Tea culture in China is as old as China itself. The legend tells that Yan Di, one of three rulers in ancient times, tasted all kinds of herbs to find medical cures. One day, as he was being poisoned by some herbs he had ingested; a drop of water from a tea tree dripped into his mouth and he was saved.
The Chinese tea ceremony emphasizes the tea itself, rather than the ceremony. It focuses on what the tea tastes like, smells like, and how one tea tastes compared to the previous tea, or in inclusive rounds of drinking. It doesn’t mean that each server will perform the ritual the same way and it is not related to religion. Every step taken during the ceremony is meant to be a sensory exploration and appreciation.
Tea ceremonies take place in different circumstances:
Sign of respect. In Chinese society, the younger generation shows 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, 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 ranking person to serve him or her tea in formal occasions, however.
Marriage. In the traditional Chinese marriage ceremony, both the bride and groom kneel in front of their parents and serve them tea as an expression of gratitude. The customary phrase spoken to the parents during this ritual can be translated as “Thank you 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 the couple 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.
China has a great history, and tea ceremonies are just one of the signs of Chinese traditions.
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