Today is the official grand opening of the new teahouse in downtown New Haven, Green Tea House.
The real good fortune came not with the mayor or the ribbon cutting, but with the Chinese Lion dance. This dance was also performed on Chinese New Year’s to bless the businesses the danced in front of. That day, just too crowded to see. Today, I was startled when I walked right up to the Lion, dancing and preening and and grooming and growling right in front of me.
Later, the Lion came inside the teahouse to dance, nudge (me included), and generally harass the diners, as well as those of us who gathered for what came next.
A tea ceremony was performed for six guests, including the mayor. To really do the ceremony correctly, you want an hour, which the mayor didn’t have. So we got a short-hand version. The tea today was Phoenix Oolong, which is only produced twice per year in China. I bought some to enjoy at home I liked it so much.
Tea is used after meals for digestion, relaxation, and general enjoyment in China. No sugar or milk is used. But from the samples I tasted today, plenty of the teas are sweet enough from the flowers and fruits mixed in with the tea leaves.
To make tea, begin by rinsing the teapot with hot water. This makes the teapot very hot by pouring hot water not only inside it, but also all around the outside. Now the tea’s aroma will stand out more.
Pour hot water over each of the sipping cups–larger and round–and aroma cups–slender and tall.
Place the tea leaves directly into the teapot.
Pour the water over the leaves and close the teapot to steep.
Now you are ready to drink your tea. Pour the tea into the aroma cup.
Place the sipping cup on top of the aroma cup.
Then with two hands, flip the cups over, so that the aroma cup, which still holds the tea, is on top.
Slowly let the tea pour into the sipping cup.
Take a moment. Close your eyes to enjoy the scent of the aroma cup.
Take the sipping cup in both hands.
When you sip, keep the tea in your mouth, allowing it to circulate to all the flavor centers, swallow, then exhale through your nose.
Enjoy your tea for the next 45 minutes.
The first pot of tea steeps only for about fifteen seconds, then longer for each successive pot. Notice how tiny the pot is? You might get 10 pots from one set of leaves.
A family might own two or three tea sets, which involves all the pieces you see here.
How very civilized.
“Cheers” is not in the Chinese tradition, but our brief ceremony concluded with American-style good wishes for the new teahouse, adding to the Lion’s blessings.