Tuesday, June 24, 2014
I grew up in Taipei watching my grandfather (who was a professor of ceramic art) and my father (who is also a ceramic artist) making teapots. My parents have a little collection of teapots. They showed and trained me how to enjoy tea and how to appreciate tea just like French appreciate wine.
Wherever in the world you hail from, you’ve probably had tea before. Every year, about 3 billion tons of tea is produced around the world. 3 billion! Clearly, tea is a very important commodity and holds an important place in cultures around the world. So today, I am going to talk about tea culture in Taiwan and China.
茶 藝 (Art of Tea) or 茶文化 (Tea Culture) is an ancient tradition that is still commonly practiced today. While scientists reckon 茶花 (Camellia sinensis, or tea plant) originated in an area near southwest China, the plant has now spread all over the world. Did you know that the British East India Company even sent someone on a secret mission to China in 1848 to bring tea plants back to Great Britain? Even though it seems that people all over world unanimously enjoy drinking tea, different countries have very different tea cultures. The type of tea being served, as well as the process of brewing, serving, and drinking the tea can all vary greatly depending on where you are.
In China, as well as Taiwan, Japan, and Korea, complex tea ceremonies are practiced at different occasions. The ceremonies are very traditional and focus on both the preparation and presentation of tea. While tea ceremonies can certainly be enjoyed as a private affair, they are usually used as a social function. In China, tea ceremonies provide a way to show respect to your elders, apologize to someone you have offended, and have a little family bonding time. In a traditional Chinese wedding, a tea ceremony is used to make sure the bride and groom have met all of the extended family. The couple serves everyone tea and addresses each guest with their proper title. As the guests accept the tea, the couple is symbolically joined to each family. Red envelopes are also given during this time. Look out for a post about those in the future!
If you’re truly a tea-lover and interested in learning some more details about tea ceremonies, I recommend doing some research on the Gongfu (Kung Fu) Tea Ceremony (工夫茶). It originated in China, but during the 1950’s, 60’s, and 70’s, first the “Great Leap Forward” and then the “Cultural Revolution” stopped mainland Chinese from partaking in traditional things like tea ceremonies. The practice continued in Taiwan, however, and today the Taiwanese and Chinese versions of the Gongfu Tea Ceremony are quite different. More info can be found here: http://bit.ly/1a6vAnp
Drinking tea in Asia isn’t always a formal ordeal; tea is popular beverage to drink throughout the day and is available at virtually every restaurant in Asia. Often, a free glass of tea is served instead of water and if you get a haircut in Taiwan you will receive a complimentary cup of tea. Different types of tea have health benefits as well, and sometimes tea is used as a form of Eastern medicine. The next time you visit an Asian country, try asking some locals where to go for a good cup of tea or where you can see a tea ceremony performed. You are likely to be in for a nice surprise!
(My mother would be horrified if she saw me drinking chilled bottled Japanese green tea as I wrote this post. But for me, tea is a way of life. It is supposed to be enjoyed everywhere and anytime, and all temperature)
Check out this link to see a Chinese Tea Ceremony in action: http://bit.ly/15jyxwc
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