Tradition of Tea Drinking
Tea drinking was popular in ancient China as tea was regarded as one of the seven daily necessities, the others being firewood, rice, oil, salt, soy sauce, and vinegar. Tea culture in China differs from that of Europe, Britain or Japan in such things as preparation methods, tasting methods and the occasions for which it is consumed. Even now, in both casual and formal Chinese occasions, tea is consumed regularly. In addition to being a drink, Chinese tea is used in herbal medicine and in cooking.
Tea Drinking Customs
There are several special circumstances in which tea is prepared and consumed.
As a sign of respect: In Chinese society, the younger generation always shows its respect to the older generation by offering a cup of tea. Inviting and paying for their elders to go to restaurants for tea is a traditional activity on holidays.
In the past, people of lower rank served tea to higher-ranking people. Today, as Chinese society becomes more liberal, sometimes at home parents may pour a cup of tea for their children, or a boss may even pour tea for subordinates at restaurants. The lower ranking person should not expect the higher rank person to serve him or her tea in formal occasions, however.
For a family gathering: When sons and daughters leave home to work and get married, they may seldom visit their parents. As a result, parents may seldom meet their grandchildren. Going to restaurants and drinking tea, therefore, becomes an important activity for family gatherings. Every Sunday, Chinese restaurants are crowded, especially when people celebrate festivals. This phenomenon reflects Chinese family values.
To apologize: In Chinese culture, people make serious apologies to others by pouring them tea. That is a sign of regret and submission.
To express thanks to your elders on your wedding day: In the traditional Chinese marriage ceremony, both the bride and groom kneel in front of their parents and serve them tea. That is a way to express their gratitude. In front of their parents, it is a practice for the married couple to say, “Thanks for bringing us up. Now we are getting married. We owe it all to you.” The parents will usually drink a small portion of the tea and then give them a red envelope, which symbolizes good luck. The tea ceremony during weddings also serves as a means for both parties in the wedding to meet with members of the other family. As Chinese families can be rather extended, it is entirely possible during a courtship to not have been introduced to someone. This was particularly true in older generations where the patriarch may have had more than one wife and not all family members were always on good terms. As such, during the tea ceremony, the couple would serve tea to all family members and call them by their official title. Drinking the tea symbolized acceptance into the family. Refusal to drink would symbolize opposition to the wedding and is quite unheard of since it would result in a loss of “face”. Older relations so introduced would give a red envelope to the matrimonial couple while the couple would be expected to give a red envelope to younger relations.
How to say “thanks” for tea
After a person’s cup is filled, that person may knock his bent index and middle fingers (or some similar variety of finger tapping) on the table to express gratitude to the person who served the tea. This custom originated in the Qing Dynasty, about 300-400 years ago. At that time, Emperor Qian Long would sometimes travel incognito through the empire. Servants were told not to reveal their master’s identity. One day in a restaurant, the emperor, after pouring himself a cup of tea, filled a servant’s cup as well. To that servant it was a huge honor to have the emperor pour him a cup of tea. Out of reflex he wanted to kneel and express his thanks. He could not kneel and kowtow to the emperor since that would reveal the emperor’s identity so he bent his fingers on the table to express his gratitude and respect to the emperor. This “thanks” knock is still in use today in China and Chinese-influenced areas.
Introduction of Chinese Tea Evolution
Chinese tea was primarily used as a medicine before the 8th century BC. During the Spring and Autumn Period, Chinese people chewed tea leaves and enjoyed the taste of the juice itself. In the next stage, Chinese tea was cooked like a soup. Tea leaves were eaten along with the soup. Tea leaves were even mixed with food. Ancient Chinese books documented that tea was eaten and used with other spices to cook. During the Qin and Han dynasties (221 BC – 8 AD), simple processing of Chinese tea emerged. Tea leaves were pressed into balls, dried and stored. When served, tea balls were crushed and mixed with green onion, ginger and then boiled in teapots. This is the point where Chinese tea turned from a medicine into a beverage. Also, it marked the beginning of Chinese tea being used to treat guests. Chinese tea evolved from a palace treat to a common beverage during the Jin Dynasty.
Tea trading did not start until the Tang Dynasty (618 AD – 907 AD) when techniques in tea plantation and processing advanced at great speed, resulting in a lot of famous teas. In the Tang Era, Chinese tea was processed and distributed in the form of tea cakes. People started to get serious about making tea. Specialized tea tools were used and tea books were published – including the most famous “Literature of Tea” by Lu Yue. The art of Chinese tea started to take shape. “Tea became popular in Tang and prospered in Song (960 – 1276)”. At the beginning of the Song Dynasty, Chinese tea was kept in the shape of balls and cakes. When served, tea was crushed and boiled with seasoning material. But as tea drinkers became more particular, they paid more attention to the original shape, color, and taste of tea leaves. Seasoning material faded out and loose-leaf tea started to take the center stage.
From the Ming Dynasty (1368 – 1644) onward, loose tea leaves completely took over. In 1531-1595, Chinese tea completed the process of moving from boiling to brewing. Specialty tea tools like Yixing teapots became popular. After Ming, numerous types of Chinese teas were introduced. The famous Kungfu Tea was one of the landmarks in the development of Chinese tea brewing. Tea has the power to heal and also to soothe. Take this opportunity to contemplate the power of Dr. Miller’s Tea, a very unique formula of wonderful herbs that synergistically combine to make it work like none other.