Tea, as a culture is rather broad and diversified. At one hand, it means lifestyle, custom of tea; at the other hand, it means a combined social process of learning, planting, and using tea. It is the understanding of tea, and based on this understanding, the development and the creation relating to tea.
In China, and east Asia, tea incorporated the roots of ancient philosophies. We have a separate section to introduce you Tea and Chinese Philosophies
Tea Custom in China
Tea customs had been formed in China in Tang Dynasty in three circles: common people, monastery monks, and loyal family. While the custom of monastery monks drinking tea had been introduced to Japan, and later was developed to be a religion, Cha Dao, and the performance, Tea Ceremony, the loyal family tea custom had varied from dynasty to dynasty. Common people’s tea drinking is much worth to mention since it basically ignored the forms and adopted its core – for pleasure and utility.
Chinese have started to drink tea around 5000 years ago, and have preserved the habit to serve tea to guests who come to pay a visit. There is no need to ask if the guests want tea or not. Let guests sit in the living room without serving tea is a big humiliation to the guests, and it also hints the guests are not welcomed. If the host does not want guests to stay any longer, he can give a signal by asking servants or family members to “serving tea”. This means the host wants the guests to leave immediately.
Drink Morning Tea, Noon Tea and Night Tea
Drink Tea is Chinese daily activities, no matter what kind of tea it is. Just like europeans drink coffee. In southern China, people have the habit to “Drink Morning Tea”, “Drink Noon Tea”, and “Drink Night Tea”. These activities are not the same as British drinking afternoon tea.
They are actually the combination of drinking tea, eating various kinds of dim sum dishes served on small plates with small quantity, or meals, plus a relaxed chat between friends and/or relatives. It has been an important social activity and has now been very popular in greater China region.
Ways to Drink Tea
Chinese has three ways to drink/appreciate tea: taste, drink, and eat. Taste means to sip and then to taste high quality tea products with small quantity, and it is a process to appreciate the shape, flavor, color, taste, and freshness of tea.
Drink Tea means drink average quality tea with large amount of water for daily drinking purpose. Eat Tea obviously is to eat tea leaves with tea liquid to appreciate the texture and flavor of tea leaves. Tea can also be used to cook and serve with cuisine so its unique flavor, color, and texture can be added to the main ingredients of the dishes.
As a part of tea culture, tea house has been very popular since the end of Ming Dynasty in China, and it has served the tea drinkers with all kinds of tea products and tea wares. Drama and Small Play could also be observed in tea houses since hundreds years ago.
Different from restaurants, tea houses do not serve regular meals. However, they do serve chinese appetizer-like snacks such as dried fruits (e.g.: dried dates), dried cooked meats (e.g.: dried diced curry beef), dried flavored bean products (e.g.: dried and flavored bean curd, and etc), and desserts such as baked rice cakes.
People chat, sing, and get relaxed in the tea house while the waiters carrying giant metal, clay, or porcelain tea cattles to serve tea. The stage play “Tea House”, written by Lao She, who committed suicide during Chinese Culture Revolution, has been the most famous drama detailing every aspects of the tea house culture in daily life in Qing Dynasty.
Water to serve the tea is an important element for high quality tea. In China, spring water from famous natural fountains is considered the best. For example, LoneKing green tea needs to be served with HuPao fountain spring water to reach the best quality. In the famous Chinese novel “Red House Dream”, servants retained the natural rain in the Spring season to serve for fresh green tea.
Tea ceremony has been developed in China in monasteries and loyal families in Tang Dynasty, and later the tea custom of monastery was introduced and developed in Japan to appreciate the culture of tea.
See more the History of Tea here