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Beijing Tea Ceremony, Customs and Rituals

Beijing residents of higher social status are particular about the way they drink tea. That is the tea ceremony. The tea ceremony is closely related to the rich historic and cultural heritage of Beijing.

Old Beijing residents have different explanations about the tea ceremony. The difference shows different feelings about the tea and different understanding of the tea culture. One explanation goes, the tea ceremony is an art displayed with body movements in steeping tea leaves, presenting the tea and appreciating the tea. It contains four essential factors-aesthetics, social intercourse, etiquette and self cultivation.

Another explanation has it that the tea ceremony is a ritual through which people learn good manners and achieve ethical attainments. The fundamental spirit of the tea ceremony is "honesty and frugality, beauty and genuineness, harmony and unity, civility and courtesy ."

But some tea drinkers are against giving tea ceremony too "heavy" meanings. Zhou Zuoren, famous writer who lived in Beijing for a long time, was addicted to tea and styled himself as "An Old Man m a Bitter Tea Hut". He understood the tea ceremony very well and explained it this way; "The meaning of tea ceremony, to explain it with common words, is a way to snatch a little leisure from a busy life, to seek joy amidst sorrow, to enjoy a little bit of beauty and harmony in incomplete reality, and to experience eternality in a fleeting moment."

The essence of tea ceremony, in fact, is the way the tea is taken and the mood of the tea drinker. Tea ceremony involves many forms without unified criteria. For instance, there are no regular patterns for steeping tea leaves. The tea ceremony practiced in Beijing today has been introduced from South China.

Tea makers in the teahouses in Beijing basically observe the following procedures:

Prepare the tea set: The tea utensils are usually made of wood or bamboo from Fujian Province. The cups are of either pottery or porcelain. Some tea glasses are also used to show the good quality of tea leaves more clearly.

Scorching the teapot and cups: Put the teapot and cups in a plate, rinse them with hot water, twirl them around and then pour the water away. This procedure means to clean the pot and cups.

Placing the tea leaves: Get some tea leaves with a wooden or bamboo spoon from the tea jar and put them in the teapot. The amount of tea leaves is decided according to each tea drinker's like.

Appreciating the tea: When the tea cools down a little bit, the drinker sips at it slowly and let it linger in his mouth for a moment. After he has enjoyed the tea fragrance he then swallows the tea. A folk saying goes: "Drinking tea in big mouthfuls is for quenching thirst; Drinking tea slowly is for appreciating tea."

First time to pour hot water in the cup. The first time to pour hot water in the cups is usually for scorching the cups. The second time to pour hot water into the cups is for actually drinking. After four draws, the tea leaves are replaced by fresh ones because the old tea has lost its taste.

Ordinary families in Beijing have their own way to drink tea. Old Beijing residents who still live in old side streets or old-style houses have retained their old tea drinking habit.

After the city wall was demolished, old side streets and old courtyard dwellings became symbols of Beijing traditional architectural culture. They are closely related to the lives of the common people. There have been different assertions about the history and names of side streets. The side streets and courtyard dwellings are those in the old urban area in Beijing where the most ordinary Beijing residents live.

The courtyard dwellings are traditional residences in old Beijing. A typical courtyard dwelling is composed of four rows of houses on the four directions: the northern row has three rooms; the eastern and western side rows have two rooms each; and the southern row has three rooms. The room at the eastern end of the south row has a pas-sageway to the courtyard. Most of the front gates of these courtyard dwellings have a hipped top. In the courtyard there are pomegranate trees and a grape trellis. The family gathers under the grape trellis to drink tea and chat. A typical tea party in a courtyard dwelling in an old side street is actually a family gathering.

Beijing has preserved four dozen old side streets and courtyard dwellings with many residents still living in them. If a tea lover is a Mend of theirs he can enjoy a cup of tea at their homes and experience their tea drinking customs. A family courtyard m a side street near houhai Lake is open to tourists, The family welcomes people to be their guests and entertain them with tea.

Old Beijing residents are not very particular about the water for making tea, but they are particular about what kind of tea they drink in a certain time of the year.

In spring when the weather is turning warm but the air is still chilly Beijing residents prefer jasmine tea for its strong sweet aroma. This tea can help dispel the chill accumulated in the body through the winter and stimulate the growth of positive energy.

In hot summer they like to drink green tea. The bitter cold property of green tea can help alleviate the summer heat,promote the secretion of saliva and quench thirst, good for digestion.

In autumn some people drink dark green tea. The reason is that dark green tea a property between green tea and black tea-being neither cold nor hoi. ft can help dispel the remaining heat from the summer and rebuild function of the secretion of saliva.

In cold winter Beijing residents like to drink black tea and Wulong tea. These two kinds of tea have a sweet taste and a mild property, good for building up the positive energy in the body. They also can help eliminate the grease in the digestion system.

Beijing residents believe that it is good to drink tea regularly but not heavily; the tea should not be too thick. Thick tea might cause tea intoxication. They do not drink tea with an empty stomach to avoid a flustering heart

Beijing residents are also particular about the teapot and cups. They usually use porcelain teapots. Some prefer pottery teapots made in Yixing. Their bow-like tea cup with a lid and a saucer. Its upper part is larger than the lower part for the convenience of slow sipping. Filling the tea into a bowl-like cup with a lid requires a high skill. An unskilled person might spill the tea or knock the lid off to the ground, A skilled person holds the cup with his thumb and middle finger and prop up the lid with hi$ index finger with the front edge of the lid tilling little downward. Any water will not spill when filling the cup this way.

Beijing residents call tea making "qicha" instead of "paocha". "Paocha" means lo fill the cup with hot water and put tea leaves in; "qicha," means to put the tea leaves in the cup first and then pour hot water into the cup. Beijing residents prefer the way of "qicha" when they make their tea.

Old Beijing residents pay much attention to the etiquette of tea drinking.

Before they make the tea, they first wash their hands and then clean the teapot and asps. They will not use chipped or cracked cups when they entertain guests with tea. host also sees to that there is no tea stain in the tea cups. He will make the tea to the taste of the guests and fill the cup to 70 percent full.

The host will put the cup on a saucer, hold the saucer with two hands, present the tea to the guest and say, "Please enjoy the tea". The guest will usually stand up, accept the tea with two hands and say "Thank you." Both the host and the guest sipat the tea slowly and move the floating tea leaves away with the cup lid or blow at them.

Old Beijing residents usually do not urge the guests to refill their cups. They think it is an improper manner. Because according to an old custom when the host urges his guest to refill the tea cup it means lie wants the guest to leave.

Old Beijing residents are very careful when they drink tea from a cup with a lid because this way of tea drinking contains many ritual formalities.

If one entertains guests in a teahouse he cannot take up the cup to drink light after the waiter has delivered the tea because this means he wants the guests to leave. That will displease the guests and they might think the host is rude.

The correct way is: the host does not lift the tea cup from the table. He lifts the lid with one hand, move the floating tea leaves to the side of the cup lid and then hold the cup with both hands to sip slowly.

When the customers in a teahouse put the tea cup lid on the Chinese tea table the waiter knows they are asking for refilling. The customers should not knock the table with the cup lid to draw the waiter's Mention. It is a very bad manner.