Chinese Tea Ceremony Etiquette Guide

chinese tea ceremony etiquette guide
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Chinese tea etiquette is among the traditional etiquettes of the Chinese people and it has a history of over 300 years. Since the Zhou Dynasty, tea has been a form of present between relatives and friends and a tribute for royalty. The Mongolian people, Han people and many other ethnic minorities in China have been observing tea serving etiquettes but the Han people have a longer tea serving etiquette – they had it before the Tang Dynasty. 

The tea etiquette varies from one place to the other, such as Yuan Bao Tea, Qi Jia Tea and Kong Fu tea. The common name for Mongolian tea serving technique is “Serving Milky Tea” and today it is popular in Qinghai Province, the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, and other areas of China. This guide will help you know what to do when serving Chinese tea or receiving it in a Chinese home or teahouse. 

Serving Chinese Tea

As stated above, the serving of tea in China is a custom that has a very long history. The Chinese love serving tea to their guests gradually and that is an etiquette. According to their traditional culture, regardless of the place and time, their tea serving has to relate to the etiquettes. Here is what to do when serving the tea.

1. Smell the tea 

If you are the host, you will have to show the tea to your guests and introduce all its characteristics. After that, allow your guests to smell the tea in turns. 

2. Warm your teapot 

Now add water into your empty pot as a way of warming it. Wait for a short time and pour out all the water. That way, the pot will not cool the tea water. 

3. Add tea to the teapot

You will need a spoon to scoop the tea and add it to your teapot. You will have to scoop the right quantity depending on the quality of your tea. Never use your hand to scoop the tea. 

4. Invite your guests to drink 

It is time to invite all your guests to drink tea. Hold the tea with both hands when handing it to your guests as a way of showing respect. Ensure that your guests have received the tea with the right hand. Add water in time – do not allow the guest to drink the tea out. Guests have to appreciate the offered tea and avoid drinking big mouthfuls. 

Related Article: Traditional Korean Tea Ceremony Guide

5. Do not cross legs 

Whether you are the host or guest, you have to avoid crossing your legs when drinking the tea. People might see that as disrespect.

Tea serving is common practice in the daily life of the Chinese. They do it as a way of showing respect to their friends and guests. Even though their way of serving is traditional, today people are casual and they might not pay attention to some rules and steps when serving the tea. Here are some of the things to keep in mind. 

  • Do not serve the tea too full on cups. It should be around 80 percent full. 
  • Avoid serving the water when it is very hot because it might scald the tongues of your guests accidentally when drinking. 
  • If you have many guests, ensure that the colour of the served tea is almost the same.
  • When serving the refreshments, put them on the front of the guest and place the teacup at the right-hand side of the guest. 
  • When serving the tea, hold each cup on the right hand and hand it from your guest’s right hand with a smile. 
  • One scoop of tealeaves will serve 3-4 cups. Each time the cup of your guest is empty, refill the tea. Do not clean the tea things until the guests leave. 

Seating etiquette

Today, only a few individuals know the seating etiquettes to observe when in the traditional Chinese teahouses. Conventionally, you should leave the host’s left-hand side for the first guest of honour. The importance of every seat is in descending order from the left-hand side to the right-hand side of the host. You are likely to find tables of many shapes, but you have to observe the iron law always. Moreover, the teachers and elderly are revered to take the highly ranked seats. If the age difference is very small, women have priority. Sitting directly opposite to your host will be inappropriate. If it is necessary, allow children to take the seat.

Gratitude for the steep

If you are invited to taste your first steep, you should express appreciation to your host. This is among the most important Chinese tea etiquettes in traditional ceremonies. The standard and the formal procedure involves standing up. If you are a man, hold your fists – left over the right. If you are a woman, put your palms together, take a bow and take your sit. Take over your teacups, smell the aroma from the tea, take the first sip and then savour the tea. 

Finger Kowtow 

The other common name for Finger Kowtow is finger tapping. It is a ritual that people perform silently as gratitude to the individual serving the Chinese tea. Emperor Qianglong of the Qing Dynasty travelled to the south and entered a teahouse more often with his companions. The teahouse owner would use a very long pot and would not forget to pour the water three downs and ups with rhythm to make the tea without spoiling a single drop. That impressed Emperor Qianlong but he did not understand why the teahouse owner had to do all that.

When asked why that was important, the teahouse owner replied that it was a tradition of the Chinese tea known as “Three Nods of the Phoenix”. That influenced the emperor to take over the long pot and try doing the same. Because he made the cup for his servant, the servant would kneel and kowtow to him for the great honour. But to avoid revealing the emperor’s identity, the fast-thinking servant bent two fingers and tapped the table – more like he was kneeling and kowtowing. From that time, kowtowing has remained a common practice in the Chinese communities. Instead of Kowtowing, people tap their fingers on a table as a way of thanking the tea server silently. 

In Eastern Asia culture, people used the kowtow to show respect to the elders in the form of kneeing and bowing very low such that their head touched the ground. It was therefore used for culture and religious worship and to show respect to the emperors. Today, it is common in South Chinese cultures, but most people do not use it. in tea ceremonies nodding your head will be appropriate. 

Serve others first

Even though this applies to food too, serving others first is more important. After finishing the first cup and you want to enjoy another one, you will have to offer the tea to other guests first before refilling your cup. The Chinese will see an interruption of conversations to ask others whether they want some more tea as rude. In such cases, go ahead and refill their cups. 

Drinking the tea

The Chinese serve their tea in very small cups because they allow faster cooling for the guests to drink. Of course, the tea will be very hot immediately served, so you have to wait for a short time before you sip – otherwise, it will burn your tongue. To know whether it is still hot, take a smaller first sip. After finishing the first cup, the host will promptly refill your cup but there will feel pressure to drink the second cup immediately. Appreciating the tea and relaxing when drinking is an important part of your first experience. 

The don’ts

  • Do not drink the Chinese tea all at once 

People who serve you with the Chinese will have done many things to provide you with great tasting tea. So, the tea will nourish your mind and palate. Unless you are very thirsty, do not drink all the tea at once. Take a sip and savour its flavour – front the sweetness to the astringency until the long aftertaste. You will manage to describe the experience after you have taken everything. 

  • Do not spit the Chinese tea 

As we have said, the server will do a lot of work to serve you with great tasting tea. So, they will interpret any spitting as impoliteness, especially if you do it in front of them. Bad manners might imply incitement to the host. 

  • Do not smoke 

In addition to spiting the tea, the other big impoliteness of guests is smoking cigarettes when drinking tea. The Chinese take that as disrespectful. If you are among the heavy smokers, you will have to ask opinions from the host after a few steeps. 

  • Do not be dispirited or absent-minded 

Remain relaxed and calm when drinking the offered tea – not dispirited or absent-minded. Apart from its delicate nature, tea can be your best friend. It will help you calm down each time you feel uneasy and make you relaxed when you feel distracted. And after finding your inner peace, the tea will dance in your palate and offer indescribable flavour. That might be the friend you need.  


China is a country with honoured civilization and a land of decorum and ceremony. People in the country are always fast to serve some tea when guests come in. As an etiquette medium, Chinese tea plays a vital role in interpersonal relationships of the Chinese. By understanding the tea etiquette, you will manage to show respect and appear polite when drinking in teahouses. The tea will make you calm and relaxed. So, you should enjoy the tea.

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Mary L

When you discover something you love you want to share it with the world, that’s only natural. My passion had become my way of life, and I am finally able to share a cup of the good stuff with the ones I love. Proof that dreams really do come true when you can share your favorite brew.

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