For many of those who know of the Chinese tea ceremony but not sure why it happens or how, I thought I’d share all the details. It’s such a beautiful and vital part of a Chinese wedding. The ceremony is a symbolic way of presenting the bride to the groom’s family, and for the couple to express gratitude to their elders. The couple typically wears embroidered silk outfits in the colour red for luck and prosperity. This is subject to the couple who may choose to wear something else instead.
Serving the tea
There are two sides to consider for the traditional tea ceremony, the bride and the groom’s. The tea ceremony begins for the groom’s side for the couple in the morning. If the couple are following traditions, then the bride is fetched to the groom’s home before daylight. This can be explained in detail here. Then the tea ceremony for the bride’s family is usually held in the afternoon after the couple complete the “bride’s home visit”.
As always, these traditions differ from family to family. In some families the bride and groom may serve the bride’s parents tea in the morning before she is married. Which means that when she returns for the bride’s home visit, she’s already a married woman.
Order of service
If you want to stick to tradition, here is the order of service in which the family should be served the tea is:
- Grand-uncles and Grand-aunties
- Uncles and Aunties,
- Elder brothers and sisters
- Elder cousins
Although there is also the question of whether the grandparents should be served tea before the parents. It doesn’t matter which order, as long as you and your family are happy with the order of service before carrying out the tea ceremony.
Chinese Tea Ceremony factors
Tea set: For the modern couple – they can buy a tea-set they like or use a family heirloom. Traditionally if the bride has a dowry, they will include a tea set which can be used for the ceremony. The groom’s side of the family will assist in pouring the tea and washing the cups.
Kneeling: Depends on your family and how you feel about kneeling. Traditionally, the couple are required to serve tea whilst keeling down, but some modern families prefer to bow will serving the tea. It is about deciding how comfortable you and your partner are with kneeling or bowing. Either way shows respect to your elders.
Position: It’s no coincidence that the man is on the left and the woman is on the right. During the ceremony, the male elder will sit opposite the bride and the female elder will sit opposite the groom. The couple will bow to their elders, greet them by their formal title in the family (mum, dad, grandfather, grandmother etc) while serving the tea.
Red envelopes: Following the tea ceremony, gifts are given to the bride and groom. They can usually be red envelopes containing money – the amount is flexible. They can also consist of jewellery handed down from mother-in-law and female relatives to the bride.
Afterwards, the bride and groom then take seats and hand out red envelopes containing small denominations to younger siblings, cousins and extended relatives.
Tea: The tea used for the ceremony is not your usual tea you drink after dinner. The tea is usually infused with lotus seeds or even red dates to symbolise fertility. Not that the ingredients bring about fertility but there is an association.
The information in this post has been drawn together based on research. If you see any incorrect points, please correct me so I can amend the article. Thanks to Paddy and Tania for their input on this post.1