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Ancient Customs of Huzhou

Huzhou Prefecture, Zhejiang Province, China, is an old tea growing area, where the Saint of Tea Lu Yu wrote The Book of Tea. In the ranges of green mountains with their clear streams, lakes and rivers, the rich soil here is suitable for growing tea trees. More important, many different forms of ancient tea art, which can be called typical tea ceremonies among the common people, have been preserved intact.

Nowadays, the Huzhou people are particular about the procedures of making tea, which mainly include welcoming the guests, setting teasets on the table, boiling water, pouring boiling water into the teapot, stirring the tea in teacups, serving tea, tasting tea, seeing the guests off, and several other procedures. Before guests come, the hostess gets everything ready, such as fine tea, condiments, fruit, clean teasets, clear water and bamboo sticks. When the guests enter the door, the hostess lets them sit in the seat of honor. The hostess hangs up a special pot for boiling water, which can be treated as the variant of Lu Yu's "tea boiler," and uses thin bamboo splints as firewood. When the water boils, the hostess takes out small bags of tender tea leaves, and pours them into the bowl pinch by pinch. Then she grasps a handful of dry, pickled and cooked green soybeans, grips other condiments on the table with chopsticks, and then puts them into the bowl. At this time she pours the boiling water in the pot into the bowl, filling 70 percent of it, and stirs with chopsticks. Drinking tea in this way is a custom handed down from the Tang Dynasty. In later periods, to keep the fragrance of tea, scholars and the upper class no longer drank tea like this, but the common people carried on as before.

At title moment when the flavors of tea and condiments are mingled in the water, a fragrant smell strikes the nose. It is the best time to drink. So, the hostess holds the cups of tea before the guests respectfully and skillfully, saying, ''Please drink tea." Then she takes out nuts and melon seeds, and puts them on the center of the table. After that, the hostess and the guests drink and eat as they talk. The tea made with dried green soybeans is salty. Generally speakings the tea, condiments and green soybeans are eaten together after the boiling water has been added to the tea three times. Then the hostess makes new tea again.

This kind of tea art is just like a beautiful poem, making you feel freshness of the tea and the friendship between the hostess and the guests during the course of boiling, serving and drinking tea. In Huzhou Prefecture, no respect for guests can be shown without serving tea like this.

The tea tasting party of Huzhou Prefecture further shows the connotations of this tea ceremony. Here married women, old or young, have a special get-together each year to taste tea. Perhaps this is an old custom handed down from the tea parties of Lu Yu and Jiao Ran.

Taking a panoramic view of the tea ceremony of Huzhou Prefecture, we can see that there are many similarities between the tea ceremony of Huzhou Prefecture and that of ancient China:

1. The tea art has certain rules, the first of all the rules is to create the atmosphere of drinking tea through graceful manipulation.

2. The ancient custom of adding condiments to tea is preserved.

3. Unlike the way of drinking tea in north China, in which tea is poured into cups from a big teapot, tea is made in teacups on the spot.

4. the boiling water is poured to the tea, the tea must be stirred vigorously. This is similar to the common tea ceremonies of Yuan and Ming dynasties.

5. The tea ceremony emphasizes more respect for guests rather than the quenching of thirst.

6. The ancient tea party is preserved, with the tea party of Huzhou being a typical tea ceremony of the common people.

7. Unlike ancient hermits, Taoist priests or Buddhist monks, the Chinese love life, like social intercourse and enjoy sharing joys, which is fully expressed by the tea ceremony.