The art of drinking and serving tea plays a major cultural
role in China. It inspires poetry and songs. Mutual love of
tea cements lifelong friendships. For centuries, the ritual
of preparing and serving tea has held a special place in the
hearts and minds of Chinese aristocracy, court officials,
intellectuals and poets. The Chinese
tea ceremony emphasizes the tea, rather than the ceremony
-- what the tea tastes like, smells like, and how one tea
tastes compared to the previous tea, or in successive rounds
of drinking. Ceremony doesn't mean that each server will perform
the ritual the same way; it is not related to religion. Each
step is meant to be a sensory exploration and appreciation.
Most teas used in the Chinese tea ceremony are grown in the
mountains of Taiwan at around 4,000 feet. These teas are particularly
refined, such as oolong teas which are lightly fermented and
red teas that can be moderately to heavily fermented. This
style of tea-drinking uses small cups to match the small,
unglazed clay teapots; each cup is just large enough to hold
about two small swallows of tea. These tiny cups are particularly
popular in Fujian and Chiujao, in southern coastal China above
Canton. In Shanghai and Beijing they use large cups.
To Brew Tea Chinese-style After heating water to boiling,
the teapot first is rinsed with hot water. Using chopsticks
or a bamboo tea scoop, fill teapot approximately 1/3 full
with tea leaves and then pour boiling water into the pot.
Hold the teapot over a large bowl, letting the overflow run
into the bowl. Give the tea leaves a rinse by filling the
pot half full with hot water, then draining the water out
immediately, leaving only the soaked tea leaves. Now fill
the pot to the top with more hot water, cover and pour additional
water over the teapot resting in the tea bowl. Do not allow
bubbles to form in the pot. When mixed with the tea, bubbles
form a foam that is not aesthetically pleasing. Be sure to
not let the tea steep too long; the first infusion should
be steeped for only 30 seconds. In less than a minute, pour
the tea into the cups by moving the teapot around in a continual
motion over the cups so that they are filled together. Each
cup should taste exactly the same.
After steeping, the tea can be poured into a second teapot
or tea pitcher to be served at leisure. More water can be
added to the teapot, and up to five infusions typically can
be made from the same tea leaves. Be sure to add 10 more seconds
for the second brewing and 15 additional seconds thereafter.
Each pot of tea serves three to four rounds and up to five
or six, depending on the tea and the server. The goal is that
each round taste the same as the first. Creating consistent
flavor is where the mastery of the server is seen.
Importance of Water
The water used in the tea ceremony is as important as the
tea itself. Chlorine and fluoride in tap water should be filtered
out as they harm the flavor of the tea. Distilled water makes
flat tea and should be avoided. High mineral content in the
water brings out the richness and sweetness of green tea.
Black teas taste better when made with water containing less
Volvic. Ideal tea water should have an alkaline pH around
7.9. Green teas are ruined by boiling water; the temperature
is best around 170-185 degrees F. Oolongs made with underboiled
water are more fragrant, which enhances the tea-drinking experience.