The ritual of a Chinese tea ceremony has been in place for centuries. Tea in China is an important aspect of daily life. So much so that people often greet one another by asking if they have had tea, as opposed to saying "how are you" or "hello."
The tea ceremony represents a time for quiet reflection and soft conversation with guests. Serving tea is a sign of respect. When performing the ceremony, it is necessary to be concerned with how the tea tastes, from the first cup to the last, and with the comfort of guests.
These ceremonies are very individualized, so serving tea may not be done the exact same way. The ritual is not related to method, religion, or repetition. Instead, it is a respected, enjoyable process that takes a great deal of time - often well over an hour.
A tea set for this ceremony may be contained within a special box or holder and could include small, smooth cups, calling sniffing cups, as well as drinking cups. The drinking cups may be much smaller than the traditional teacup found in the United States. Not every Chinese tea ceremony will include the smaller cups. Their use depends on communities and tradition. The use of two cups is particularly popular in Taiwan.
The water is an important part of the tea brewing process, so it should be clear and clean. Water from a spigot, which could contain fluoride or other chemicals, should be filtered prior to being placed in the teapot.
The types of tea used can vary from traditional green teas to oolong or black tea. Some people like to set aside special teas specifically for ceremonial purposes. These teas normally are not used for every day drinking and may be costly.
Partaking in a Chinese tea ceremony can be a sensory experience. Often, the tea will be sniffed for aroma at various times and after the beverage has been sipped, the remaining tea leaves might be examined for scent, too.
People who often have these types of ceremonies sometimes have many different types of teapots. Some teapots are used only with specific teas. This is particularly true if the teapots are made of clay that will absorb the odors and tastes of the teas. Some of these special teapots are made by hand from special clays.
When tea masters make tea, they try to keep the boiling water from creating foam in the tea. The foam is not aesthetically pleasing and so should be avoided.
The tea does not steep long - usually less than a minute. Pouring the tea is done in a circle so that each cup receives a little until all cups are filled. This is to ensure that each cup of tea tastes the same.
During the Chinese tea ceremony, you may be expected to smell the tea, pour it into another cup, inhale the steam from the tea, and then drink the tea. At all times, your senses will be teased with different scents.
After the first cup of tea is gone, the tea master will make another, serving up anywhere from three to six rounds. The first round of tea should taste the same as the last.
When you take time to study the tea and enjoy of the quiet comforts of friends, you are partaking in a special tradition that has endured for centuries.