China Underground > Essential guide to China > The Art of Tea in Chinese Culture: History and Traditions

The Art of Tea in Chinese Culture: History and Traditions

Serving tea is and was a formal process even involving tea ceremonies in the Orient. It had been made art and still is one. Let’s dive into the art and meaning of tea in one of the most ancient cultures in the world: China. We’ll explore the fascinating details, history, and traditions of tea in Chinese culture. 

An Ancient Staple

The ancient culture of China has had tea as an integral part of its identity, and tea-making has a history that spans thousands of years. What does tea signify in Chinese culture?

  • Tea and serving tea symbolize respect, friendship, and hospitality.
  • Tea has been enjoyed by the Chinese from the Tang Dynasty up until now and has since become an art.
  • Enjoying tea is also regarded as a way to connect with Nature by the Chinese. As people savor and enjoy the taste of the tea leaves.

Tea is an ancient staple in China that embodies and represents their culture, philosophies, traditions, and beliefs. It has become one of the central figures of Chinese culture if one does think about China. 

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As you can probably tell, tea is not casually treated in this culture. It is linked to important philosophies and beliefs, and it is also served most gracefully and respectfully. The origins of such cultural traditions are nuanced and scattered, but we can ascertain that ancient peoples were more attuned to poetry in motion. 

A Long History

While we can’t be 100% certain when tea was created in Chinese history, historians have tracked it back to 1600-1046 BC during the “Shang Dynasty.” At that time, tea was mostly consumed for its medicinal properties. 

After some time, it became more than just medicine, and the consumption of tea became recreational. It slowly integrated itself into Chinese society, branching out from only being consumed for medical reasons. It was now consumed for pleasure. It even became its currency during the “Tang Dynasty” in 618-907 AD. It was used to trade for other goods, just as if it was money. 

Around 960-1279 AD, in the “Song Dynasty” era, tea making and the art of tea started. During this time, the emergence of tea ceremonies started in China. Tea ceremonies are graceful, elegant, and elaborate ceremonies. The tea is prepared and served as a performance and a ritual at the same time. Tea ceremonies are conducted to show respect but also to socialize.

Tea Traditions

Tea-making ceremonies are still conducted even in modern China. People usually go through the process of tea ceremonies to celebrate a special day or event or to show respect to visitors or business partners. 

And if you’re wondering what type of tea ceremonies exist, then it’s vital to know that there are various types of tea ceremonies. And, of course, they all have their unique customs and traditions. 

A prominent tea ceremony is called the “Gongfu” tea ceremony. It’s a graceful and highly elaborate ceremony where servers use many small cups and teapots. They pour the tea in a certain way for the flavor and even measure the tea leaves and water. The teapots and cups used in these formal ceremonies are usually also very high-quality and have been handmade by artisans.

Tea etiquette is also strictly followed during these tea ceremonies and plays a central part in the ritual. Servers must gracefully follow strict etiquette. There’s a proper way to hold the tea and drink it, and etiquette for pouring, serving, etc. Interestingly, the Japanese also have their own graceful and meticulous tea ceremonies, which were a direct influence by the Chinese.

The Different Chinese Tea Types

The tea used in the artful tea ceremonies involves the use of six main types, which of course, have their unique health benefits, flavors, and aromas. The tea types include black tea, green tea, white tea, yellow tea, dark tea, and oolong tea. They are used and picked out according to the situation.

Regionally, there are also different types of specialties in the realm of tea. China is huge and has many regions. Famous tea specialties have different aromas and distinct flavors which represent and embody the land it’s from and the way it is processed. An example of a prominent tea specialty is the pu-erh tea from Yunnan Province. 

The Process of Tea Production

When it comes to making tea, the Chinese do take it very seriously. Even during the production, art is already being made. They are meticulous with how they produce it. Firstly, they pick the leaves, then they wither, roll, ferment, and dry those leaves. Each step of the process obliges the tea producers to be very meticulous with how they do it. This is the sole way to produce top-notch tea.


Drinking tea also symbolizes a life philosophy in Chinese culture. Tea signifies unity and harmony in Chinese philosophy. It reflects the harmonious balance of humanity and nature. On a further note, tea is also associated with mindfulness, living in the present, and simplicity, which further connects to Zen and Taoist philosophies.

Final Thoughts

We’ve learned that tea is a staple in culture and philosophy and is an art form in China. It has a rich history and is a prominent feature of Chinese culture. Tea was not only revered for its health benefits but it was also consumed with spiritual and philosophical intentions. 

Once in their life, people from all over the world should try Chinese tea and divulge in their fascinating tea ceremonies. It’s a chance to drink some very high-quality tea and a chance to get to learn another culture’s rituals.

Featured image: source

Last Updated on 2023/04/04

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