The interesting thing about tea, as opposed to other luxury consumables, is that it’s developed a lot of different distinct cultures. Even when tea is introduced from one culture to another very little carries over. The rituals change to suit the society.
That’s not a bad thing! I think it’s a good sign, actually, that tea is so open-ended as to be essentially customizable. It means nobody has an excuse to not get into to tea, which I like. It also means we get to enjoy tea in as many ways as someone can come up with.
The Chinese tea brewing method known as gongfu cha, the Japanese tea ceremony known as chado, and the tea party most English speakers know well are probably the best known tea ceremonies. But there’s plenty of other tea rituals out there–preparing chai, Moroccan tea, the Korean tea ceremony. Also Russian tea, which I recently heard about and which sounds so…so very Russian. I’ll try it and get back to you.
Rather than outline those ceremonies (there is this neat thing called ‘google’) and discuss their differences, I’d rather discuss their similarities. Of these I have figured two or three.
Similarity no. 1) Respect for the tea.
The tea is admired in one or all of the forms that it takes–the dry leaves, the smell, the color, the used leaves, and of course, the taste. Some tea ceremonies place more emphasis on the full experience than others, and some dilute the tea leaves, but all of them are drinking tea for the flavor produced.
Similarity no. 2) Respect for others.
The golden rule is to do unto others as you would have done to you. I’m not too sure about the gold standard but the rule stands as far as tea goes. In all of these rituals, the guests are served first. The other part of this rule is to have respect for others’ opinions. If someone doesn’t like a tea, their appreciation of tea in general is not substandard. Nor does liking a particularly expensive or rare tea make a person an expert in tea. The tea market is not a market where price and quality really correspond, anyway. At the tea table, everybody’s opinion carries weight.
Similarity no. 3) Nourishment.
If you’ve ever been to an English tea party, you may have noticed that the tea sometimes takes a backseat to the snacks. The table is loaded with goodies! And people eat, and they enjoy what they eat, because if they were just hungry they would be eating meals and not tiny cakes. This appreciation of food, of anything you are putting inside of you, really, is good for you, physically and mentally.
The Chinese tea process is similar, though the nourishment is spiritual. Brewing tea is time for reflection and thought, especially introspective thought. Thinking about yourself all the time is narcissism, but thinking about self-improvement is beneficial to you and the world you occupy. Not to sound sanctimonious, but every morning I used to get up an hour early and do tea. It was my instant centering mechanism, like how some people go for a jog or do yoga (I tried yoga once but when the instructor asked me to pretend I was a crow I was out of there faster than the first gongfu steep). It made me nicer, I think, and more ready for the day.
Nourishment of the self, for the purpose of worldly improvement. Apparently tea is actually rather high-minded!