During my trip to China I was often invited home by friends and suppliers, so I had the chance to experience their everyday life and habits. In every house that I visited there was always a gong fu cha set on the table: electric kettle, cups, gaiwan or teapot, small pitcher, filter and bamboo tools. I was offered any type of tea, except maybe for the yellow one. Drinking tea at home is informal and relaxing, people don't pay so much attention to the steeping time and to the aesthetics, it's rather an excuse to get together and chat!
I also had the chance to drink proper Chinese tea in shops selling tea and teaware, an inspiring experience! The gong fu cha accessories are carefully selected, disposed on a bamboo or linen placemat. Everything has its own support: the filter holder, the bamboo tool holder, the brush holder...The cups are more precious if they comes with a saucer, whether it's a rattan disk, a porcelain, a linen or a metal one.
After drinking some tea people usually offer snacks and finger food as it's always recommended to eat something during long tea tastings. On more than one occasion I had guì yuán (桂圆), a dried fruit very common in China with a sweet taste, not too strong, that fits perfectly with the tea. I found out that according to the Chinese food therapy it has an effect on relaxation, so maybe that's why it's often offered with tea. Also walnuts or other dried fruit are ideal as they don't cover the flavour of the liquor. I have to admit that I became addicted to guì yuán, it's too delicious!
Another common custom while drinking tea in China is the "finger tapping": every time someone has their cup filled with tea by another person, they would tap one or two fingers of the same hand against the table, to say "thanks". Mr. Dai, one of the person I met in Jingdezhen, explains me the story behind this gesture. According to the legend, Emperor Qian Long used to travel incognito in order to observe his citiziens unnoticed. He once went into a teahouse with his companions and poured his servant a cup of tea. The servant couldn't bow at the Emperor otherwise he would have revealed his identity, so he tapped three fingers on the table (one finger representing his bowed head and the other two representing his prostrate arms) to show his gratitude. Nowadays people taps only one or two fingers against the table to pay a silent thanks to the person who poured the tea. When tapping twice, sometimes they would say "xie" at each tap as "xie xie" means "thank you" in Mandarin.
Written by Michela