The tea ceremony

The Chinese tea ceremony is time-honoured and follows distinct steps - here's a quick introduction to the tea ceremony.

The Chinese tea ceremony is beautiful to watch, and is a great way to drink tea. Compared to the Japanese tea ceremony, it is less ritualistic and focuses more on the tea and social aspects than the ritual itself. There's three main steps - preparing the equipment, washing the tea, and serving.

Equipment needed for a Chinese tea ceremony

You don't need a lot of special equipment for the Chinese tea ceremony - normally just a small traditional pot for brewing tea, a tea table, and small Chinese tea cups - take a look at the picture below of my own tea set.

There are lots of other utensils and equipment you can buy, but these are the absolute basics - the only other thing I might recommend is a set of small tongs, to avoid burning your fingers!

Preparing the cups

A key aspect of the ceremony is to wash and warm the utensils. With your boiling water, pour hot water over all the cups, pots and utensils that you will use. You can normally pour a small amount of water over the biggest pot, and then tip that water over the other cups.

Washing the equipment has obvious benefits, but warming is important too - temperature of the water used to brew the tea is important, so if your cups are icy cold, it won't help your tea infuse at the right heat.

Washing the tea

Tea is inherently 'dirty' - it's a natural product and doesn't go through any cleaning process before it is used, so the tea ceremony involves washing the tea.

Put a few pinches of your tea in the pot, and pour in hot water - cover the tea completely, and let it infuse for around 20 seconds. Using the lid of the teapot, you can move the tea leaves around, ensuring they're all evenly cleaned. Once it's done, empty out the water, but keep the tea leaves.

Brewing the tea

Once your tea is washed, you can start to brew it for real. Pour hot water in again, filling the tea pot and cover with the lid. Let it sit for around 1-2 minutes depending on the tea.

Pouring the tea is the real art of the ceremony - you can either pour directly from the teapot into the cups, but you need to make sure that no leaves spill into the cup. You can use the lid of the pot as a strainer, but this might take some practice.

Most tea sets will also come with a separate glass pot and tea strainer. You pour the tea from the teapot into the separate glass pot, through the strainer, and this way, no tea leaves can get into the final brew.

Serving

Tea is social, and serving expresses an important part of Chinese culture. If you're the host, your job is to serve everyone else before yourself, and make sure that their cups are always full. So, going around the table, pour out cups for everyone else present - this expresses the Chinese custom of 客气 (ke qi). It literally means, "the air of a guest", but we'd most likely translate it as 'hospitality'.