Now let us review these steps once more, with feeling. Seated at a table, arrange your utensils so that the kettle is to your right (if right-handed) and implements with tea towel to your left. On the drainer in front of you place the tea boat, a small pitcher (if desired), and the thimble cups (their saucers are positioned in front of each guest). The teapot sits in the tea boat. The first order of business is to clean and warm these utensils.
Using boiling water, fill the teapot. Pour this water from the pot into the thimble cups, then empty these into the pitcher. Bamboo tweezers may be used to hold and empty the hot cups, though fingers work too if you’re careful.
Invite your guests to inspect the dry leaf you have selected before filling the pot half to two-thirds full of it. For this step, you may wish to pour the leaf onto a small saucer and use the bent bamboo stick to scrape it gently into the pot. Sometimes I use paper instead and make a funnel from which the tea may be easily poured into the pot’s opening. Either way, take your time. If you make your gestures slow and graceful, the ritual becomes one of intimacy and tranquility.
Rinse the leaves by filling the teapot with boiling water and immediately pouring it off into the thimble cups – or into the pitcher from which the cups may be filled. This water is to be poured into the drainer – or a waste receptacle if you don’t use a drainer. Now place the teapot on the towel and use both hands to pass the open pot, resting on the tea towel, for everyone to inhale the full aroma of the tea.
Finally you fill the teapot, as it sits inside the tea boat, making sure to pour the water over all the leaf, not just in the middle. Replace the lid at once and pour more scalding water over the outside of the teapot itself to collect in the tea boat and maintain maximum heat while steeping. Because of the monster amount of leaf the pot contains, steeping requires seconds, not minutes. After five or six slow breaths, the tea is ready to decant. Use both hands to hold the pot by handle and lid and, with a circular motion, scrape the bottom of the pot a time or two around the rim of the tea boat. This eliminates the water running off the outside of the pot while swirling the tea inside it. Be patient with yourself: Don’t worry about “doing it wrong.” It all becomes second nature soon enough.
Decant into the pitcher and fill cups, which are arrayed on the drainer. If you prefer pouring directly into the cups, make sure they’re grouped in a squadron or line, lip-to-lip. Make the pouring continuous. To assure uniform strength, each thimble is filled halfway and then topped up in reverse order.
Thimbles may now be placed on the saucer before each guest or they may pick them up from the drainer. When served, guests often tap the table lightly beside the cup with a finger or two to say “thank you.” Chinese hosts gesture with the hands, palms up, to say “please taste.” Polite words are unnecessary.