Our family has embarked on virtual travels to various countries and regions. To explore these countries and their cultures, we have followed along with the festivals, cooked and eaten traditional foods, learned of traditional handicrafts with hands on exploration, along with many activities to immerse ourselves. Chronicled here are some of these activities.

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Saturday, February 8, 2014

Having a Chinese Tea Ceremony

Photo Credit: Gabriel Hund-Goschel
Tea, the most widely consumed beverage in the world after water, originated in China. According to legend, an ancient ruler nearly 5000 years ago (now considered the Father of Agriculture) decided to take a rest under a Camellia. He boiled himself some water to drink, into which dried leaves from the tree had fallen. These leaves infused the water, making it the first pot of tea. 

Initially tea was used in ritual offerings, and later as medicine. During the Tang dynasty (618-907), tea drinking evolved into an art form. These days tea is China's national drink, and is consumed throughout the day.

China is the largest producer of tea in the world

Clockwise from top left: Tea plantation (Credit: Ian Whittfield); Fresh tea drying on racks (Credit: Christopher); Hand rolled green tea scented with jasmine (Credit: Selena N.B.H.)
Tea drinking is an important part of the Chinese culture. Going to restaurants to yum cha (drink tea) is an important activity for family gatherings. Serving tea is a sign of respect and/or a way to apologize. There is even a special tea ceremony that occurs at weddings.

The Chinese tea ceremony, known as gongfu cha which literally means "making tea with effort". It is a ceremonial way of preparing and presenting tea, and a means of ensuring the best possible tasting tea.

Chico Grande productions filmed a traditional Chinese tea ceremony in Zhongshan, China that you can watch below:

How to Have a Chinese Tea Ceremony at Home

We decided to have our own tea ceremony, and it was a success. There are a lot of steps, and that can be meditative. The girls enjoyed their tea, and I would say those tea cups are just the right size! With the Yixing teapot Hubby gave me for Christmas, I think we'll be doing this more often. Maybe we'll combine it with Dim Sum :) 

What You'll Need:

A Yixing teapot is a traditional Chinese teapot made of unglazed clay from clay that is only produced near Yixing. These porous pots absorb the oil from the tea leaves when brewing, and over time will develop a kind of glaze with the flavor and fragrance of the tea. It is common to have a teapot reserved for each type of tea. Because they are porous, they should not be washed with soap.These teapots are also rather small, only holding about 8 oz of water.

Of course, you don't need a Yixing teapot to enjoy a tea ceremony, though a smaller teapot is ideal. The second teapot is essentially a tea pitcher - the  middle man between the teapot and the tea cups. (After further research for this post, it turns out the tea pitcher is a Taiwanese custom - in mainland China, the tea goes from teapot to cups. ) Not pictured is the kettle you'll need to boil your water.

Chinese tea cups are quite small, traditionally holding less than 30 ml - this is so that the tea can cool rapidly yet be ingested before it gets cold. The tea cups are just repeatedly filled.

A bamboo tray is used to catch all the water that gets emptied out and over the pot and cups. I didn't have a tray so I inverted bamboo steamers over plates. The plates caught the excess water, but as for all the water and tea that gets poured out, we used a container to pour the water in - hence, the non traditional water bucket. If you do this, make sure your vessel can withstand boiling water.

And the most important component, tea. We used Pu'er tea - a fermented dark tea produced in the Yunnan province of China.

The steps we used were based on this video from The Chinese Tea Company that demonstrates a tea ceremony with Pu'er tea. 

1. First pour boiling water into your teapot and fill to the brim. Replace the cover, and swirl the pot around a bit. Pour more water over the teapot, then pour water from the teapot into the cups. This step is to warm the pot and cups.

2. Take a moment to appreciate the tea leaves - its appearance, fragrance, etc. Fill the teapot approximately 1/3 full. 

3. Rinse the leaves: Pour boiling water* over the tea leaves from some height above the teapot - unlike what is pictured above :) - until the water overflows. Replace the cover, and continue to pour water over the the exterior of the teapot.
*Different teas call for different water temperatures. Pu'er tea requires boiling water, whereas Oolong tea requires just under, at 95 C.

4. Pour the first brew into the tea pitcher. Empty the teacups of hot water, and refill them with the first brew. Discard all of the first brew from the pitcher and the tea cups. 

5. Pour water from the kettle into the Yixing pot again, this time from a regular height, replace the cover and pour water over the exterior of the pot. Steep the Pu'er tea for 25 sec, then pour into the tea pitcher. 

Pu'er tea can be re-steep four to six times. Increase the steeping time by 5-10 seconds for each re-steep. 

Serve tea and enjoy!

You can find more cultural and historical activities at the following linkups:


  1. Thank you so much for posting this. It is the clearest explanation I have ever seen.

    1. Thanks Phyllis - the video from The Chinese Tea Company was a big help!

  2. I can't keep up! I blink and you've posted a heap more posts! You must be one of the most prolific bloggers in the world at the moment! (I do enjoy it all, though!)
    We tried doing the tea ceremony but I don't think we were capable of giving it the respect due (we giggled almost all the way through, if I remember correctly!)

    1. It's due to time mismanagement - trying to catch up and be done with China posts!
      I think giggling through something is time well spent! Well, most things :)

  3. I have a friend who tried to explain the tea ceremony to me and I just blinked my way through the explanation. I might try this with the kids the next time we have a lesson on ancient China.

    1. It's a fun thing to do, and to note how ceremonial just drinking tea can be.

  4. Congratulations! You've been featured on this month's Creative Kids Culture Blog Hop! Can't wait to see what you link up this month!



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