Modern Tea Customs of China

There’s a lot to write about tea customs in China as tea has been an integral part of the culture for thousands of years.  Here are some modern tea customs of China in a nutshell:Offering Tea as a Sign of Respect

In Chinese society, the younger generation always shows its respect to the older generation by offering a cup of tea. Inviting and paying for their elders to go to restaurants for tea is a traditional activity on holidays. In the past, people of lower rank served tea to higher-ranking people. Today, as Chinese society becomes more liberal, parents may pour a cup of tea for their children at home, or a boss may even pour tea for subordinates at restaurants. The lower-ranking person should not expect the higher-ranking person to serve him or her tea in formal occasions, however.

Tea Customs of China

Family Gatherings
Going to restaurants and drinking tea is an important activity for family gatherings. Every Sunday, Chinese restaurants are crowded, especially when people celebrate festivals. This phenomenon reflects deep communal Chinese family values.

In Chinese culture, people make serious apologies to others by pouring tea for them. For example, children serve tea to their parents as a sign of regret and submission.

The Wedding Day
In the traditional Chinese marriage ceremony, both the bride and groom kneel in front of their parents and serve them tea to express their gratitude. It is a common practice for the married couple to say a few words of thanks and appreciation, after which the parents will usually drink a small portion of the tea and offer a red envelope, symbolizing good luck. Another variance is for the new daughter-in-law to-be to serve tea to her new parents-in-law to-be, symbolizing that she is to become a part of the latter’s family. The tea ceremony during weddings also serves as a means for both parties in the wedding to meet with members of the other family. As Chinese families can be rather extended beyond a hundred people, it is entirely possible during a courtship to have not been introduced to someone. This was particularly true in older generations where the patriarch may have had more than one wife and not all family members were always on good terms. As such, during the tea ceremony, the couple would serve tea to all family members and call them by their official title. Drinking the tea symbolized acceptance into the family. Refusal to drink would symbolize opposition to the wedding and is quite unheard of since it would result in a “loss of face”. Older relations so introduced would give a red envelope to the matrimonial couple while the couple would be expected to give a red envelope to younger, unmarried relations.


Passing on the Tradition
Friends and family routinely get together to drink Gongfu cha and chat. During such occasions, tradition and culture are passed on to the younger generation.

Daily Necessity
Tea is traditionally regarded as one of the seven daily necessities, the others being firewood, rice, oil, salt, soy sauce, and vinegar.

Expressing Gratitude:
After a person’s cup is filled, that person may knock their bent index and middle fingers on the table to express gratitude to the person who served the tea. Although this custom is common in southern Chinese culture such as the Cantonese, in other parts of China it is only acceptable if for some reason you cannot actually express thanks at that moment (for example if you are in the middle of talking with someone else at the table).  This custom is said to have originated in the Qing Dynasty when Emperor Qian Long would travel in disguise through the empire. Servants were told not to reveal their master’s identity. One day in a restaurant, the emperor, after pouring himself a cup of tea, filled a servant’s cup as well. To that servant it was a huge honor to have the emperor pour him a cup of tea. Out of reflex he wanted to kneel and express his thanks. He could not kneel and kowtow to the emperor since that would reveal the emperor’s identity so he knocked his fingers on the table to express his gratitude and respect to the emperor.