A Guide to Chinese Tea Drinking

In the west, tea drinking is both a casual activity and a social one. It’s usually enjoyed with sandwiches, cakes and other delicacies during tea time in a social setting, or in the morning, as a pick-me-up. However, tea drinking in the west has no ceremonial significance attached to it the way Chinese tea drinking does. In China, tea brewing and drinking is akin to an art form. It is similar to wine tasting in the West and has a history of 3000 years. While it is done in a social setting, to welcome guests, it also follows strict etiquette.

Tea Drinking Utensils

Aside from the teapot and cups, traditional tea drinking involves several other implements and utensils, which all serve a purpose in the preparation of the tea. The teapot used could either be clay, for serving a variety of tea called Oolong, or glass for green tea. The tea is served on a wooden tray with slats on top and a small chamber where excess tea can be poured. Scoops and tongs are used to handle dry tea leaves and put them into the teapot. Once the tea is brewed, it’s poured into a glass decanter and a metal sieve is placed over it to prevent tea leaves from entering the cup. Afterwards, a tiny cup called a fragrance cup is used to pour some of the brewed tea into and only then is it poured into your tea cup.

Brewing the Tea

Let’s take a look at the preparation of tea, called Gongfu cha; cha meaning tea. First, water is boiled and poured into the teapot and cups which are placed on the tray. Excess water is poured into the empty chamber. Tongs are used to handle the teapot and cups. Next, loose tea is added. The amount of tea leaves used depends on the variety of tea. A scoop will be used to transfer the tea into the pot. If desired, the tea will be cleansed, by hot water being poured over it once more. The tea is brewed when hot water is poured into the glass decanter with the sieve placed over it. Depending on the variety of tea, the time taken to brew it will wary, but generally a small teapot will need about 10 seconds. A modern enthusiast could experience how this is done at an authentic tea room like Oriental Tea House.

Drinking the Tea

Once the tea brewed, it is poured into the fragrance cup. The small teacup is placed over it and turned upside down. This is how it’s served to the guests. Before the tea is drunk, the aroma from the fragrance cup is enjoyed by the drinkers. There are no further rules on how one should pick up the cup or drink the tea. You can simply relax while appreciating the delicate flavour of your chosen tea. Once you have finished one cup, pour more hot water into the teapot and allow the tea to steep, but not for too long. Just like in wine tasting, the taste of the tea will differ from the first cup to the very last.

So there you have it, the basics of Chinese tea brewing and drinking. You could enjoy this in the comfort of your own home or at a reputed tea house.

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