The Story of A Cup of Tea

The Story of A Cup of Tea
Last weekend I invited my 5-year old Chinese student and her mom to the Chinese Culture Center for Tea Ceremony. I think that one should try to learn the culture as much as possible while learning the language because they are inseparable.

We gathered in the ceremony room where the performer was already getting prepared for the ceremony. She was preparing the teaware she was going to use. There were four porcelain teacups, a clay pot and the tea leaves. She had such a calm and peaceful expression in her face and in her movements which effected us right away. She was wearing a red traditional costume. She welcomed us as we entered the room and continued her preparations. Then, she started to tell about the ceremony and its place in the culture.

“Respect is an important part of Chinese culture and one way to show respect is serving tea. Young people are supposed to serve tea for their elders as a sign of respect. Serving tea is also the way to apologize and show your regret and submission. Tea ceremony is performed in the weddings, as well. Bride and groom kneel in front of their parents and serve them tea to thank them.”

She started to boil the water as we were thinking what she told us. While waiting for the water to boil, she placed the leaves in the pot and continued explaining the philosophy of the ceremony. “Tea ceremony reflects the importance of growth of tea in Chinese culture. In the beginning, it was cultivated and used as herbal medicine. Monks used tea to teach respect, humility, and peace. The spirit of Chinese Tea Ceremony is described as peace (he), quiet (jing), enjoyment (yi) and truth (zhen). The ceremony includes a mixture of Confucianism, Taoism and Buddhism in itself.”

When the water was ready, she added the boiling water in the pot and let the tea brewed for a while. The brewing time varies depending on the kind of tea. When we asked her how many kinds of tea there were, she started counting, red tea, flower tea, black tea, white tea, yellow tea, green tea and so on. Of course she didn’t count them all. There is a Chinese saying about that, “You can study tea all of your life and still not learn the names of all the teas.”

After the tea is brewed, she poured it into teacups which are placed in a holder made from wood or bamboo and then she served it. She was so nice, gentle, calm, peaceful and smiling during the ceremony. We could tell that she enjoyed performing the ceremony and serving us tea at least as much as we enjoyed it.

She continued telling about the history while we were enjoying our tea. “The first written accounts of tea ceremonies were in Tang Dynasty, more than 1200 years ago. Tea serving was called ‘cha dao’ meaning ‘the way of tea’. During this period, travelling Japanese monks learned tea and its culture and brought it to Japan. That’s how the tea ceremony evolved in Japan. It’s still called cha dao in this culture. But, a new term was needed to distinguish the differences in both cultures so, a Taiwanese tea master Lu Zi Kuang used the term 'cha yi' which means ‘art of tea’ in 1970 and it’s still in use.”

From what we learned during the ceremony, there are six major aspects to be considered in performing the ceremony. Attitude of the performer should be calm and relaxed in order to create a peaceful tea ceremony. Tea selection is an important step. Tea should be selected based on the fragrance, shape and taste and should have a beautiful name as well as a story. Water should be pure and clean to ensure a wonderful taste. While choosing the teaware, the criteria of being useful and beautiful should be considered. The ceremony should be performed in a peaceful, calm, clean and quiet room. Basic skills to perform the ceremony is important along with the hand movements, facial expressions and clothing.

The next time you pour yourself a cup of tea, remember this Chinese saying, “If you are cold, tea will warm you. If you are too heated, it will cool you. If you are depressed, it will cheer you. If you are excited, it will calm you.”

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