Etiquette Of Tea Drinking In China

Living and working as an expat in China? Meeting with Chinese business partners? Then you might want to know more about the etiquette of tea drinking to make a great first impression.

Legend has it that the Chinese have been drinking tea for 5,000 years, from the rise of the tea ceremony during the Tang Dynasty (618-907) until today, but the method of drinking tea has varied from one historical period to another.

The popular way of drinking tea in the Tang Dynasty was to first crush the tea leaves into powder, and when the water was boiling, put in the tea powder and seasoning such as salt, onion, orange peel, etc., and drink the tea soup and tea dregs together, is the practice very much like the steps we take now to make soup?

In the elegant Song dynasty (960-1279), the tea ceremony became a reflection of aesthetics, beginning with the crushing of tea leaves, which were then placed in a tea bowl and poured over with hot water to form a paste, then slowly adding more hot water while stirring and beating with small bamboo sticks until the water and tea were completely blended and foam appeared. Those who are more skilled can also “paint” on the foam, just like the barista do for making Latte art.

By the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), the method of making and drinking tea was simplified by directly brewing the tea leaves with boiling water for drinking, a method that continues to this day.

Tea Drinking When Working In China

If you work as an expat in China, then you will find tea drinking everywhere. When you go to a restaurant, the waiter will first serve you a cup of tea; when you go to someone’s house as a guest, the host family will also serve you a cup of tea after you sit down. Compare to bars in Italy, there are many teahouses in China, the difference is that the teahouse offers private rooms where you can sit for the whole afternoon at the price of a cup of tea, with a variety of fruits and snacks.

If you are invited by a client or colleague to tea at home, knowing some of the etiquette and rules of tea drinking in advance will give the other party a much better impression of you. As a guest, the main etiquette is the hand-knocking, which is to tap the tabletop three times with the index and middle fingers together. The Chinese word for “hand” is pronounced the same as “head”, so hand-knocking is used instead of head-knocking to show respect and appreciation to the host. In addition, it is important not to take large sips like with water, but to sip slowly and savor the fragrance of the tea.

If you are the party host, when preparing tea for your guests, first ask them what kind of tea they usually like to drink, if they are not very particular about it, the default is usually green tea. The main utensils for tea drinking include the teapot and the teacups. Place the tea leaves in the pot and brew them into boiling water, then pour them into the respective cups for drinking after the tea has fully steeped, taking care that the spout of the teapot is not pointed at the guests during this process, as this is not polite.

Remember to pour out the first brew of tea as it may contain some impurities that may affect the quality and taste of the tea liquid, and start serving the tea to the guests from the second brew. Unlike wine, which should be poured full as a token of respect, tea can only be poured to the seventh percentile, firstly because the tea is hot and will scald the guests, and secondly because it is also an expression used to drive the guest away.

Want to learn more about China? Check out this article: Table Manners At Business Banquets In China

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Andrea Campisano

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