Chinese Tea Culture -Tea Ceremony and Etiquette

Written by Sally Guo Updated Mar. 22, 2023

Brewed tea with spring water -Tea as a beverage was first consumed in China and has played a significant role in Asian culture for centuries as a staple beverage, a curative, and a status symbol; that’s the reason why theories of its origin are often religious or royal in nature.

To drink some tea in former China could be considered as a self-consideration or an art. It is also a way to better appreciate life.

Chinese Tea is categorized into different types based on the way the leaves are prepared and processed. Whilst the final drink may be very different, it is interesting to note that all of the main varieties of tea actually come from the same species of plant - Camellia Sinensis.

Black Tea
Black Tea

Chinese Tea Ceremony

A tea banquet is at the same time a solemn and elegant event, following the strict rules of tradition. The tea has to be of very high quality, and the water has to result from much-acknowledged sources. The tea utensils must be precious and of outstanding quality.

According to the ritual, during a tea banquet, the person in charge of the ceremony has personally to mix the tea or oversee the blend in a sign of respect to the guests. After this, the mixture ought to be seen by everyone and will be smelt to appreciate of its color before tasting.

After three turns, the dinner guests will judge the quality of the tea, will praise the high virtues of the host, take advantage of the landscape and the conversation or write poems.

Under the Ming Dynasty, the usual process grows to be simpler and thought in a more practical view.

Under the Tang dynasty, Lu Yu (733–804) was valued as the Sage of Tea for his contribution to Chinese tea culture. He is best known for his monumental book The Classic of Tea (Chinese: 茶经) Cha Jing, the first definitive work on cultivating, making, and drinking tea.

sculpture of Luyu
The sculpture of the Sage of Tea - Luyu

Lu Yu's Tea Classic was the earliest treatise on tea in the world. For Lu Yu, tea symbolized the harmony and mysterious unity of the Universe. Lu Yu's statue in Xi'an

The tea culture reflects the oriental traditional culture, combining tea with Tao wisdom, pronounced in Chinese as Dao, which is an integral part of Chinese culture.

The Dao of tea stresses the fact of being harmonious, quiet, optimistic, and authentic. Peace of mind is the first step to getting to tranquillity as a spiritual purpose in order to combine harmony and serenity. The idea is that as long as a person keeps quiet inside, she can always take advantage of the enjoyment of the conversation, of laughter, of music, and the opera.

One would say that the tea culture is a kind of intermediate culture that allows the passing on the spirit of the Chinese traditional culture to future generations.

A famous tea drinker in China’s Tang Dynasty told tea had ten virtues: melting away depression, dissolving lethargy, encouraging liveliness, breaking up illness, bringing virtue and courtesy, expressing respect, making a distinction between different tastes, nurturing the body, practicing Dao, and improving one’s aspirations. “Tea brings Dao and elegance,” he was often heard saying.

Traditional Chinese Tea Etiquette 

Tea is a healthy drink. It has enjoyed a history of thousands of years in China, right back to the ancient Shennong period (some 5,000 years ago), and has played a significant role in Chinese art and society since ancient times.

In the modern era, Chinese tea culture has become a symbol of etiquette in all aspects of people’s lives. Here we discuss several special circumstances in which tea is prepared and consumed.

Tea drinking is a sign of respect in Chinese social life, whether in ancient or modern times. But the connotations are different.

In the past, Chinese people observed strict rules and rituals in serving tea. For example, people of the lower social class had to show their respect to the upper classes by serving them a cup of tea at Spring Festival or at other festival times.

Today, with the increasing liberalization of Chinese society, this rule has been suppressed by the prevailing custom to offer tea when someone comes for a visit, irrespective of class, showing the host’s warm welcome and hospitality to the guest.

Severing Tea to Parents


It has been customary from ancient times for bride and groom to kneel before their parents and serve them tea, during the traditional Chinese wedding ceremony. This is a devout way of showing gratitude for the love and care received from the parents ever since childhood.

Sometimes the bride serves the groom’s family, and the groom serves the bride’s family. This process symbolizes the joining together of the two families.

Tea Etiquette on Offering Sacrifices to Ancestors and Gods

In China’s colorful folk customs, there is a close relationship between “tea” and funeral sacrifices. The idea that “No tea means no mourning” is deeply rooted in Chinese rituals.

Using tea as a sacrifice, Chinese people worship heaven, earth, god, Buddha, and ghosts, and doing so is closely related to funeral customs. Tea is not the exclusive right of nobles, nor was it ever a royal patent; it is a common gift for the whole nation.

The ancient custom of offering tea as a sacrifice to ancestors and gods is well preserved even to this day, whether among the majority Han nationality or the ethnic minorities.

Etiquette of Tea-Drinking

1. The environment for drinking tea should be quiet, clean, and comfortable, giving people the sense of being at ease.

2. The selected tea may vary according to the individual. For instance, northerners generally like scented tea, but people from regions south of the Yangtze River love green tea, while Cantonese people prefer oolong tea.

3. Tea sets can either be beautifully crafted or simple and unadorned.

4. Don’t pour the cup too full; 80% full would be fine.

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