The Chinese people have been enjoying tea for thousands of years and have a long standing tradition with tea. Throughout time, tea has come to be carefully cultivated, harvested, and processed for both refreshment, as well as for medicinal purposes. The Chinese culture has the earliest recorded references to tea drinking dating back to the first millennium with many references stating tea was thought to be a delicate beverage to be handled tenderly and with respect.
Many emperors lauded tea as an elixir of life and pronounced that regularly drinking tea was a staple of a well-rounded being. Many physicians also reiterated the emperors’ sentiments of tea’s health and wellness qualities. The famed physician Hua Tuo wrote drinking tea improves one’s mental functions stating, “to drink K’u t’u constantly makes one think better.” Out of this tradition and healthy lifestyle, the Cha Tao, “the way of tea” emerged as a philosophy to encourage people to appreciate and respect one another and to communicate openly and frequently using tea. This supporting philosophy eventually made way to the Gongfu, the Chinese tea ceremony.
Gongfu become popular during the Ming Dynasty (around year 1600). Craftsman starting making special teapots made from local porous clay that was ideal for brewing tea. Using this special clay teapot, Gongfu allows for the participants to experience the taste and aroma of tea, as well as how different teas compare to one another in successive rounds of reinfusion. Each step of the ceremony is deliberate and meant for the participants to have an exploratory, sensory experience of tea.
Gongfu is conducted in an atmosphere meant to promote peacefulness and conducive to socialization and relaxation. Once the guests arrive and are relaxed, the Tea Master warms the water and uses the water to pour over the teapot in a large bowl or over a drain board. Once the teapot is warmed, tea is added with warm water to start the brewing process. The Tea Master then “blesses” the pot by pouring a small amount of warm water over the covered tea pot while it is brewing. Once the tea has brewed for the appropriate amount of time, the tea is served and enjoyed. This process can, and usually is repeated, with the same or different teas during the ceremony.
Chinese tea ceremonies can be quite extensive and are closely related to the steps in the more familiar Japanese tea ceremony. However, the Chinese tea ceremony places more emphasis on the tea’s qualities and connection between others rather than more elaborate rituals that take focus in the Japanese tea ceremony.
Even today, tea is offered as a sign of respect. Younger generations often offer tea to older generations in community and family gatherings. Drinking tea in groups is still considered a way for each person to gather and spend quality time together. Using a tea ceremony, whether formally or informally, has a place in modern society as a way for people to take a break from daily life and connect with one another.