Tea ceremonies have been around for thousands of years, with monks, royals, warlords, and commoners all sharing the same love for tea. Over the years, it has become less of a status symbol and more of a means to gain inner peace and create bonds between the host and drinker.
Whilst tea ceremonies are not overtly prolific in Britain, they are highly valued across countries like Japan, Iran, and Russia. In this post, we will talk about six of our favourite ceremonies.
Arguably one of the most famous, the Japanese tea ceremony is called Chado, meaning ‘the way of tea.’ Chado is one of the most ritualistic tea ceremonies, following a traditional set of rules and focused on four main elements: harmony, respect, purity, and tranquility.
This ceremony is deeply rooted in Zen Buddhism, serving a spiritual practice where those involved are encouraged to remove themselves from external influences and truly exist in the moment. Traditionally, these ceremonies take place in a tea room with a tatami floor, with guests kneeling at a small table and sharing matcha.
In Japanese tea ceremony, you are served two types of matcha. First there is usucha, which is a thin tea used for shorter and more casual ceremonies. Second is koicha, which is thicker – and with this type of matcha, the ceremony can last for up to four hours!
The tea will then be presented at both the beginning and the end of the ceremony, with a sweet treat called wagashi being served alongside the final matcha bowl.
Gong Fu Cha basically translates to ‘making tea with skill,’ and is the primary tea ceremony in China.
Tea is poured from a Yixing clay teapot and into a small lidded bowl called a Gaiwan, before being served to all guests. Typically, Gong Fu Cha is used for brewing oolong and Pu’erh teas, but can be used for all.
It is said that Gong Fu Cha contains the wisdom of oriental philosophy. In Buddhism, it is believed that tea contains the ‘summary of human life’. For example, tea is bitter to warn people that life is also bitter, but only from this do we realise what is truly sweet. Buddhism also teaches that tea ceremony should be a way to learn how to relax and take things in as they come.
Daoism is also prevalent in Chinese tea ceremony, to illustrate how human beings and nature should always exist together. Drinkers of Gong Fu Cha believe that the ceremony isn’t actually about the ceremony itself but is instead about mindfulness, spirit, and co-existence.
In Iran, you drink chai shirin, meaning ‘sweet tea.’ The taking of chai shirin is often considered to be a ritual, in which the women serve the tea with a type of sugar called Nabat.
To brew the tea, the hostess will infuse leaves in a teapot set above a samovar, before pouring the tea into small glasses rimmed with silver and then set on a silver tray. If the liquid is too dark, she will dilute it with a little boiling water.
The Persian tea ceremony exists mainly as a form of hospitality, to spend time with family and friends. It allows drinkers to take time out of their day to appreciate the pause that tea allows.
Due to the fact that Iranian tea is very strong, the locals prefer to drink it with sugar. The traditional way of doing this is by placing a sugar cube between your teeth and sipping the tea, letting the sugar melt with the liquid.
You can also sweeten your tea with a rock candy called Nabat. These large sugar crystals on sticks are served everywhere in Iran and across the Middle East – and may be a slightly healthier alternative to the sugar cube method.
To sweeten further, this tea is often served with dried mulberries, dates, and raisins.
There is a popular folk saying in Sivas, Turkey, which goes Caysiz sohbet, aysiz gok yuzu gibidir, meaning, ‘conversations without tea are like a night sky without the moon’.
A Turkish hammam is a place of public bathing, and is a prominent feature of Islamic culture. Within these hammams, a special tea is served, which is sweet, floral, and poured from a Samovar.
To prepare Turkish tea, you need to have a double teapot called a Samovar. Water is boiled in the lower pot and the loose leaf tea is steeped in the top pot, ensuring that each guest can choose how strong they would like their tea. You will find this method of tea preparation all across Turkey.
Typically, you will find that two small sugar cubes will accompany the tea. In Erzurum and other towns in Eastern Turkey, tea is taken in the kitlama style, where a lump of sugar is placed between the tongue and cheek – not too dissimilar to the Iranian way of taking tea.
Along with this, Turkish locals prefer to drink tea in small tulip-shaped glasses. Whilst the origins of this shape are unknown, the clear glass allows the drinker to appreciate the crimson colour of the tea. Along with being used in tea ceremony, this tea glass is also important in other Turkish cuisine as it doubles as a recipe measuring glass.
As is common in most cultures, refusing a glass of tea from the host is considered incredibly rude and disrespectful. Russians are known for being very to-the-point, and as such, if they are offering you tea then it should be assumed that they see you as someone they can trust and would like to get to know better.
In Russia, tea concludes any get-together. Sometimes, it will be topped up with cognac, homemade liquors, and even rum – even after heavy vodka-drinking sessions!
Russians developed a new method of tea brewing, involving Zavarka – a highly concentrated tea that’s made by adding a small amount of boiling water to loose tea and letting it steep until black. Russians believe that properly brewed and concentrated Zavarka is the key to a good brew!
Tea is always served with some sort of sweet treat such as gingerbread biscuits, waffles, cookies, chocolate candy, baranki (small crispy bagels), and homemade marmalades. What more could you want?
Taiwanese tea ceremony is called Wu-Wo, meaning ‘empty-being’. This is due to the fact that the ceremony is based on the idea of complete equality, in which everyone involved is equal, regardless of knowledge, wealth, or appearance.
Within this tea ceremony, guests bring their own tea and equipment to a scheduled event, sit down in a large circle, and then silently prepare their own tea. There is no leader, but there is an established pattern of sharing around the circle, ensuring that everyone serves and everyone receives.
The tea ceremony itself has several stages, with many of the steps including simply appreciating the tea – namely, its distinctive aroma, appearance, and taste. There is almost a meditative aspect to the rituals, from warming the pot and cups, to washing and rinsing the leaves, to pouring the water from a specific height and brewing the tea for a specific period, sometimes several times. Done slowly and precisely, each stage takes on a certain importance.
In Taiwanese tea ceremony, you will often find that they use a scent, or ‘sniffer’ cup. This is designed to aid the drinker in appreciating the unique scent of the brew. The freshly-smelled beverage is then decanted into the drinking cup by balancing the two vessels on top of each other and quickly flipping them over.
Good etiquette demands that the drinker drinks their tea in exactly three sips – a small one to start, the main middle gulp and a last one to enjoy the aftertaste. The used leaves will then be laid out at the end of the ceremony to be appreciated, and to have compliments paid to them.
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