Tea Ceremony

A gentle hum that grows louder, then turns into a hiss that becomes a gurgle  The water is boiling, bubbling, impatient.  The teacher removes the electric kettle from its base, and pours its contents into a clear glass pitcher.  This hot waterfall emits steam, like gossamer climbing up the inside walls of the container, then spreading in the room, invisible, yet present.  

Patience is about waiting and being open to wonder.

A few seconds later, the teacher pours the water into all the double-bottomed glass cups arranged on a slatted bamboo tray.  The winter sun filtering through the window gives the small, clear glass a glow.  Another kettleful of water is put to boil.

It is by watching that you discover magical secrets.

He sits on the small black cushion on the floor, while we, his students, form a horseshoe around the small, beechwood tea table.  Some sit on chairs, others on the floor.  Nobody speaks.  He takes the earthenware bowl with the tea, and passes it around.  In turn, each of us gently fingers the black leaves, feeling the texture, smelling the slightly tart scent.

There are a thousand worthy words concealed in silence.

One by one, the teacher empties the cups into the slatted tray.  When the bowl of tea is returned to him, he tips the contents into a new glass pitcher.  The black leaves fall down the transparent shaft, with a soft rustling sound.  Once again, he transfers the freshly-boiled water into a glass pitcher, waits a few seconds, then pours it on the tea leaves, and puts the lid on.  Slowly.  Tea leaves, swelling with water, rise through a wavy sea of deepening amber, swirling, gathering on the surface where they linger for a minute or so.  We watch as the first tea leaf detaches itself from the other and gently sways down, landing lightly on the bottom of the pitcher.  Other leaves follow, and soon they are all quitting the surface, drifting to the bottom.  The infusion is now a rich golden amber.  

Who would have thought that there is so much beauty is watching tea draw?

The teacher pours the tea into every cup.  We all take ours but nobody drinks yet.  Each cradles the cup in the palms of his or her hand, admiring the colour, inhaling the steam, slowly, eventually bringing the tea up to our faces, feeling the warm condensation on our noses, guiding it through our nostrils until we can define its fragrance, delicate, slightly smokey, and send it down our throats and into our lungs.  

True pleasure is in sensing every detail, every stage, every minute impression.

We take our first sip, hold the hot liquid in our mouths, inhale through our noses, filling our lungs.  The terrain for a full experience of the flavour has been prepared.  After expelling the air, we swallow the tea.  A velvety, smokey, subtle tartness fills our mouths, then trickles down to our stomachs, like warm gold.

If you honour the food and drink, it will honour your body.

Red Robe Oolong.  Reserved for honoured guests.  It grows on the mountains of the Fujian Province, in China.  They say the mother of an emperor of the Ming Dynasty was cured of a serious illness by drinking this tea.  The grateful emperor sent swathes of Imperial red cloth to dress the bushes from which this tea had been picked.  Others say this tea saved the life of a much-respected scholar at the Emperor’s court.

A small, shrivelled leaf that bursts with magic.

We take another sip.  It never tastes like the first.  The surprise is replaced with a closer acquaintance with the taste of the drink, a closer awareness of its effect on our bodies.  The third sip is pleasure, pure, rewarding pleasure.

Awareness flings open the gates to a universe of unlimited possibilities.

It’s not just about drinking tea, it’s about getting to know it like a friend, getting to know yourself, getting to know the world.  It’s about learning, and learning leading to loving.

Happy Chinese New Year to all!

Scribe Doll

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10 Responses to Tea Ceremony

  1. Deniz Paradot says:

    The Chinese character for tea is cha 茶. It is composed of three parts. The top one represents plants. The middle one represents human or person. The bottom one means wooden or “being rooted.” Thus the true meaning of cha is something like “the plant that gives humans a sense of being rooted or balanced.”
    Drinking tea through a Cha Dao (tea ceremony) is how to live each moment of our life, how we approach the very substance of our soul, as well as the ongoing evolution of our spirit. It is part of how we find our place within the ever-changing, ever-shifting universe.

  2. This is so lovely, Katia. I’ve never been to a tea ceremony, but, someday, I’d love to attend one. I should keep track of when the Chinese New Year is, but I always forget, and so I’m extra grateful for your post. As an avid follower of your blog, and fellow snake, I wish you much health and happiness and fragrant tea as the new year begins.

  3. de Chareli says:

    I have never witnessed a tea ceremony, but if I prepare tea at home, it certainly means I have time to enjoy both the preparation and the drinking of the tea. My flavour is rather Indian than Chinese, but anyway, Happy Chinese New Year. My year of birth was a Year of the Dog, which is not little irony as I do not like dogs at all (my apologies to all dog owners or lovers – I got bitten once as a boy without having provoked the dog and that settled my feelings forever). I certainly prefer pigs.

    • Scribe Doll says:

      Aargh! We need to get you over the dog trauma. They’re wonderful, loving creatures. I was born the Year of the Snake. I like both Indian and Chinese tea (although, as you know, all tea is originally from China. The British starting growing it in India, I understand). My current favourite is chrisanthemum tea (not a leaf tea but so delicate, so comforting).

  4. Wonderful, like you say … Who would have thought that there is so much beauty is watching tea draw? … Happy Chinese New Year to you and all!

    • Scribe Doll says:

      Thank you! One of my favourite moments in the day is making myself a cup of chrisanthemum tea. My Chinese doctor gave me some for Christmas for medicinal reasons and I love it. Watching the dry little chrisanthemum expand in my china cup, making the water a light, sunny gold.

  5. Happy Chinese New Year to you too–and thanks for alerting me of the date, so that I can wish someone else I know the same. I knew it was sometime in the late winter-early spring, but couldn’t place the exact date. What is the teacher a teacher of? Don’t answer if your class is very personal, but I think this sounds like the sort of thing I would like to do, assuming the class isn’t too expensive here.

    • Scribe Doll says:

      Chinese New Year starts on 5th Febriary. Year of the Pig. No secret at all – my Qi Gong teacher sometimes makes tea after weekend workshops, to wind up the day in a quiet, relaxing yet alert manner. I’ve written about Qi Gong before. I do my practice every morning as soon as I get up, at home, before I start the day in earnest, and also go to class once or twice a week. I would highly recommend it. It’s wonderful.

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