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Chinese Wedding Tea Ceremony - A Comprehensive Guide

Chinese Wedding Tea Ceremony - A Comprehensive Guide
April 20, 2015 33 comments

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.

A wedding ceremony shouldn't be confused with a gongfu tea ceremony for appreciating tea.

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

Tea can be served using a gaiwan or teapot. 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 a wedding, such an act is to show respect and gratitude to parents for all the years of love and care.

A tea ceremony also meaningful in many other ways. It's a symbol of purity, stability and fertility. The purity of tea signifies the love is pure and noble; the stability of tea stands for faithful love; the fertility of tea means that the new couple will have many children.

Chinese wedding tea ceremony steps

Traditionally, 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. Today, newly weds often decide to have just one ceremony for both sides together. If you're not experienced with the steps, you can follow the below tea ceremony script.

  1. Organise 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.
  2. 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. Try to include them in the procedures:
  1. 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)
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. Once they've drank the tea, take back the gaiwan with two hands, once again by holding the saucer.
  5. Gifts are now presented, which we discuss in the next section.

We hope the above script helps. If you're questions, always feel free to ask in the comment section below.

Chinese wedding tea ceremony gifts guide

After the drinking of the tea, the following procedure is that 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'.

The traditional envelopes are made from paper/carton.

chinese wedding tea ceremony gifts

Nowadays, more and more creatively designed hong bao are available and people tend to experiment with other materials such as fabrics.

hong bao red envelopes made from fabrics

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.

Jewellery Gifts

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 symbolises 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:

Notes:

  • Ask your parents: It's often also a great idea to ask the parents and perhaps some other family members what their favourite teas are. Why try perfectly stick to a traditional if you can serve your parents a tea they really love? It's a wonderful thing if you can make your ceremony personal. If they do have a preference for a certain tea, go for the best grade you can get. Since you don't need that many grams, it's not gonna cost you a fortune, even if it's an expensive tea.
  • Other ingredients: 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 symbolise 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?

Note: if you're looking for teaware and other accessories for your Chinese tea ceremony, but you can't find it on our site. Feel free to contact us, so we can help you source your perfect set. Simply send an email to [email protected] and let us know what products you're looking for. Also let us know your address details so we can also quote you an affordable shipping fee.

The best teaware to serve tea in is to either use a traditional Chinese gaiwan or a teapot set with matching cups. This is basically a cup that comes with a lid and saucer. A few things that are important:

  • Color: Most Gaiwans and teapots are white. This isn't suitable for a wedding! Make sure to get one with a base color that is red on the outside. It's however no problem for the inside to be 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! Flower patterns are also great for weddings. At last, patterns aren't a necessity. Plain red teaware is also suitable.

chinese wedding gaiwan red

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.

Alternative: Use A Teapot Ceremony Set

Besides gaiwans, It's also common these days to prepare tea in a teapot and serve in cups. Some will keep it as simple as a teapot with a few cups. Others prepare it as traditional as possible and add storage jars, pitchers, filters, tea trays to the decor. Teasenz offers a complete wedding set that includes a teapot, storage jar, tray and 4 matching cups. See below.

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.

#gaiwan Posted in: Tea Culture
CBee May 7, 2016 at 11:18 PM
This is great and very useful for an American Chinese person like me! My family wants me to do this because of tradition. I love the message behind it! Thank you for breaking it down.
Stefanie L. January 4, 2017 at 10:21 PM
I'm was a bridesmaid and was responsible for organising the tea ceremony part. I followed your advice in this article. And guess what! I received lots of compliments on the implementation. Thank you Teasenz!
Crystal February 14, 2017 at 6:20 AM
Is there a specific response one makes after presentation of tea?
Teasenz February 14, 2017 at 1:12 PM
Hi Crystal, do you mean a response from the serving or receiving side?
Ginger March 1, 2017 at 3:35 PM
What colors are considered respectful for a non Chinese guest to wear specifically a women? I know white is considered not okay or red.
Teasenz March 1, 2017 at 4:14 PM
There's no official rule, but I would avoid colours close to red, white and green. Because these are traditional colours the bride would wear. Besides that, dress up nice while staying low profile, so that you're not stealing the show ;)
Kathy September 11, 2018 at 10:09 PM
We are friends of the couple getting married. The tea ceremony/wedding celebration will be in mid Sept at a country club in PA in the afternoon. I have a sophisticated aubergine dress. Would this be appropriate or would a black dress be more appropriate?
schirin March 14, 2017 at 2:36 PM
are the teacups in the video available anywhere? I like their simplicity.
Teasenz March 14, 2017 at 5:22 PM
The red tea cup with lid (gaiwan) isn't available anymore in our store, but if you're interested we can order one for you. Feel free to contact us at [email protected] and we can quote you a price.
Monica March 22, 2017 at 5:24 AM
My fiance wants to do the tea ceremony for our wedding in October. If my parents are both Hispanic and his parents are Chinese, do we serve both or just his parents?
Teasenz March 22, 2017 at 2:12 PM
We believe there's no right good or wrong answer to this, and you should that fully be decided the preferences of both of you. Our opinion is that would be nice to involve parents of both sites. Your wedding seems involve two different cultures, and it would be a beautiful thing both sides of the family embrace each other's backgrounds. At the same time, it would be nice to introduce some Hispanic aspects into the wedding and have the Chinese parents be part of them.
Jennifer Bottrill April 22, 2017 at 8:44 PM
What happens if you are in a serious relationship with the grooms father. I am English. The grooms parents divorced many many years ago. I am to be served tea but how? The grooms mother does not have a partner
Jennifer Bottrill April 22, 2017 at 8:47 PM
I forgot to mention I have previously served tea to my partners mother on another previous occasion and I was told I have been 'accepted' into the family
Teasenz April 23, 2017 at 4:11 PM
Jennifer, first of all we really appreciate how you try your best to uphold the Chinese traditional.

In your situation, the best would be to consult with your partner first and let him talk to his mother on how the tea ceremony should be arranged. There are traditions, but a wedding is also a very personal event. So it should be arranged in a way that you, your husband and the parents are comfortable with. In China, you sometimes see that some people are served tea alone. It can be due to a divorce or for example if one of the grand parents passed away. It's therefore not very unusual if one parent is served, while the other seat is empty. What we also often see, is that the second chair is simply removed from the stage, so that the person sitting on the chair feels more comfortable.
amanda May 22, 2017 at 7:56 PM
Hi, I'm a bit confused on how giving the tea to each person work exactly. Are they just taking one sip and passing the cup around? Or do they drink the whole cup and give it back to the bride&groom, then they repeat the process to all the other members?
Teasenz May 22, 2017 at 8:25 PM
In most cases, someone prepares and brings the tea in a cup or gaiwan on a tray. The bride and groom takes the cups from the tray and give it to the guests. The guests will just take a sip of the tea. Afterwards, they should return it to the bride and groom who puts it back on the tray. Sometimes the guests puts it directly on the tray. While the guests show their gifts, new tea is prepared and poured in new cups for the next couple.
Tandy May 24, 2017 at 3:59 AM
I'd rather learn the spiritual meaning and philosophy of the words in a wedding ceremony.
Teasenz May 24, 2017 at 2:11 PM
Do you mean in a tea ceremony during the wedding day or the actual wedding ceremony?
Tram May 31, 2017 at 8:05 AM
Hi! I'm going as a guest on the groom side. Can I wear black dress or is that offensive?
Teasenz May 31, 2017 at 2:03 PM
A black dress is perfectly fine. In the past, it might not be ok in certain regions of China. But in modern times, men also go in black suits. So black has become an accepted colour. To be on the save side, you could wear some accessories that are colourful such as jewellery or purse.
Tabitha7 August 15, 2018 at 7:42 PM
My Fiancé's family gave my family a black tea set. Its plain, but no red at all. Can we still use the tea set?
Teasenz August 15, 2018 at 8:05 PM
That's not ideal, but black is a pretty neutral colour in China. It's however seen as a fairly negative colour in the West. So you've think whether that's ok.
Claire September 4, 2018 at 4:30 PM
Can I wear an off-white vintage looking dress to the tea ceremony, wedding banquet?
Teasenz September 4, 2018 at 7:01 PM
Hi Claire, which part of China are your parents or your husband's parent from?
Claire September 5, 2018 at 1:16 AM
It's my husband's nephew that's getting married. The family is from Hong Kong.
Teasenz September 5, 2018 at 6:30 AM
Well in Hong Kong, the tradition of wearing a traditional red dress is upheld quite well. We don't really know the situation abroad. I would say it's quite family dependent. I highly recommend to discuss this with the parents, as the ceremony is mainly to honor them.
Claire September 5, 2018 at 2:40 PM
It's my husband's nephew that is getting married to a Korean girl. The groom's family is originally from Hong Kong.
Zoe September 5, 2018 at 2:37 AM
Hi, usually who will be the ‘tea lady’ to help prepare the tea and stand by the side to support the couple? Is it someone more senior or married? Or there is no restriction eg. junior and /or single
Teasenz September 5, 2018 at 6:27 AM
The majority of the times, it's the bridesmaid who stands next to the couple with a the tea tray. However, these days it also often happens that an aunt takes care of this, because newer generations sometimes aren't familiar with the customs. At last, in a small amount of cases, a child assists with holding the tray.
Alice September 30, 2018 at 2:29 PM
Sorry, I’m a bit confused. My fiancé is Chinese and I’m Mexican. His mother said that traditionally only the grooms family is allowed to be at the tea ceremony. Is this true? I’m curious as to reading other articles that have said otherwise. Also, she keeps changing what the rules are and that I have to wear a read dress that covers everything.
Teasenz September 30, 2018 at 6:45 PM
May I know from which part of China your mother in law is from?
Alex October 8, 2018 at 9:55 AM
Hi! Would a neutral brown colored set be suitable? And if only the brides family is Chinese should the grooms side still be served first?
Teasenz October 8, 2018 at 7:12 PM
A brown set isn't ideal, but it could be ok. If you want a Western family to experience parts of the Chinese culture, I would recommend to stick to tradition and serve the grooms side first.