Chinese New Year 2020 is about to welcome the Year of the Rat with a fiesta of firecrackers, flaming lanterns and dancing dragons. But behind the spectacle is a quieter, more contemplative philosophy, steeped in the traditions of family and respect.
Tea has played an important part in these ancient traditions. At some Chinese New Year family reunions, the younger members prepare and serve pu-erh or black tea to their elders, in exchange for blessings (and money!). In ancient Chinese traditions, tea was a practice, not a product. Ancient tea ceremonies were rituals, resonant in symbolism that served to strengthen relationships and help people savor life, through the act of preparing and drinking tea.
The ancient tea ceremony has a philosophy that’s in opposition to today’s frenetic coffee-on-the-go culture. We live in a connected world with the pace of change ever accelerating. Digitalization steals our time and attention. To keep your sanity, it’s an idea to disconnect with the world and reconnect with yourself – to step out of the madness and join the Slow Movement. Taking time to prepare and drink tea is almost a subversive act. So why not make it your Chinese New Year resolution to become a tea rebel? Create a daily practice of meditation in motion. Take the Way of Tea.
Cha Dao: The Way of Tea
Let your guide on the journey be the ancient Cha Jing, or The Book of Tea, the earliest written work on tea culture. It’s a detailed study of the practice and principles of tea preparation, written by Master Lu Yu during the Tang Dynasty, more than twelve hundred years ago. But you don’t need to follow the Cha Jing to the letter – in those days, tea was commonly served in cake form, and you needed 27 utensils just to brew a cuppa!. Aim to follow the spirit of the Way of Tea, but create your own flavor of it.
The five elements of your daily tea ritual
The essence of the ancient tea ritual lies in paying full attention to how you choose, prepare and drink your tea. Even clearing away afterwards is part of the practice.
Dress the space
In tea ceremonies, presentation is everything, so choose mindfully where you’re going to practice your ritual. Dress the space with things that are meaningful for you – perhaps some fresh flowers or a photo of a loved one. To connect with Chinese tradition, be mindful of the colors you use: for instance, red is lucky, green is associated with health, and blue represents longevity and harmony. Light a candle to add atmosphere and to denote the start of your ritual.
Set your intention
Take a deep, cleansing breath and set your intention for your practice. Perhaps it’s to feel gratitude, to pay attention to the moment or to be present with yourself. Perhaps it’s simply to appreciate this one moment of being alive.
Gather your equipment
You’ll need fresh water and a kettle but the rest is up to you. Some tea ceremonies use a gaiwan – a covered cup where tea is brewed and also drunk from. Others use a teapot for brewing, such as the traditional gongfu clay pot. Teaware styles range from smart, sophisticated glass pots to colorful ceramics, delicate bone china to rustic clay. It’s down to personal choice so choose which gives you most pleasure.
Select your tea
Ancient ceremonies traditionally favored oolong tea but your daily tea ritual is an ideal opportunity to experiment with different China teas. Focus on their different tastes and aroma, as part of your mindfulness practice. Choose Golden Pu-erh tea for a woody, earthy flavor, Keemum Royal Mao Feng for its smoky feel or, if you’d like something lighter, White Bud Silver Needle has a delicate sweetness.
Brew, pour and contemplate
Prepare your tea with slow, graceful movements. As you appreciate your tea, it’s a time for stillness. You might feel your breathing slowing down, your body relaxing and your mind quieting. As your attention improves over time, you may even gain deep insight.
If you’re struggling to switch off from the stresses of life, take a tip from the ancient Chinese and start your Chinese New Year with a daily tea practice that’s a precious oasis of calm.
Want to create a daily tea meditation?
Here are some other teas recommended by our Tea Sommelier:
- White Dragon Pearls Carefully Hand Rolled White Tea Leaves Appeal with their Elegant and Mellow Taste
- Jasmine Phoenix Pearls – Hand Rolled Pearls of Green Tea Leaves Scented with Jasmine Flowers
- Organic Dragon Well Long Jing – Destinctive Flat Leaf Produces Refreshing Notes of Fruits and Nuts
- Leopard Snow Buds – Rare tea from the mountains of Wuji with a fresh and pure taste
- Tie Guan Yin – Smooth Tie Guan Yin oolong with initial softness, a lightly sweet aftertaste and a beautiful flowery bouquet.