose functions are as mysterious as their appearance is delicate.
Is this representation accurate? Where does it originate? What made it what we imagine it to be today?
This idea we have engraved in our brain and all social media nowadays comes from the tradition of the GongFu Cha (功夫茶) Skillfully Making Tea / Making Tea with Effort (skill), which many of you may have encountered while scrolling through Instagram or following #chineseteaceremony hashtags. It originates from the traditional way of preparing Tea in Chaozhou, a city in Guangdong province, South China, where tea is still being produced today in Chaoshan Mountains. Records of this method can be traced back to the 18th century when historians of the time described the way they enjoyed tea in Fujian following the Chaozhou style, which differed greatly from the way tea was consumed in the North.
Despite GongFu Cha being one traditional way of preparing and enjoying tea in China, it is neither the first nor the only method. China is a very vast territory and there are many different ways of making tea, some of them so simple that may look as if they are not ceremonial at all. Yet, if you ask one of the ‘shushu’ (uncles, or old men) in any Shanghai park, the simple fact of going to collect the water kettle from a small booth, selecting the tea leaves, pouring water over them in a tall glass and enjoying the beverage while listening to the chirping of birds, constitutes a weekly ritual that in their eyes becomes a ceremony.
It is important to remember that the act of drinking tea in China is part of daily life and not only an elitist practice reserved for tea masters, monks or tea connoisseurs. In many instances, it is a cultural reflex that the average person has inherited from previous generations and practices very organically just as they saw they elders doing it.
Therefore, when thinking of Chinese Tea and its Ceremony, we invite you to think in the plural form, Chinese Tea Ceremonies, to broaden the concept and ask Which kind of ceremony?, From which region?, to drink which tea? This will allow you to understand and appreciate better how broad and diverse Tea Culture is in China.