In the previous blogs, we’ve learned that tea served in Japan is about the ceremony of serving it, the presentation, making and the delivering of the tea. In England tea it has more to do with the social aspect, serving tea so that others come to enjoy it with you. In China we will find it is more about the respect that serving tea shows to those you share it with.
Tea is the national drink of China and is consumed everyday throughout the day, in both casual and formal settings, but who is pouring and who is receiving says it all. Although things have loosened up a bit more in more modern times, tea was always served by someone who was considered less important or possibly submissive to the person they were serving it to.
To pour a cup of tea for someone would be a sign of respect, another way of saying that you honor their position and will do for them. In other times tea could be poured as an apology. Many very serious battles, both personal and political, have been settled over one pouring tea for another as a sign of regret, apology or as in waiving the white flag. Tea isn’t always about power though, much like in other parts of the world, it is also used for ceremony.
The Chinese marriage ceremony has the bride and groom serving tea while kneeling at their parents’ feet as an expression of gratitude. They serve tea as a way of thanking their parents for bringing them to this point in their lives, the point of marriage. You may sometimes see the bride serve her new in-laws as a way to say that she is now a part of the grooms’ family. An older more traditional way of serving tea at a Chinese wedding would be for the bride and groom to pour tea for every guest, no matter how many, so that they may officially meet every member of the extended family. Not accepting the tea would be a direct insult and would show severe opposition to the ceremony.
You will find that the Chinese serve a variety of loose-leaf Oolong, black and green teas both at home and in restaurants. The types of teapots used by the Chinese offer the ability brew the tea, view the unfurling and sniff the aroma simultaneously. Many times the used tea leaves are placed in a beautiful bowl and displayed for the guests to see the high quality of tea they were served, another sign of respect and honor.
I certainly think that the next time I pour tea for a guest I will take into account the pleasure that they may feel from being served and catered to and although I need not be submissive or feel less-than, I can still make them feel respected, special and honored by offering them the best gourmet tea I have on hand.
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