Chinese tea conventions
Tea and the Chinese courtesy
If you are a guest of a Chinese and your host serves you tea, don't think that tea is just a drink to quench your thirst. In China, it is part of the established ritual to serve tea to a guest, regardless of whether the guest is thirsty or not. Immediately after the host has greeted the guest and the guest has taken a seat, the tea is served, usually in a lidded cup or glass. The use of a teapot is rather a less refined way of serving tea. During a short visit the tea is usually not touched at all. Nevertheless, it is impolite not to offer the guest tea.
In the Qing Dynasty (16th – early 20th century)
Today's courtesy ritual in China is already very relaxed. In the Qing Dynasty (16th – early 20th century) there were very strict rules on how to serve tea depending on the status of the guest.
If the guest is a newcomer to the host and does not hold a public position, the guest will only be received in the reception hall. Tea is only served once. The tea is usually not stirred.
If the guest is a trusted friend, he is usually invited to the host's study. There the guest is served a special tea, which is also very popular.
If the guest is a stranger but occupies a public position, tea must be served three times during the visit, regardless of whether the tea has been touched or not.
Another rather bizarre custom that was mainly practised among civil servants:
At the beginning of a visit, the guest and host each receive a cup of tea. However, this is not touched. Only when the visit is over do they both take a sip from the cup and say goodbye. This custom degenerates into a kind of sign that the host shows when the visit has already lasted far too long and the conversation is getting boring. To do this, the host takes the cup in his hand to signal to the guest: now is time to go. If the guest overlooks this, the host's servant then announces loud and clear: Now we say goodbye to the guest. Then, at the latest, the guest really must leave!