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Nilufer tea is an organic herbal tea that originates from Japan. A popular destination for tourists worldwide, Japan is located in Eastern Asia and renowned for its exquisite food and cuisine, gorgeous scenery (cherry blossoms!!!) and fascinating culture. Speaking of culture, tea is an important factor in Japanese culture, and so is their traditional tea ceremony. Not a lot of people know the inner workings of a traditional Japanese tea ceremony so if you would like to learn something new today; you’ve come to the right place!

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Japanese Tea Ceremony (The Way of Tea/ Chanoyu / Sado)

The ceremony is a ritual of preparing and presenting matcha – powdered Japanese green tea – along with traditional Japanese sweets to balance with the bitter taste of the tea. It is an integral part of Japanese culture and it has been for centuries. It is a quiet celebration performed with grace and beauty, and emphasis is placed on pouring all one's attention into the predefined movements because the aesthetics of the ceremony are very important. The host of the ceremony always hold guest in a high regard, as demonstrated from their graceful and thoughtful gestures. Even the tea utensils are placed in a strategic position that allows the guests to have a good vantage point, especially the main guests (Shokyaku).

Tea ceremony procedure

A full ceremony consists of starts with a kaiseki course meal, is followed by a bowl of thick tea and ends with a bowl of thin tea. However, most tea ceremonies these days are limited to the enjoyment of a bowl of thin tea. Before the ceremony begins, guests gather in a special room known as a machiai. Guests will walk across a dew-covered ground which is a ritual to symbolise the removal of dust from one’s feet and the world. To further purify themselves for the ceremony, guests are required to wash their hands and mouths using clean water from a stone basin. Once these purification rites finish, the host greets each guest with a silent bow as they enter the tea ceremony site. Depending on how formal the ceremony is, small sweets or even a three-course meal may now be served prior to the tea being poured. Next, the host will prepare the utensils for the pouring, ensuring that each utensil is completely clean and flawless. The required equipment consists of the tea whisk, the container for the tea powder, tea scoop, tea bowl, sweet container, tea brazier and a kettle. Each equipment has a specific circumstance and position. (Arrangement is vital in the ceremony)

Guest etiquette

A small ceremony usually consists of 4-5 guests and each are ranked in order of importance. The first and main guest is the Shokyaku and all guests have specific duties to perform based on their rank. The Shokyaku is the one that asks questions and always in a polite manner. Usually when a guest wishes to move a bowl, both hands must be used because it is politer. The Shokyaku is in charge of leading the rest of the guests, he always apologises and bows for drinking first and will pick up the Chawan and place it in front of his knees, bow to the Teishu and say: "Otemae chodai itashimasu".

Tea ceremony expressions

Traditional ceremonies are conducted in Japanese regardless of the native languages of the guests. The Shokyaku and the host should know the important expressions required of the ceremony so they can communicate with each other. During the tea ceremony, there are few words exchanged, and only essential questions are asked. Both the host and the guests refrain from talking about topics unrelated to the tea ceremony to make the gathering more formal and special. Here are a few examples of common expressions:

Why is this ceremony important?

The traditional Japanese tea ceremony is a living symbol of peace, harmony and happiness. It promotes social interaction and interpersonal bonding, and provides an occasion for everyone to relax and enjoy themselves away from the worries of the outside world.

It is also a means for guests to gain a greater appreciation for traditional Japanese matcha.

Image cred: pixabay

Difference between matcha powder tea and loose green tea leaves

The tea used in tea ceremonies are match powder teas and these are high quality tea that contains up to 15 times more nutrients than loose leaf green tea. Matcha powder is ground tea leaves so you get the benefits of the whole tea leaf’s nutrients and vitamins. In comparison, in regular brewed green tea leaves, its nutrients and vitamins are left behind in the tea leaf because they are not consumed and thrown away.

Dress Code for the tea ceremony

For all formal and traditional ceremonies, you must wear a formal kimono for the ceremony unless the host tells you otherwise. The reason for this is because many of the movements in the ceremony are choreographed to adapt to the kimono. Some examples of such movements include the rituals for straightening the kimono, and tucking silk cloths and fans into the breast of a kimono. Kimono colors also differ with gender; men wear more subdued and mute colors while women wear brighter colors.

Tea room decorations

The tea room adopts a minimalistic style and keeps everything simple and basic. At its core, there must be a tatami flooring (as per tradition), flower arrangement (chabana) and sometimes a hanging scroll (kakejiku). A chabana arrangement is a simple arrangement of seasonal flowers placed in a container. They typically comprise few items, they are so simple that most of the time no more than a single blossom is used; this blossom will invariably lean towards or face the guests.

 

The rich history of Chinese tea culture dates back to more than 4,000 years ago. Green tea, the oldest of Chinese tea, was a luxury beverage drunk by emperors before it became part of common culture along with formalised tea ceremonies. Today, this tea-centered way of life is not only still prevalent in the country, but it has also spread to other countries and influenced other cultures. Tea is the most popular refreshment in China, with the average person in China drinking 400 cups of tea a year according to US-China Institute. 

Navigating its vast history, here are what we think are the 8 must-knows of Chinese tea and its culture! 

 

1. Medicinal properties  

 

A famous legend tells the story of Sheng Nong who was poisoned after a day of eating various wild plants. As he lay on the ground barely alive, he noticed a bunch of fragrant leaves and out of habit, ate them as well. These leaves turned out to be tea leaves that detoxified his body of the poison and made him well again, portraying the benefits of tea on our bodies.  

More recently, tea has been found to have inflammatory properties due to its antioxidants. The multi-purpose beverage also helps with weight loss and reduces the risk of cancer. The Chinese also believe that different teas have ‘heating’ and ‘cooling’ effects on the body to balance out the body’s 氣 (qi), or life force.  

 

 2. Tea Across Cultures 

There are 6 main families of teas originating from China, namely white, green, black, yellow, wulong (better known as oolong) and pu’er tea.  While some of these teas are wildly popular and can be drunk in various places around Asia, they are not grown in the same area. In fact, different regions in China grow and harvest specific different types of tea, and they also have distinctive tea cultures and preferences! People in Beijing prefer flower-scented teas while Tibetans enjoy buttered tea. Mongolians enjoy their tea with milk and the Northern Chinese enjoy black teas and pu’er which is tea that has been fermented. 

Next time you make a visit to China, be sure to observe what the locals like to drink. You might be surprised at what you find! 

 

 3. A Sign of Respect 

With its long and deep-rooted history, tea is held in high regards. It was a tradition for someone of a lower rank to serve tea to someone more senior as a sign of respect. Nowadays, serving tea to seniors, colleagues or even guests, regardless of their status, has become a widespread symbol of respect in China. Don’t be surprised if you’re served tea after a pleasant chat with the shopkeeper of a hole-in-the-wall store! 

 

 4. Meaning ‘Thank You’ 

 

In traditional Chinese weddings, the bride and groom serve tea to their own and each others’ parents by kneeling in front of their families and presenting the cup of tea while bowing. This is done as a deep symbol of thanks for raising them into adulthood. As the Chinese also strongly believe in fate, the meeting between husband and wife may also be seen as only possible due to their parents’ years of care and guidance, another reason for serving tea as a sign of gratitude. 

 

 5. Tea Houses 

Tea culture in China isn’t just limited to it’s tea alone. There are over 25,000 tea houses in China. With the purpose of drinking tea and socialising, these tea houses are seen as a gauge of the country’s and cities’ economy. The more glorious the tea house, the more prosperous the country. Tea houses in China are also the birthplace of xiangsheng, or crosstalk — comedic monologues or dialogues rich in puns and allusions.  

 

 6. The First Pot Isn’t Drunk 

Surprise! The first pot filled with hot water is not drunk but actually thrown out. Hot water is first poured into the pot and left to settle for one minute to warm the vessel. Doing this ensures that the temperature of the water is optimal for brewing tea leaves. Warming the walls of the pot will prevent the second round of hot water from cooling down quickly, thereby bringing out the strongest flavour of the tea! 

 

 7. Strengthening the Teaware  

The most famous type of teapot in China is the Yixing clay teapot that’s been around since the 15th century. While the Chinese brewed tea for personal enjoyment, they also brewed tea to ‘wash’ their clay pot and cups. Pouring hot brewed tea on both the inside and outside of the teaware, they believed this would strengthen the mould and shape of the clay and deter erosion, allowing the clay to last longer. 

Nilufer Tea

If Chinese tea isn't your cup of tea, perhaps organic herbal tea may be more up your alley. After all, everyone has their own preferences and unique taste in tea. We recommend the Rose Paradise tea. It is full rosy goodness and strawberry sweetness. To add the cherry to the top, it creates a beautifully soft pink tea, perfect for your instagram feed!

With Chinese New Year (CNY) just around the corner, we believe preparations to celebrate the festive occasion is in full swing. After all, what is a festival without hearing the good ol' practices that our parents have iterated ever since we were young. Growing up, haven't you thought that these practices might be a tad bit ridiculous? Do you observe the various taboos associated with the season? These silly superstitions dictate the frenzy that we all go through right until the eve of CNY, so read on to know your New Year no-no’s and avoid all that misfortune!

1. Don’t sweep or take out the trash

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Sweep the floor or take out the trash on the first day of CNY and you’re sweeping (or dumping) all your good fortune out! Do a big spring clean and toss your garbage beforehand if you want to be presented with money-making opportunities.

 

2. Don’t wash your hair

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The first and second day of the Lunar New Year is associated with the birthday of the Water God plus ‘head’ is synonymous with ‘beginning’ in Chinese hence don’t wash your hair. Flaunt your freshly-washed luscious locks and you’ll sever your luck and derail a good start to the year! We admit that this can be a challenge for the regular gym-goers because let’s be real, no one wants to smell horrible at school or work post-gym. Anyhow, whatever the state of your personal hygiene, cleanliness is generally frowned upon during this time. #justsaying

 

3. Don’t curse or utter unlucky words

Utter “die” and it might lead to actual death. The Chinese believe that anything said during CNY will linger throughout the year so mince your words, mind your tongue and replace with euphemisms. Includes ghost stories and foul language too.

4. Don’t wear black

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Black hides food babies and unwanted fats but the colour is associated with death and mourning. Choose a cheery colour for the season before your superstitious relative shakes his or her head in complete disapproval. Red is considered as a vibrant, happy colour which will lead to a bright future. If red is too bright for your soul, opt for yellow, orange or gold. Your appearance and attitude sets the tone for the rest of the year so put away those black threads for awhile.

5. Don’t use knives/scissors or do needlework

 

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Sharpen up your chef knives and what not before CNY if you wish to retain good luck in the new year because anything to do with cutting is about cutting off your luck. It’s apparently an omen for possible arguments with others too. Oh, and women should not knit or do any needlework – it’s believed that if you use a needle and have a child that year, your little one’s eyes will be as small as the eye of the needle. Truth or plain silly? You decide. For an extra peace of mind, all sharp tools are to be avoided for any accidental injuries, inauspiciousness and the depletion of wealth in general. We guess you’d have to find another way to open that bag of bakkwa

While these taboos sound a bit unbelievable, there is a special flavour of the festive season that comes with believing in them. It reminds most people of their younger days when they hear stories that, while sound somewhat ridiculous, serve as a form of entertainment and amusement. Let us know if these taboos are true and in the meantime, here’s to a happy and prosperous CNY! Enjoy your long holidays and may the luck and fortune of the year of the dog follow you through!

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