Tea Culture and Tea Traditions of China


Tea Drinking Culture in China
Tea History of China
Tea is so important to the Chinese that it is considered a member of the “seven necessities” group, of Chinese life; they are rice, salt, firewood, oil, soy sauce, vinegar, and of course, tea.
After Emperor Shen’s discovery, tea was grown as a commercial plant; during the Song Dynasty, the process of producing “tea cakes” started. These were embossed with various animal patterns such as dragon, phoenix and were named after those animals as well.
During the Ming Dynasty a well-known scholar Wen Zhenheng composed a book which comprises details of many famous teas. Moreover tea was used as a replacement for money, especially to pay tribute to the imperials. The Hongwu emperor, founder of the Ming Dynasty was born to poverty and knew the worries of the poor. He substituted loose, whole leaf tea for tea bricks and allowed countrymen to pay tribute with tea buds. Due to this change, farmers were relieved from the strenuous process of tea cake production, which involved steaming the tea leaves, crushing it to fine particles, mixing it with plum juice, and baking.
Types of Tea consumed in China
Chinese habitually drink green tea. They use a variety of oils for cooking, such as vegetable oil, soy oil, canola oil, peanut oil etc. therefore consumption of green tea provides them with a useful antioxidant.
Chinese tea is mainly of six categories. They are black, green, white, yellow, oolong and post-fermented. Spices and herbs are added for aroma and taste to all these varieties. These varieties are the result of different plant types, i.e. Camellia sinensis, and soil. However the most distinct characteristics are due to the processing methods. For e.g. green and white teas are fermented right after picking to avoid oxidization, while oolong teas are only partially oxidized. Black tea is the result of a full oxidization.
Apart from the six main categories, dark, fermented tea is also gaining popularity. Scented teas as well as medicinal teas, known as “Tisane” are also preferred by the Chinese.
Tea cultivated in northern Fujian mountains in Wuyi called “Wuyi tea” or “Bohea” - a type of black, oolong tea and in clouds of Le Mountain called “cloud tea” are getting noticed.
Ground tea or “Lei cha”, Gunpowder tea, Jasmine Tea, Flowering tea, and Kombucha are some other differentiations from recent times. Infused varieties such as chrysanthemum tea, and Kuding are worth mentioning as well.
Tea Customs of China
People used to simply, boil the whole tea leaf and drink that water. With time, fermenting and other methods were introduced or invented by the Chinese.
Although methods of fermentation and preparation of tea has changed, its importance has not. Tea is served as a sign of respect. According to tradition, younger generation must pay their respect to the members of the elder generation. This is done by offering them a cup of tea. During Chinese holidays such as the Chinese New Year, youngsters invite their elder relatives to a restaurant to have tea. This might be a deviation of the ancient tradition where the lower classes of society paid respect to the higher class people by offering tea. Today this sort of class distinctions are rare to see and the important relationship that still exists, is the bond between the young and the old.
Tea is also used as a method to offer a formal apology. In some instances, kids who have misbehaved in the past could offer tea to their parents as an indication of their regret. Tapping of the finger is also a well-known Chinese custom. The drinker of the tea taps the index and middle fingers to show his gratitude to the person who served it to him.
Chinese enjoy various snacks with their tea, such as tea cakes made with purple sweet potato, dumplings with various fillings and peanuts.
Tea ceremonies in China
Tea plays an important role in traditional wedding ceremonies. The couple would kneel in front of their parents and offer them tea, to signify their appreciation, respect and gratitude. According to this custom, it is the bride who serves the groom's family and vice versa. This is to symbolize that two families are now joined together. This is known as “jing cha”. It is usually performed separately for each set of parents.
Jing cha has altered today, and many couples choose to host a tea ceremony for both sides at the same time. Special accompaniments such as red dates, lotus seeds and longans are used in this ceremony.
It is amazing to see the ritual of tea ceremony still continuing after more than 1,000 years later. It is said that the tea ceremony originated in the Tang dynasty. The customs and tea ceremonies in China are related to their religious beliefs such as Buddhism, Confucianism and Taoism. The Wu-Wo tea ceremony is also one of such religious experiences. The word Wu-Wo means “absence of an independent, singular existence”. It actually began in Taiwan and is now extended to China and other countries where there are Buddhists. Even the jing cha could be influenced by religion as honouring one’s parents is part of the Buddhist culture.
Teaware of China
China is well known for their teaware, especially porcelain equipment. At the onset, it was considered that tea drinkers are the elites of the society and are educated. The practice of consuming tea was assumed to show their status and knowledge. With more and more people drinking tea, the production of various teaware was carried out. Tea houses were originated in China. It was a place for everyone to gather and discuss what was going on. That tradition continues even today.
Out of the characteristic tea utensils used in China the Yixing clay teapot, tea trays made of bamboo and gaiwan teapots made of porcelain have priority. The Yixing teapot descends from the 15th century. It is made of a clay named “zisha”. And named after the region it was produced in, which is Yixing. It is said that this teapot handles heat very efficiently.
Tea cups come with their saucer, sugar holder, cream holder and a bowl for tea which has a lid. A tea bowl is actually a teapot sans the spout and are fabled to be descending from the Ming dynasty. These items have a meaning of their own; the lid is supposed to symbolize heaven, and the saucer and bowl - humanity. Put together they epitomize harmony that exists between human and nature.