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Chinese Tea Culture

Chinese tea culture refers to the methods of preparation of tea, the equipment used to make tea and the occasions in which tea is consumed in China.

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 traditional Chinese medicine and in Chinese cuisine.


For contemporary Chinese, the word Cha(pinyin: chá) has come to commonly denote the drink that is derived from Camellia sinensis, the tea plant (pinyin: cháshù). It is interesting to note that the Hindi word 'chai' is very similar and perhaps derived from cha. Prior to the 8th century BC, the tea was known collectively under the term (pinyin: tú) along with a great number of other bitter plants. The great similarity of the two characters are notable with the exception of an additional horizontal stroke.

The word Ming (pinyin: míng), which was possibly derived from the Burmese word, was later used to indicate tea where its popularity spread and became more common in Ancient China. This word is still used in modern tea communities in Taiwan and China to denote tea. By the end of the 8th century BC. Táng Lùyǔ, wrote in the his crowning work, The Tea Classic or Chájīng, on the origins of the character for tea as well as the numerous words used to denote tea. In the first chapter of Chájīng, "The origins"  he wrote:

“  "qí zì : huò cóng cǎo, huò cóng mù, huò cǎo mù bìng."

which means: "Its character: may come from herb/grass , or from tree/wood , or the combination of the two "

“  qí míng: yī yuē chá, èr yuē jiǎ, sān yuē shè, sì yuē míng, wǔ yuē chuǎn.  ”

which means: "Its names: first it is called chá, then jiǎ, thirdly shè, fourthly míng, fifthly chuǎn." Where:

* jiǎ: according to the author Yang Xiong of Han dynasty, the term was used by Zhoūgōng, the duke of Zhou dynasty to indicate the (kǔtú)

* shè: the term by which natives of present day Sìchuān used to indicated (tú)

 * chá, shè, míng and chuǎn: in legends, Guōhóngnóng, specified that first tea harvest is known as chá, followed by míng, then shè, and finally chuǎn

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 tea for them. For example, children serving tea to their parents as a sign of regret and submission.

 * To express thanks to your elders on one's 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.

 * To connect large families on wedding days: 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, one or two hundred people, 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, unmarried relations.

 * To pass on the tradition: Kungfu cha is drunk in Chaoshan because it is part of the Chaoshan culture. They have a term for it and cannot be translated to another Chinese language. In Chaoshan hua. It is when friends and family get together in a room to drink Kungfu cha and chat. During such occasions, tradition and culture are passed on to the younger generation.

* Folding the napkin in tea ceremonies is a traditional action and is done to keep away bad Qi energy in China as tea was regarded as one of the seven daily necessities, the others being firewood, rice, oil, salt, soy sauce, and vinegar.

Expressing gratitude for tea

After a person's cup is filled, that person may knock their 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. Although this custom is common in southern Chinese culture such as the Cantonese, in other parts of China it is only acceptable if for some reason you cannot actually say thankyou at that moment, for example if you are in the middle of talking with someone else at the table.

This custom is said to have originated in the Qing Dynasty when Emperor Qian Long would travel in disguise 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 honour 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.

Brewing Chinese tea

There are many different ways of brewing Chinese tea depending on variables like the formality of the occasion, the means of the people preparing it and the kind of tea being brewed. For example, green teas are more delicate than oolong teas or black teas and should be brewed with cooler water as a result. For more information, consult the main entry on tea.

Chaou brewing

Gàiwǎn (literally, "lidded bowl"), also known as (pinyin: gàibēi; literally, "lidded cup“) or (pinyin: júzhōng; literally, "heat suffocation vessel") depending on the region of the China. This "gaiwan" is a new word. This method of 'brewing' tea is copied from Chaoshan people and its original name is chaou.

The chaou is a three piece teaware consisting of a lid, cup/bowl, and a saucer, which can be used on its own or with tasting cups on the side. Chaou brewing is usually employed in tea tasting situations, such as when buying tea, where neutrality in taste and ease of access to brewing leaves for viewing and sniffing is important. This method of serving is often used in informal situations, though it can also be used in slightly more formal occasions. Chaou brewing can be used for all forms of teas though lightly oxidized teas benefit most from this brewing method

1. Boil water, or heat to specified temperature for tea
2. Heat the teaware with boiling water
3. Add leaves to line bottom of the cup
4. Rinse tea leaves and drain
5. Slip water along the side while pouring into cup to ~2/3 full
 6. Wait for 30 seconds, Serve

There are two words for brewing. One is chong and the other is pao. For chaou brewing, the word zhong1 is used rather than pao4.

Teapot brewing

This is a tradition of the Minnan people and Chaozhou or Chaoshan people have made this Kungfu cha famous. Kungfu cha teapot brewing, also know as Kungfu cha ceremony uses small Yixing teawares teapot of about 4 or 5 fluid ounces to enhance the esthetics, and more importantly "round out" the taste of the tea being brewed. Yixing teapot brewing sides towards the formal, and is used for private enjoyment of the tea as well as for welcoming guests. The following steps are one popular way to brew tea in a form considered to be a kind of art. This process is more formal than, say, the more casual way tea is brewed for Dim sum in Cantonese restaurants. This procedure is mostly applicable to Oolong teas only.

   1. Boil water.
   2. Rinse the teapot with hot water.
   3. Fill the teapot with tea leaves up to one third of the height of the pot.
   4. Rinse the tea leaves by filling the pot with hot water up to half full and draining the water immediately leaving only tea leaves behind. (This step, and all subsequent steps involving pouring water, should be performed in a large bowl to catch any overflow.)
   5. Pour more hot water into the teapot and pour water over the teapot in the large bowl. Bubbles should not be permitted to be formed in the teapot. The infusion should not be steeped for too long: 30 seconds is an appropriate maximum.
   6. Pour the first infusion into small serving cups within a minute by continuously moving the teapot around over the cups. Each cup of tea is expected to have the same flavour, aroma and colour. The nature of this procedure almost mandates the use of some form of drip tray to catch further spillage.
   7. Pour excess tea from the first infusion, and all tea from further infusions, into a second teapot after steeping. It is possible to draw five or six good infusions from a single pot of tea, but subsequent infusions must be extended somewhat in duration to extract maximum flavour: the second infusion extended by approximately ten seconds to 40 seconds, the third extended to 45, etc.

This form of the art of brewing and drinking tea is appreciated by many people, including non-Chinese. Many people are enthusiastic about the art of tea; they enjoy not only the taste of Chinese tea, but also the process of brewing it. The tea culture involved is attractive besides for the relaxation it generates, allowing them to purportedly forget all the trouble in their life during the process of brewing, serving and drinking tea. Some people enjoy serving others with a cup of tea not just because they want to share their excellent tea but also their peace of mind with others.

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