This post is the first in a series of posts about tea art, tea ceremony, and chado.


When most practitioners think about tea culture, they think about the word “Cha Dao (茶道).”  More specifically, when they think about tea culture pertaining to particular countries, they think of Chinese “tea art,” the Korean “tea ceremony,” and the Japanese “Chado.”

Both the Chinese and Japanese consider Luyu from the Tang Dynasty to be the saint of tea and the originator of Cha Dao.  However, the word “Cha Dao” never appeared in Luyu’s The Classic of Tea(茶经).  It is only said that tea is suitable for people who excel in moral behaviors and virtues (精行俭德).  Some people consider Luyu’s “精行俭德” to be the main part of Cha Dao, but Luyu did not present the concept of Cha Dao. The first mention of Cha Dao appeared in a poem written by the monk Jiaoran, a famous tea expert, poet, and Luyu’s best friend.  It is said that drinking the first cup of tea caused Jiaoran to awaken from worldly illusions; the second cleansed his spirit like the earth is cleansed by a spring rain; and the third cup led to enlightenment, obviating the need to consider freedom from pain and difficulties (一饮涤昏寐,情思朗爽满天地;再饮清我神,忽如飞雨洒轻尘;三饮便得道,何须苦心破烦恼).  This was the first mention of Cha Dao, which means enlightenment through tea. 

The word “Cha Dao” has been used in many poems and essays since the Tang Dynasty.  In modern times, only Japan continues to use the word Cha Dao, which is the same as Chado, while China uses the phrase “tea art (茶艺)” and Korea uses the phrase “tea ceremony (茶礼).”  People often confuse the ideas of tea art, tea ceremony, and Cha Dao.  Most people say Chinese Cha Dao, Korean Cha Dao, and Japanese Cha Dao, but these terms are misleading.  So what is tea art?  What is a tea ceremony?  And what is Chado?  Why and how does the approach to tea differ in these three countries?

Tea Art in China

A Chinese proverb states that the first seven things that are essential each day are firewood, rice, oil, salt, catsup, vinegar, and tea (开门七件事,柴米油盐酱醋茶).  This proverb tells us that tea is an indispensable part of Chinese life.  The Chinese have an inveterate habit of drinking tea.  Although there are many alternatives to tea, including soda, cola, and coffee, most people prefer tea.  For most Chinese people, other drinks can be an occasional alternative, but are not for daily drinking.  Tea still occupies a special position, which is why the majority of Chinese tea is consumed by the Chinese.  China is the biggest producer of tea in the world, but it exports much less than it consumes.  In many Chinese cities, all kinds of tea houses are found.

In my opinion, China’s tea houses reflect the folksy tea culture of China.  During its long history of development, Chinese tea culture has had four lines: royal, literati, religious, and folksy.  Only the folksy tea culture is currently strong.  For most common people, tea is the best thirst reliever, and this is the main function of tea.  The Big Bowl Tea (大碗茶) in Beijing and the Cover Bowl Tea (盖碗茶) in Chengdu are good examples.  The tea leaves are cheap, and plebeians can finish a large bowl of tea in one mouthful.  They come to tea houses to experience interpersonal communication, and not the refinement of tea.  That is why most tea houses are noisy, with loud chatting, poker, snacks, fast food, and other forms of entertainment.  In some places, such as Suzhou, Beijing, and Chengdu, tea houses also play an important role for operas and storytellers.

However, not all tea houses are noisy.  “Pure tea houses (清茶馆)” are increasingly quiet and elegant.  They usually price tea extremely high and are accepted by businessmen, officials, and white-collar workers.

In both pure tea houses and common tea houses, women and men perform the Chinese tea art ceremony for customers.  Currently, people usually do not differentiate between the concepts of tea art and Cha Dao.  We tend to regard an emphasis on the spirit of self-reflection as Cha Dao, while an emphasis on tea, tea-making, the beauty of tea color, fragrance and atmosphere, and the refinement of water is considered to be tea art.  Surely, the satisfaction of Cha Dao is attained through tea art, but tea art alone is not Cha Dao.  Thus, in the opinion of the Chinese, tea art is easily accessible, but people should stand in awe of Cha Dao because it might be difficult or impossible to obtain.  Thus, women in tea houses perform the tea art ceremony, while tea people never perform Cha Dao in China.

For tea art, good water, suitable tea apparatuses, a full understanding of the characteristics of all types of tea, water temperature, various tea-making skills for different kinds of tea, location, and time are all important factors.  Different types of tea art ceremonies exist.  Kungfu (工夫) tea ceremonies are often performed in pure tea houses, while long-spout kettle tea art is often found in Cover Bowl Tea houses.  Kungfu tea is the most representative tea art ceremony in China.  Kungfu means sophisticated and adept skills.  Oolong tea is normally used as Kungfu tea.  In my observations, Puer, black tea, and dark tea are also suitable for Kungfu tea.  Long-spout kettle (长嘴壶) tea art is popular in Sichuan.  It is used in tea houses bustling with noise and excitement, where the tea doctor in charge of cooking tea pours tea from a long-spout kettle high and far away from the tea cup.  Green tea and flower-scented tea are suitable for long-spout kettle tea art.

Chinese tea art has a strong relation with plebeians’ daily life, and it is performed daily in every tea house in China.