The tea ceremony is one of the most important and intimate traditional elements of a Chinese wedding. It is a ritual in which you and your partner serve tea to parents and close family as a sign of respect. There are a lot of elements to prepare when conducting the event, so we’ve written a handy guide to ensure that you get everything perfect on your big day.
Rituals during the tea ceremony are designed to bring fortune and grant fertility to the couple
You can choose between having separate tea ceremonies for the groom’s family and the bride’s family, or you can combine the ceremony and host both families if you want to make things more convenient.
If you have separate ceremonies it’s traditional to visit the groom’s family in the morning, and the bride’s in the afternoon. If you are hosting both families together, it’s traditional to serve the groom’s family before the bride’s family.
(Often, the distant relatives are done at the banquet venue)
Traditionally, the tea ceremony is performed at a family home. However, if you are combining the ceremony or having a destination wedding it’s perfectly normal to book a hotel room. The key is to have somewhere quiet and intimate- with a kettle!
On the day:
Dress in red silk for luck
Grooms, we recommend that you wear a traditional mandarin suit, or western suit with a red silk tie and red handkerchief
Brides, we recommend that you wear a traditional kwan kwa
Decorate the room for the ceremony
Hang “囍” (Double Happiness) characters in red and gold and strings of decorative fireworks
Prepare two red cushions for you and your partner to kneel on while serving the tea to relatives
Prepare the tea service
Make sure you have a tea set with enough cups for all the guests invited, or you have an assistant to help wash cups between servings
Brew a fresh batch of tea using a traditional variety such as 鐵觀音 (tieguanyin) or 普洱 (pu’er)
Add one unpeeled lotus seed, one longan and one red date to each cup before pouring the tea into it
If you can, get an assistant to help with pouring, and another assistant to help with passing you the filled tea cups to serve to your relatives
Get your relatives seated, and prepare yourselves for tea service by kneeling on the cushions
Grooms, you should be kneeling opposite where your father (in law) is seated so that you are facing him. You should be positioned on your bride’s right hand side
Brides, you should be kneeling opposite where your mother (in law) is seated so that you are facing her. You should be positioned on your groom’s left hand side
Serve your relatives according to their seniority
For most families, the order is parents first, followed by grandparents, grand uncles and grand aunts, uncles and aunts, and finally elder siblings
However, another common practice is grandparents first, followed by parents, grand uncles and grand aunts, uncles and aunts, and finally elder siblings
Grooms, you should serve first, before your bride
Get ready to receive gifts from your relatives following the ceremony
Pick an auspicious date for your ceremony, when most family is available to attend
Get some help. A couple of spare hands can make everything run much smoother. You can nominate assistants to help:
- Pour the teapot
- Bring you tea
- Stand by in case the teapot needs to be refilled with warm water or cups need to be cleaned
Usually, these assistants are younger siblings or bridesmaids, and they should be rewarded with lai see by relatives after successfully performing their duties. If you are looking for professional help you can also hire a dai kum jie to help supervise and guide you through the ceremony. She will also be able to enhance the ceremony by interspersing the ritual with traditional congratulatory phrases
Sort out your decorations, attire and tea ingredients in advance, so that you are well prepared on the day
Memorise what order of seniority to follow when serving parents and in-laws to avoid any embarrassment
Get familiar with the right way to serve tea:
- Use two hands to hold the saucer
- Politely request that they drink the tea while you hand it to them. For example, “Mother, please drink the tea.”
Don’t use teaware with the character “寿” (longevity), as this is also displayed on items at a funeral
Don’t use teaware with a single dragon or single phoenix. These should come in a pair- especially for a wedding!
Don’t use a diet tea for the ceremony, as it could symbolise a lack of prosperity in the forthcoming marriage
In the modern era, the tea ceremony is often one of the most formal and heavily ritualised of Chinese wedding practices. In many cases, its practice replaces earlier traditions of conducting a prayer ceremony in the presence of a Taoist officiant, especially as fewer couples practice Taoism on a daily basis.
There are several important meanings behind the ceremony. First, by serving tea while kneeling before their relatives, the couple shows respect to the parents and family members who have provided them with a loving upbringing. Second, by accepting gifts from their family after the ceremony the couple accepts the goodwill and blessings of the generations that precede them. Third, specific practices are designed to bring additional fortune, and grant fertility to the couple performing the ceremony. For example, the use of a tea sweetened by red dates invites a sweet union between the couple, while the addition of items such as lotus seeds and longans brings luck through the good connotations of characters that describe these items. In Chinese, a red date tea with lotus seeds is “枣茶”, connoting that the couple will bear children swiftly and often. Meanwhile, a red date tea with longans is “龙眼红枣茶”, referencing a dragon and therefore the birth of a male heir.