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Chinese tea culture & ceremony unites tea lovers across the globe
Wednesday, August 26, 2009 08:00 IST
P N V NAIR

The report on Hong Kong International Tea Fair is incomplete without any mention on the Chinese Tea Culture and Ceremony. The first-ever Tea Fair was organised by Hong Kong Trade Development Council (HKTDC) in association with Chinese Tea Culture International Exchange Association (CTCIEA) on August 13-15 at the Convention & Exhibition Centre which attracted more than 250 exhibitors from 20 countries. The philosophy of Chinese tea culture is to cultivate virtues, to promote rightfulness over benefit, and to emphasise peace and harmony. Besides promoting international tea trade, CTCIEA provided an exchange platform for the tea industry and tea culture elites from all over the world participated in the conferences, seminars, tea art demonstration, tea culture lectures, and above all, tea tasting and tea ceremonies, making it a unique and memorable event. Various sessions of Tea Art & Cultural Showcase ran through the Fair period, including Japanese Cahdo, Chaoshan Gongfu Tea Art, Traditional Blue and White Porcelain Tea Ceremony, Malaysian Tarik and more. Talking to Food & Beverage News, Yang Sheng-jun, vice-president, China Chamber of Commerce for Import and Export of Foodstuffs, said the purpose of the Tea Fair was to promote Chinese tea culture, spread the idea of peace and harmony. Fine tea, he said, was a fair lady. Chinese tea culture would take big strides by organising the Fair, he added.

The art of drinking and serving tea plays a vital cultural role in China. It has been so inspiring to artists that the Chinese tea ceremony, as it is called, has been written in songs and poetry. The ritual of preparing and serving tea has even held a special place in the hearts and minds of the Chinese aristocracy, court officials, intellectuals, poets and even the commoners since generations. Chinese tea culture refers to the methods of preparation of tea, the equipment used to make tea, and the occasions in which tea is consumed in China.

Chinese people are believed to have enjoyed tea drinking for more than 4,000 years. Legend has it that Yan Di, one of the rulers in ancient times, tasted all kinds of herbs to find medical cures. One day, as he was poisoned by some herb he had ingested, a drop of water from a tree dripped into his mouth and he was saved. And Tei (tea in English) was discovered. For a long time, tea was used as an herbal medicine. During the Zhou Dynasty, tea was a religious offering. Legends apart, the fact remains that by the seventh century, tea began to occupy the pride of place among popular drinks in China.

There is no clear-cut classification of tea. Tea can be classified by procedure, quality, preparation methods, the place of cultivation and so on. At present there are mainly six varieties of tea - white tea, green, yellow, black, red, oolong and puerh. The quality of the tea is based on the maturity. For example, the puerh variety is 10-15 years old or matured like Scotch whisky. Green tea is the most popular in most places in China.

Tea compressed into the shape of brick is called brick tea and is very popular among the Tibetan, Mongolian and Uigur for making yak butter tea or milk tea. Scented tea is a mixture of flowers with green tea, black tea or oolong tea. The flowers include jasmine, orchid, plum, gardenia, rose, with jasmine being the most popular. Tea drinking habits vary in different parts of China. Roughly, scented tea is popular in Northern China, green tea is preferred in Eastern China and black tea is like by Fujian and Guangdong.

According to Ng Tin Sang, Director, Chinese Tea Culture International Exchange Centre, tea making is an art. A good tea is how it is prepared. Chinese drink tea every day; it's an everyday habit. "We just enjoy the original tea without milk or sugar. And take some good food along with it."

For the Chinese tea drinking and tea tasting are not the same. Tea drinking is for refreshment and tonic effect. Tea tasting has cultural meaning. The tea and tea wares should match the surrounding elements such as breeze, bright moon, pines, bamboo, plums and snow. All these show the ultimate goal of Chinese tea culture, the harmonious unity of human beings with nature.

There was live demonstration of Chinese tea ceremony at the Tea Fair. It was great watching beautiful girls in traditional dress performing the tea ceremony. It focuses on what the tea tastes like, smells like, and how one tea tastes compared to the previous one, or in inclusive rounds of drinking. It doesn't mean that each server will perform the ritual the same way and it is not related to religion. If done properly, one can extract the finest flavour a tea has to offer. The Chinese tea ceremony uses small cups to match the small and unglazed clay teapots. Each cup is large enough to hold two small swallows of tea.

The water used in Chinese tea ceremony is as important as the tea itself. It is important chlorine and fluoride in tap water should be filtered out as they harm the flavour of the tea. Distilled water is said to make flat tea. The ideal water should have an alkaline pH around 7.9.

In Chinese tea ceremony, the aroma of the tea is certainly what is sought after. When using the small tea cups never drink or gulp the tea. Instead, sip tea through the lips and teeth making a hissing sound. Drinking and sniffing the tea during the Chinese tea ceremony can take over an hour and many fine conversations will continue.

To quote Yang-Sheng jun again, "the concept of tea ceremony has to come down to the level of the common people in order to appreciate the quality of life. We hope we can pass on the culture to younger generations with an eye on the future."



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