The Art of Tea

I don’t particularly like drinking cups of pure bitter tea. But I like that it is seen as art, and that it is a child of different cultures – I may have actually grown to like it, a sip at a time.

Korean Tea Etiquette 다례 dar ye

Korean Tea Ceremony
One of the highlights of our South Korean tour was donning a traditional dress한복 hanbok – unfortunately for me, this was done while being in a tea ceremony. While there were the familiar teapot and cups, a cooling bowl with a pouring lip has joined the showcase on the floor mat as we entered the room. Soon, we were asked to sit on the floor with our legs crossed around the mat where all the tea ware was. The presenter began talking about the Korean Tea Ceremony – what each item in front of us were for, where to place each of them before preparing tea and how to properly savor a cup of tea. Busy with her own thoughts on the peculiar wear and ware, my 18-year-old self could barely remember a detail of what was presented. So much for etiquette.

Chinese Tea Culture 茶文化 cha wen hua

Chinese Puer TeaWhen I saw the tea house visit as part of our Beijing itinerary, I expected it to be one of those boring parts of the tour where guests will be forced to purchase tea that costs thousands of US dollars for a less than a hundred grams. On the contrary, and despite that no photos were allowed to be taken, it ended up to be pretty interesting. Once in the room with a classroom seating arrangement, a lady in her tight-fitting China dress 旗袍 qipao came in with a tray full of tea. While preparing, she tested if the water was hot enough using a “pee-pee boy” – a terracotta monk boy figurine onto which hot water is poured after being submerged in cold water. After he squirts water – and at an amazing range – the water is hot enough to boil some tea. She then explained how each of the tea was different from one another and passed us cups to taste. Tasting, to us, meant a simple sip and swallow, apparently it meant letting it linger in your mouth while clicking your tongue a little. It made the room echo with a comically unmannered sound. A curious tea culture it is for my 19-year-old self.

Japanese Tea Performance お手前 o te mae

Japanese Tea Ceremony
We studied in Japan for five months. Of course, teachers can’t help but allow us to experience a traditional tea ceremony – a few couple of times. The first cup of Japanese green tea 抹茶maccha that I had tasted bitter, I had to force myself to gulp it all down as courtesy to my teacher. But the next was in a more formal setup. We entered a room with a tatami flooring 畳tatami and were asked to kneel and sit on our legs. A lady in kimono 着物served us with brightly colored persimmon sweets – none of which we could touch until later on. She starts preparing tea in one corner of the room; her movements were graceful and precise with every scoop, pour and mix. She stands up and drags her feet slowly as she approaches us with cups of thick, emerald tea. Each of us picks up our bowl and appreciates its craftsmanship by turning it a few times before taking three loud sips. The tea has gone from the bowl, but the bitterness was left as an aftertaste. Time for the persimmon sweets – the perfect reward for having sore legs and bitter tea. “ご馳走様でしたgochisousamadeshita” said the 20-year-old me to the lovely lady and her elegant performance.


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