Drinking tea is treated as a ritual in many countries around the world in very different ways. Knowing about these rituals, being mindful of them, and even practicing them, is a meaningful way to honor those places, people, and the cultural significance behind tea.
In China, one of the most common methods used to drink tea is called gong fu cha. During a gong fu cha ritual, a porcelain vessel with a lid called a gaiwan is used to brew loose leaf tea. Once the tea has been steeped long enough, the lid of the vessel is tilted slightly to the side and the contents poured into a small carafe. This way, the water can drain out of the gaiwan while the leaves stay inside it. The tea is then poured into very small tea cups from the carafe. Multiple infusions of the tea are enjoyed by pouring more hot water over the tea leaves and repeating the process. Each infusion has its own meaning, flavor, and purpose. There is an old Chinese saying:
"The first brew is for your enemy, the second for the servant, the third for your wife, fourth for your mistress, the fifth for your business partner and the last for yourself."
Depending on the tea, the best infusions are usually between the 2nd and 4th. This is because the leaf has been given time and enough hot water to open up, but not enough to lose all the compounds that give it flavor.
Chinese tea rituals can be performed at any time of day and with anyone but are most often performed around mealtimes, when tea can be shared amongst family members.
In Japan, the Japanese tea ceremony is internationally known as an impeccably precise, beautiful, and meditative tea ritual. The Japanese tea ceremony features matcha green tea and can last hours. The ritual starts with formal invitations that are sent out, inviting people to join the tea ceremony weeks later. The ceremony is performed in a room with tatami mats. When the guests arrive, they are invited into the tea room but first, they must remove their shoes and wash their hands. Once inside, each guest is greeted and sweets are served. Next, the tools to prepare the tea are cleaned and a "thick matcha" is prepared. The matcha is passed around and each guest takes a sip, wiping the bowl before passing it on to the next guest. The process is repeated, this time with a "thin matcha", which means more water is used for the same amount of matcha tea. After both teas are finished, the tools are cleaned again and the guests leave, with a bow from the host.
One of the main guiding principals in a Japanese tea ceremony is mindfulness- extreme attention to every detail and consciously adhering to a standard.
The English tea time is more casual but can also be considered a ritual. English tea time usually involves a black tea with milk and sugar, and some sweet pastries. Tea time for the English is a time to have conversation, take a break from the day, and re-shift focus onto something pleasant- tea.
The common themes throughout these three tea rituals are that tea is a way to make time for yourself, a way to make time for loved ones, and a way to communicate. Whichever style of tea ritual you choose to engage in, you'll be taking time in your busy day to focus on a task that is simple and caring. Preparing the tea as well as tasting it can be forms of meditation- focus on each movement, flavor note, and feeling the tea ritual provokes. Practicing this kind of meditation can be very grounding and have positive long term effects on your mood and stress levels- overall, it can make you more resilient to every day chaos. Sharing the tea ritual with loved ones can help you make time for conversation more intentionally to strengthen your relationships.
Finally, tea is a calming beverage that naturally induces mindfulness. Take time this week to prepare tea and sip it with intention, you won't regret it. Cheers!