In the heart of the Chinese capital, the Beijing’s Hutongs (1, Zhongku Hutong,) a young woman hands on her passion for the tea.
She pours some warm water into a cup, in which is put another even smaller cup, until it overflows a little. Then she fills a third one in which some tea leaves were placed, before set the lid. Her gestures are accurate. She waits a little, and then decants finally the tea in the smallest of the cups.
The novice expects to be able to savour the contents, but Liu Xiao Xiao asks them to turn the cup, and to smell. As the cup cools, the fragrance evolves to become milder. Drinking is now the next step subjected however to hold the cup with three fingers, as explains Miss Liu.
Every day, she repeats the same protocol, to make discover to non-initiated the Chinese tradition of the tea.
Making Chinese Tea
One of the ancient Chinese arts that has certainly not been forgotten or discarded is the art of making and serving tea.
This particular art is popularly practised among the common people, be they Buddhists, Daoists or Confucianists, because tea is taken not just as a means of quenching thirst and ridding the body of excessive oil, but also to nurture the spirit – yi qing yang xing (怡情养性, to move the feelings and nurture the spirit).
The varieties which seduce most the Chinese are the green tea and the Pu' Er, the black tea of the Yunnan province, not to amalgamate with the western or South Asia black tea which is named red tea in China.
Miss Liu customers are not only foreigners. Many Chinese want to exchange on the subject and to improve their knowledge of the tea; some take themselves of passion for the subtleties of its taste.
Contrary to preconceived ideas, the young Chinese develop a growing interest for this traditional drink, not only elderly people.
The making of tea and the art of serving it have been written about by many scholars through the centuries.
During the Han dynasty (3rd century BC) Wang Bao and Tong Yue wrote the world’s oldest essays on tea drinking. In the Jin period (3rd century AD) Xie An, a calligrapher, wrote on the subject of tea.
By the Tang dynasty (618-907 AD) many authors wrote on the tea ceremony and the art of making tea. Some of these authors were: Lu Tong, Jiao Ran and Lu Yu.
Song writers from the 10th to the 13th century included Tao Gu, Cai Xiang and Su Shi. De Hui, a Yuan dynasty writer, was well known amongst Buddhists for his tea ceremony. Noted Ming dynasty authors included Xu Ci Shu and Zhou Gao Qi.
By the Qing dynasty many writers, such as Wang Hao, Chen Meng Lei and Liu Yuan Chang, wrote on tea drinking as a form of art.
The habit of drinking tea in China started during Zhou dynasty (1066-256 BC). The skill of making and serving tea was regarded as important as early as the Han dynasty (206 BC-220 AD).
Zhu Xi, a South Song dynasty philosopher, started the practice of drinking tea in a certain ritual and his tea ceremony was handed down and further highlighted by such scholars such as the 8th century scholar, Lu Yu (Tang dynasty) and Huang Ru Ze (Song dynasty).
Today, the tea ceremony is being revived by overseas Chinese and it is a popular cultural activity.
Lu Yu wrote a book named Cha Jing in which the origin, the production, the utensils, the making and the dinking of tea were discussed. He also popularised the art of tea drinking as he travelled widely and associated with all kinds of people ranging from scholars to businessmen.
He established many tea houses to facilitate tea drinking ceremonies. Through his works the names of tea leaves, the utensils used for making tea, the materials used for boiling water and the tea houses were known to a large following of tea drinkers.
Another promoter of the art of tea drinking and author of books on the tea ceremony was Su Shi, an expert tea maker of the Song dynasty. During that period tea makers improved the process of tea by laying down seven steps.
The first was to ensure the tea leaves were picked at the right time and with the nails of the workers rather than the fingers.
The second was to make sure the tea leaves were properly classified. The third was to make certain that the tea leaves were appropriately steamed. The fourth to the seventh were that the making of tea was done in the best way.
By the Ming and Qing dynasty the types of tea leaves can be broadly classified into four namely ming, mo zi, la and mao.
Ming tea consists of young tea leaves and it is drunk with the leaves. Mo zi is dried and is ground into powder while la consists of tea leaves made into a biscuit first before it is washed and made into tea. Mao is made from tea leaves and other fruits in little hard pieces.
The skill of tea making and drinking is expressed in seven basic steps: the preparation of the tea leaves, the preparation of the water, the starting of the fire for boiling the tea, getting the right temperature of the water for the boiling of the leaves, putting in tea leaves, boiling the tea leaves and serving the tea.
The best type of water for high quality tea is water from the hills.
Tea drinking today is usually streamlined into a simpler ceremony. It may be carried out in one of three ways, namely gai wan shi (covering the cup style), cha niang shi (tea and paternal style) and gong fu shi (skilful style).
Gai wan shi is the simplest because only a tea cup with its cover are used to contain the tea and the tea drinker simply sips the tea and enjoys it. Cha niang shi is the most common and it is made in a teapot (symbolising the mother or parent) and served in cups (symbolising the children). Gong fu shi is the most authentic as it has its origin and tea ceremony from Lu Yu’s treatise.
The utensils used are: a heating stove, a teapot, a tea tray and some teacups, a fan, and a pair of chopsticks.
First of all, the water is boiled over the porcelain stove and once it has boiled it is poured into the porcelain teapot just to wash the tea leaves. More water is boiled again and poured over the outside of the teapot and into to make the tea.