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The Art of Tea Ceremonies: Myths and Truths

Updated on October 30, 2015

Tea ceremonies are timeless traditions that exist even to this day, although not practiced with the same details as they were decades ago. However, the values that are present in tea ceremonies of the past still exist today, which is why the art of preparing and serving tea remains a good culture that should be preserved. However, throughout time, tea ceremony has evolved and in certain countries it is only practiced during certain occasions. It has also been associated with some myths that can hinder the experience of enjoying tea.

What Does a Tea Ceremony Embody?

Chinese, Japanese, and British cultures are known for their tea ceremonies. For each culture, the tea ceremony embodies different ideals. For instance, in the Japanese culture, the tea ceremony is a humbling experience. The more lavish ceremony where a host invites only a handful of guests in a tea house and serves them courses of food before thick and thin tea is served is often accompanied by a wise saying which the guests are expected to ponder over and use in their lives. This saying is often in a few words and enigmatic in meaning. The tea in itself is made to be enjoyed not around a lavish setting but on a tatami mat after one has cleansed himself and pondered over the simplicity of life.

Since the Japanese tea culture is influenced by the Chinese culture, it is only natural for them to have similarities. Chinese tea ceremonies are characterized by the adoration of beauty even in sordid daily lives. There is a certain refinement in the way tea is made and presented—simplicity and humility is highlighted. Inner refinement and connection with the inner spirit is given emphasis.

Meanwhile, the European tea ceremony is a social event where the equipment used to make tea is emphasized as well as the manners presented while making them. The social circle invited to the tea ceremony, which is also called high tea or even afternoon tea, is also important.

Tea Ceremonies in Different Cultures

Chinese and Japanese tea ceremonies encourage the appreciation of nature and simplicity, which is why these are done on a tea garden or a place where nature is highlighted and given significance. This is not to say that the tea house is adorned by lavish trees and plants; instead, simple trees, earth, water, and their harmonic union with some bare space gives the impression of humility and respect. There is a certain beauty in the art of creating tea and it is more appreciated when it is done in an unhurried manner. In these cultures, the tea set looks better when matching with the teapot and even the tray.

Meanwhile, high tea in Europe is rather a form of social entertainment. Tea is often accompanied by biscuits and cakes, as opposed to the more traditional Asian tea ceremony where food that is not enough to answer hunger is served, oftentimes fish and vegetables.

Being invited to a tea ceremony is a great honor in all cultures. The Vietnamese tea ceremony, which is also influenced by the Chinese, is only done on wedding events.

Basic Types of Chinese Tea

Chinese tea culture is rich in different types of tea, all coming from the leaves of Camellia sinensis, but differing in the processing method and the location of the plant used. There are also infused teas available. The basic types of tea in Chinese tea culture are:

  • Green tea –This is greenish in color due to the minimal oxidation process it undergoes. The original color of the leaves is retained as well as their antioxidants.

  • Black tea – It has undergone full fermentation and offers brownish or reddish-brown tea leaves. When prepared, the tea has a brownish color. This tea has a full-bodied flavor.

  • Oolong tea – Oolong tea is the product of partial fermentation which gives it the characteristics of green and black teas. It is clear and fragrant but also strong and refreshing.

  • White tea – The white color of the dry tea is due to the use of uncured buds and young leaves that undergo minimal processing. This contains higher caffeine content and antioxidants.

  • Post-fermented tea – In China, this is called “hei cha” and is characterized by a long fermentation period. It is said that only tea masters can create this kind of tea which has a dark brown color. As this tea ages, its flavor improves.

  • Flower tea – Flower teas use a combination of base tea and flower petals or blossoms. The base tea can be green tea, black tea, or oolong tea.

Myths about Tea

The popularity of tea as a beverage has spun rumors about how it should be drank properly, and some of the myths are stopping individuals from enjoying the drink properly. Here are just some of the myths that you should be aware of:

  • Adding milk negates health benefits. Health buffs will be glad to know that studies reveal that the body absorbs similar amounts of antioxidants from plain black tea to milk-tinged teas.

  • Peppermint tea is a cure for stomach ache. Peppermint is not good for gastrointestinal reflux disease and heartburn. Rather than using peppermint tea, ginger tea is a better alternative.

  • Tea is healthiest on its own. While tea in itself is full of health benefits, lemon juice or honey as a sweetener will not make it less so. In fact, these can help improve the health benefits of tea.

  • Tea doesn’t spoil. Tea has a long shelf life and can last for up to six months. However, tea stored longer than that will not have any antioxidants left. It should be stored in a sealed, dark, and cool place.

Myths Surrounding the Boston Tea Party

The most popular myth about the Boston Tea Party was its cause. It was not a “party” in protest of high taxes on imported tea. Instead, it was a protest on the reach of the Parliament. The Boston Tea Party was a significant event in history where chests of tea had been dumped into the Boston Harbor by American colonists. This dumping of tea was in protest to the favored treatment of the East India Company which monopolized tea through the lowering of taxes. The company had lobbyists and exercised a big influence on the Parliament. With a boycott led by John Hancock, sales of the British East India Company fell and in 1773, the company was in huge debt. As the Tea Act was implemented, the company was able to sell tea at a lower price and bypassed taxes.

In the simplest sense, drinking tea is a healthy habit. Through drinking tea regularly, the body can gain antioxidants that help fight sicknesses, improve bowel movements, and make the skin glow with health. However, tea ceremonies are not just made for the consumption of tea. As soon as you reach the place where the tea ceremony will take place, you will be on a mission to rethink about your life choices and wonder about the balance and contrast of the world. There is a humbling experience in walking through a simple garden, washing your hands and mouth before consuming tea that has been prepared by the host graciously, and in consuming not an abundance of food, but just enough to warm the stomach. All these elements give rise to a kind of humility that each person should practice. Those who preserve the tea culture know and understand the balance of things and that there is beauty in simplicity. Instead of just being given tea, you are being given knowledge about your surroundings, which is why the tea ceremony is a beautiful art that should not be cherished by those who participate in it.

Among the tea ceremonies discussed in the hub, which one have you tried before?

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