Chinese Wedding Tea Ceremony - A Comprehensive Guide
Since the early 1900s, Chinese weddings have modernized and partly following western practice. However, the tradition of tea ceremonies in Chinese weddings has remained, and is still highly treasured today.
Given that tea is an important part of Chinese culture, it's not surprising that it's part of a traditional Chinese wedding. Both bride and groom are expected to serve tea in a gaiwan to both sides of the parents, representing an important moment in which members of both families become relatives of each other. On this page, we've documented all the information you need to know to get ready for your wedding, or organize a Chinese wedding tea ceremony for someone close to you.
Video Guide on Brewing & Serving
See this video in which we show how you can brew a Chinese black tea in a gaiwan and serve during a ceremony. The video also includes tips on how one should serve the tea to relatives as well as how they should receive and drink the tea.
For more information on suitable teas, ceremony steps, and teaware, please read the paragraphs further in this guide.
Chinese Wedding Tea Ceremony History
In a traditional Chinese wedding, the tea ceremony is one of the most significant events. It includes very formal introductions of the bride and groom and shows respect to their families. The earliest written record of tea ceremonies emerged during the Tang Dynasty over 1200 years ago. It was initially called cha dao (茶道）or the way of tea. Some Japanese monks travelled to China and brought it back to Japan. Influenced by Japanese culture, the tea ceremony became more grave and formal.
In the very first documented versions of such ceremony, the couple would serve tea to the groom's family after exchanging vows. Then bride would have served tea privately to her own family that morning. However, such practice is rare today, and is only applied by very conservative families.
Today, many couples choose to show respect to both the bride and groom's families by hosting tea ceremonies for both sides.
The meaning of a Chinese wedding tea ceremony
In China, serving tea when guests come is a very traditional propriety. It is a significant way to show respects. In the wedding, this act is in respect and gratitude to her parents for all the years of love and care. Besides this, tea ceremony is much meaningful in a wedding. Tea is the symbol of purity, stability and fertile. The purity of tea represents the love is pure and noble; the stability of tea stands for faithful love; the fertile of tea represents the family will have many children.
Chinese wedding tea ceremony steps
The tea ceremony for the groom's family is usually done in the morning while the ceremony for the bride is always done in the afternoon when the bride and groom have completed the bride's home visit.
- Organize positions: during a Chinese wedding tea ceremony, the groom should stand on the right and the bride should be on the left side. Their parents should sit on chairs and wait for the new couples’ kneel and tea serving.
- Communicate order of serving: The order of serving tea is very important. It shows how the couple respect their seniority. The parents will be served first, then the grandparents, grand uncles and aunts, uncles and aunts, and then elder siblings.
- Educate on serving etiquette: Below we've listed some traditional serving etiquette.
- Serve tea with two hands holding the saucer and bow slightly forward (or kneel). Make sure parents don't have to move or stand up to receive the gaiwan. (also watch the video in the beginning of this article)
- Those receiving the tea should not hold the cup but the saucer as the gaiwan cup itself can be hot. It's recommended let everyone know this in advance.
- It can also be good to educate people on how to drink from a gaiwan. The most traditional way is to hold the saucer to move the cup close to your mouth. Then lift the lid slightly to one side and drink. When moving the lid, you can hold the nob on the lid, which isn't hot.
- Once they've drank the tea, take back the gaiwan with two hands, once again by holding the saucer.
- Gifts are now presented, which we discuss in the next section.
Chinese wedding tea ceremony gifts guide
After the drinking of the tea, gifts for the bride and groom will be presented. If it's your first time attending such a ceremony, you might be worried about what Chinese wedding tea ceremony gifts are suitable. Well you really don't have to, since gifts are usually in forms of red envelopes with money that can widely ranges from 50 to 500 USD. These red envelopes are also called 'lai see' in Hong Kong and the Guangdong province, while in other areas in China they're know as 'hong bao'.
How much money to put in a red envelop?
It's very hard to give you an indication of what amount is suitable as it really depends on the family situation and traditional practice. This vary widely across families and different regions in China. If you're not sure, you should ask someone in the family first. It's better to be embarrassed asking, then feeling embarrassed when giving a too low amount.
Where to get red envelops?
If you don't have any red envelops available, don't start looking into buying some yet. Usually they're sold in 50 pieces and above per pack, so most of them will remain unused. Instead, as around if there are friends or relatives that have some spare ones. Most likely they do. If you are planning to buy, luckily most red envelops on the market can be used in any occasion. Though, it's good to know that some red envelopes are targeted towards specific events such as child birth or new year. Read the descriptions carefully or check with the seller directly to avoid those. It's easy to find envelop sellers online or look for shops in a nearby China town.
Parents, grandparents and some closely related relatives sometimes also present jewellery as a gift. It's good to know that, the couple should wear the jewellery immediately as a sign of appreciation.
To the younger siblings and cousins who help them serve tea will be blessed with a happy marriage or abundant wealth. These 'helpers' also receive lucky red envelopes filled with money.
What kind of Chinese tea is suitable?
Any sweet tea that symbolizes sweetness is good for the Chinese wedding tea ceremony. It is believed to bring happiness to the couple and to foster good relations between the newlyweds and her new in-laws. You can use sweetened black tea for simplicity sake, but some traditional Chinese black teas are preferred because of the good sound of their names. Here's a list of teas that we recommend:
Note: some of you have asked about the use of other ingredients such as red dates, peanuts, longans and lotus seeds. While these could be used to make a sweet soup for both the bride and groom, they normally aren't added to the tea for parents and family members. The reason that they're meant for the bride and groom is because they symbolize fertility, allowing the couple to have children quickly.
An interesting fact: when you read the Chinese characters of the for above mentioned ingredients in the right order (dates, peanuts, longangs, lotus seeds) it sounds like "to have baby as soon as possible".
Note: when using red dates, they shouldn't be pealed or cut in slices. They've to be kept as a whole to represent fertility. (We would like to talk Grace Zhang for her sharing this comment with us.)
What Chinese Tea Set (Gaiwan) to use?
The best teaware to serve tea in is a traditional Chinese gaiwan. This is basically a cup that comes with a lid and saucer. Have a look for example at the Teasenz Gaiwans online. A few things that are important:
- Color: Most Gaiwans are in white porcelain color. This isn't suitable for a wedding! Make sure to get one with a base color that is red.
- Characters: avoid a gaiwan with the character "寿" which means longevity. Though the meaning is good, it's often displayed on items during a funeral. So avoid this character at all cost.
- Symbols: Avoid tea cups with a single dragon or phoenix. Though these are creatures with a positive meaning they've to be displayed as a pair! Other suitable symbols include lotus flower patterns, such as this wedding gaiwan.
Tip: the Chinese wedding tea set is a meaningful keepsake of the wedding and an important gift from the bride’s family. It can be a family heirloom as well. In the future when the couples’ children get married, the tea set will be used and presented. Given this, it might be great to ask the parents first, if they have a suitable antique gaiwan before considering buying a new one.
Other useful tips for Chinese wedding tea ceremonies
Dress for Chinese wedding tea ceremony
In a Chinese wedding tea ceremony, a suitable dress is necessary. Bride and groom need to dress in red silk and the tulle veil should be red too. Tang suit and Hanfu (Most famous traditional costumes in China and known to the world) are most popular. Some popular design such as dragons and phoenix on the dress would be suitable for decoration.
Decoration for Chinese wedding tea ceremony
To decorate the room for the Chinese wedding tea ceremony is also a good choice. Gold and red colours ‘Double Happiness’ symbol, Chinese marriage gods, phoenix and dragon motifs and decorative strands of firecrackers are all suitable for the ceremony.
Host for Chinese wedding tea ceremony
If you do plan to invite all your guests to the tea ceremony, don’t forget to invite a host who can explain the significance behind the ceremony to those unfamiliar with the tradition.