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Tea Etiquette for Chinese New Year

Year of the Dragon
First thing in the Morning

Tea is offered to the seniors in the family by the younger generation first thing in the morning on the first day of the Chinese New Year. If there are more than two generations under the same roof, the order should be son/daughter to the parents, and then grand-son/-daughter to their grannies, before they offer to their parents. When there are siblings, it should be according to the age in descending order, ie the eldest one gets to offer first.

The handle of the cup should face left for the offerer and right for the receiver, supposing the receiver is right-handed. The offerer holds the cup by the saucer with both hands. The receiver take the cup by the handle with one hand and the saucer with the other, and sip the tea while listening to the well wishes from the offerer.

dried red datesDried red dates. Suggestions for the idea of sooner, earlier etc. For example, when used with candied lotus roots, it is a wish for getting married soon. dried longanDried Longan. Symbolism for unity, sp referencing family or husband and wife unity. Homophonic for “Treasuring Unity”. candied winter melonCandied Winter Melon. Symbol for fullness, abundance etc sp referencing crops.
candied carrotCandied carrot. Symbol for sweet time, suggesting good time will come soon. candied lotus rootCandied lotus root. Symbol for wedding, unity of the destined couple.
candied lotus seedsCandied lotus seeds. Symbol for abundance of offsprings. candied coconutsCandied coconut shavings. Coconut is the icon for resilience in life. It symbolises the strength of survival and the ability to give life as a popularly used auspicious symbol. candied kamquatCandied kamquat. Homophonic with the word for gold and that for auspicious.
Candied or dried fruits and veggies of auspicious symbolism used in Chinese New Year for serving as a snack and put in tea to offer. Most of these symbols are based on homophoneous expressions.

When a gaiwan is used, the offerer also holds the gaiwan by the saucer with both hands and the receiver takes the saucer with one hand and the lid ring with the other, and sip the tea as in the above paragraph. (read Tea Etiquette: Using the Gaiwan as a Cup)

The receiver should be seated properly. The offerer always facing the receiver when giving the tea.

Well-wishing

tea offering 10th century
A woman holds the tea bowl by the receptacle saucer about to proceed to serving or offering. Another on the right holds a tool for tealeaf grinding. Large lumps of coal on a caldron on the floor keep the water kettle hot. Detail of a mural from a 10th century tomb in Hebei, China.

Well wishing for the New Year is said while the cup is handed over, after the receiver is greeted properly. When the tea is sipped and the well-wishing said, the receiver returns with a red packet and auspicious wishes to the offerer. Originally when the tradition began, well-wishes were written on red paper inside the packets, but somehow the content has become money. I received some with chocolate candy coins and small change when I was a child. In any case, some nice thing has to be inside; it is very nasty to give out empty packets — some would see it as a curse.

The second offerer

Since there may be another offerer or more to the same receiver, the second one (or subsequent ones) to offer tea to the same receiver would not offer tea in another cup, but rather fill the receiver's cup again with fresh tea.

In this case, the receiver's cup should be rested on a table in front, or if in a proper traditional setup, a tea table on the side of the receiver's chair. The offerer is to pour tea to the cup, however little amount is needed, with one hand holding the teapot handle, another the pot lid. A chahai can be used in place of the teapot. In such case, the other hand can be touching the side of the chahai.

Chinese merchant in late 19th century, showing how the tea table is placed on the side of the chair
A late 19th century photograph showing how the gaiwan is placed on the tea table on the side of the chair. Notice that the gaiwan has a saucer with a thick base for holding the tea bowl securely.

When tea is poured, the pot should be rested and the offerer take the cup as stated in the first section of this page to offer to the receiver.

Auspicious items in the tea

A few pieces of candied fruits and vegetables are to be placed at the bottom of the teacups before filling with tea to offer. Each item carries specific auspicious meaning (see above photos). Not many people are aware of this however, so it is okay to put almost any casual selections from the traditional range.

Tea Selection

The tastes of most selections of black teas, classic style oolongs, and puers (shu cha) blend well with these candied fruit and vegetable. The concern is rather the way the tea is prepared and held in such situation, particularly when quite a number of family members are presented, where a greater quantity of tea is needed. Use a lower tea to water ratio, such as 2g to 300 ml water and steep the tea for longer time before decanting into an intermediate teapot. (Read more about tea preparation)

Blue glaze artist gaiwan
 

More Tea Please

In occasions such as a family gathering for celebration, lots of food are there to entertain. Excessive calories and fats are unavoidable. And contrasty tastes and smells. Tea not only helps the body with digestion and against excessive build-ups, but also buffers between conflicting tastes and even enhances some. Prepare a lot of tea to help them enjoy the time even more. Make it a New Year for the better!

read more about Tea Etiquette in Using the Gaiwan as a Cup

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