China is the birthplace of green tea, and the beverage continues to enjoy an important position in the Chinese culture. Chinese tea culture is interwoven with everyday life, and has many different aspects, with each situation having its own clearly defined and strictly adhered to set of rules.
Green tea is treated with extreme reverence in China, because the Chinese very much value its medicinal qualities, and thus have a great deal of respect for their national beverage. In China, green tea is so ubiquitous that there’s generally no need to refer to it as such it’s more commonly known simply as tea, in much the same way as the word tea in western countries is commonly understood to refer to black tea.
There are several major ways in which tea culture comes into play in China, with tea being prepared and consumed on specific types of occasion. It is always used to show respect the younger generation, for example, will show its respect for the older generation through the act of offering a cup of tea. Further back down the years, lower-ranking individuals in society would serve tea to those of a higher rank.
Chinese society today is much more liberal, in that it’s not unheard of for a parent to pour tea for a child, or a person of higher rank in some other way to offer tea to a subordinate. However, individuals of younger years or otherwise lower ranking in society still cannot expect to be served tea by older or higher ranked people in formal situations. The pouring of tea is very much connected with the notion of respect.
Connected with the idea of respect is the role that tea plays in situations where someone is making an apology. As strange as it might seem, the pouring of tea is an integral part of making a serious apology a recognized sign of submission and regret.
Green tea drinking also plays a major role in family bonding. Because it is somewhat unusual for married individuals to regularly visit their parents once they’ve moved out, the act of going out to restaurants and drinking tea together has a great deal of importance in Chinese culture. This can also be seen at weddings, where tea ceremonies are held as a means of introducing members of the large extended families to each other, and formally connecting the two sides together.
Drinking tea with one’s new in-laws at the wedding tea ceremony symbolizes acceptance into the family. In addition to this, both the bride and groom will formally thank their parents and express their gratitude for all that the parents have done in raising them, by kneeling before them and serving them a cup of tea. The parents accept, drink a sip of the tea, and then hand over a red envelope as a symbol of good luck.
There are many rituals and traditions concerning the actual practice of tea drinking, too such as how to hold the cup, when to take your first sip, how to express thanks to the host, and so on. Tea drinking in China is about more than just having something to drink it’s an important and celebrated way of life!