I will certainly travel to China one day to explore tea origins and culture. But before this happens I have to share the story of my first Chinese tea ceremony.
You may find it a surprise but it all happened in Lithuania. There is a place called “Arbatos magija” (meaning ‘The magic of tea’) which I wanted to visit for years while still living in Vilnius. And believe it or not, my bachelorette was organised in this exact place!
“Arbatos magija” is a tea house offering an expert advice, tea tasting and various classes, and a different setting for events. One of their specialties is the showcase of Chinese tea ceremony. And so I met my girl friends on a beautiful May afternoon to learn more about the traditions of preparing and drinking tea as they do in China.
The bride-to-be picked oolong tea for the tea ceremony. The manufacture of oolong teas is considered the most complicated because it involves additional steps compared to other types of tea such as firing or roasting. Oolong teas also come in different shapes and colors because of different levels of oxidation ranging from as little as 12 up to 80 percent. See it as an art form that enables tea makers experiment and add a touch of their personality into the making.
Oolongs can be dark or light in color: dark oolong gives a strong and woody taste whereas light oolong tastes fresh and floral and usually comes in ball-rolled or semi-ball-rolled shapes.
After a round of seeing and smelling a few types of oolong, I chose Tieguanyin for the tea ceremony. Tieguanyin is the most famous of light oolongs made in Fujian, southern China.
Just as the complicated manufacture process, the traditional oolong tea ceremony called gong fu is an unique and fine ritual with its own tea-ware and utensils. It is performed in front of the audience so they can follow each step and use all their senses to engage in the ceremony.
Gong fu tea ceremony
- Before the service begins the host rinses cups, teapot and other utensils with hot water. This is done to cleanse but also to purify tea-ware. There are a number of rules to follow in order to do the washing properly.
- Selected amount of tea is then scooped into the presentation bowl and shown around to everybody to see and smell the leaves.
- The preparation includes warming up the clay teapot filling and overflowing it with hot water and then pouring additional amount of hot water over the teapot. It’s a lot of water! It can get a bit messy but all water excess is collected in the basin under the table tray which is made for that purpose.
- While another round of water is boiling to a certain temperature needed for the brewing, the host uses a bamboo firing basket to warm up tea leaves for the taste and aroma to reveal as well as to eliminate any humidity that could sit in the leaves.
5. When tea is brewed in the clay teapot, the host pours it into the serving teapot and fills the cups. There are two types of cups used: a short drinking cup and a tall narrow “aroma” cup. The first infusion, known as “foot tea” is discarded—it is used for rinsing and preparing tea leaves. The teapot is refilled again allowing the tea to steep for another minute.
6. The second infusion is poured into the aroma cups; drinking cups are placed over the aroma cups and, while holding them tightly together, the host flips them over so that the contents from the aroma cup now moves into the drinking cup.
7. Everyone is served the tea on tiny individual trays and asked to carefully lift out the aroma cups to firstly enjoy the aroma of this tea and only then start sipping it from the drinking cups.
8. The host keeps reinfusing the tea as many times as it tastes nice. Oolong teas unlike other teas can be reinfused up to eight or nine times!
This ritual gives plenty of time for cozy conversations and interesting stories over a cup of tea…
Gong fu tea ceremony requires knowledge, practice and skill from the host while multiple infusions of oolong allow to enjoy the changing color and taste of this tea. It’s the watching, smelling, tasting and talking that makes this tea ceremony experience magical and worthwhile!
Visit “Arbatos magija” tea house when in Vilnius:
Address: Bazilijonų g. 8, Vilnius, Lithuania
ON THE TOPIC: Read my blogpost about the East Frisian Tea Ceremony in Bremen: 3 cups per break, 4 breaks per day or how East Frisians drink their tea