Gathering Around The Hearth: A Contemporary Tea Ceremony

This year at the Nantou County Global Tea Expo, the ‘Tea Culture Exhibition Hall’ has expanded its scope to include a museum-like exhibit and films in addition to live demonstrations of tea culture. In previous years, there were interactive displays where guests could freely observe and partake in tea the brewing ceremonies of their choice. Each space had its own artistic style and cultural orientation from around the world. This year the live demonstrations have been refined and consolidated into three spaces with rotating installations. They still offer variety while allowing for more developed, artistic themes of tea brewing. The other day I got to participate in one of these tea ceremonies that was designed by a few friends from Lu Gu.

The name of the ceremony in Chinese is 圍爐煮茶 which loosely translates as “Gathering Around the Hearth and Brewing Tea”. My friends conceived of the theme and designed the installation themselves, which I experienced as a really clever innovation of traditional Chinese culture. The first two words in the name refer to the traditional family gathering on the last night of the year before Chinese New Year. It is all about the nourishing warmth of a home cooked meal with family. This sentiment is the essence of the tea ceremony that was designed for this year’s event.

Two hosts and five guests made up the tea party that took place on straw tatami mats with small wooden tables arranged around a large iron kettle of boiling water set upon a charcoal stove. The hosts simply facilitated the party while the guests all brewed tea for each other. Each guest was given a type of tea to brew among five of Taiwan’s most recognized specialty teas: Oolong, Aged Tea, High Mountain, Jin Xuan, and Black tea. We each wore a traditional style apron bearing the name of our tea type and were instructed on how the ceremony was to take place.

After the basic methods were explained, it was an easy-going, spontaneous event where we all brewed tea with the tea and tea wares provided. We shared our own brew and received pours from others teapots as we went along. The conversation flowed along with the tea, and it was a friendly gathering around the charcoal stove - a symbol of warmth and sustenance. 

Drawing water with handmade Japanese bamboo ladles from the communal antique iron kettle to fill and refill our gong fu teapots again and again to share our distinctly flavored teas was really fun as well as highly satisfying. The presentation that was steeped in tradition and style accommodated a kind of free-for-all tea party where we all got to enjoy not just one type of tea from a single server, but five types of tea from five servers all at once! What a brilliant idea it was on many levels. It was embedded in Taiwan tea culture with touches of the historical Japanese influence, and embodied the naturally free, informal - yet very traditional Taiwanese style that has seduced me into making this island my home.

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2 Responses


November 10, 2013

I appreciate your interest and enthusiasm, thanks for the post.

Yes, I was brewing a Dong Ding Oolong – which I was quite happy to be assigned, as it is my all-time favorite kind of tea.

The blend of Chinese and Japanese is deeply set into Taiwan culture due to the 50 years or so of Japanese colonization that occurred last century. So tatamis are common here along with many other aspects of Japanese culture.

I don’t recall us talking about the Wu Wo Tea Ceremony, but I am very familiar with it, and am pretty sure it started here in Taiwan – although I am not certain.

Yes, everyone was brewing with a gaiwan in this activity – simply because that it what the inventors chose to use – all the tea ware was provided. No, Tony and Lisa were not attending.

I think it’s great that you want to reproduce this type of activity – I really feel like it is one of the nicest ways to make it a fully interactive occasion.

In tea,


October 30, 2013

Were you brewing the Oolong? Just trying to figure out the characters on your apron.In this case does oolong mean like Dong Ding style?
I like this idea of serving a being together.
The blend of Japanese and Chinese seems all great. Is there such a thing as Chinese tatami?
I’d like a better look at that big jar in the corner with the stick in it! That basket with the over the top handle and flower looks Japanese too.
Have we talked about the Wu wo style of making tea? The wu wo style has made quite a hit over here. There was a big circle at the NW Tea Fest. This kinda reminds me of it although the intimacy casual spirit of this setting would be more my cup of joe.
Was every body brewing in the covered cups (gaiwan?)?…no pots for brewing? Why? Is it like this at many homes too?
Which one is Tony and Lisa? Are they there?
Nice to see some young folks joining in too.
I’m going to send this to Jan and make sure Heather sees this too. Are they on your mailing list?
I will try to reproduce this tasting here….just need to borrow a few things…
Thanks for putting this up…keep it coming!
Till next time!

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