Serving Tea- An Act of Humility

As mentioned before, Chinese tea is more than just a beverage, it is an experience, a culture and a way of life. For the Chinese, serving tea is an act of humility that the server shows his willingness to be in a position of subservience to the recipient.

In Chinese culture, serving tea features prominently in many rituals. A couple is not considered married until they serve tea to their parents and elders. Traditionally, the couple serve their parents tea on their knees, signifying their gratitude to their parents and for the son-in-law or daughter-in-law, a willingness to serve the parents-in-laws as they would their own parents.

The next application may not be so common this days but in the olden days when a teacher takes a disciple, the disciple serves him tea as well to show his submission to the teacher. Not surprising since in Chinese culture, a teacher is like a father. If you watched any Kongfu show, you would hear the world ‘Shifu’ which combines the words teacher and father. This illustrates the high regard disciples hold for their teachers and hence before they are inducted in the school, tea has to be served.

More commonly, even today is the act of a public apology. In the old days, people did not take out a newspaper advertisement to apologize, the perpetrator serves tea to signify his sincerity in apologizing and usually at a public place. Once the tea is drank, it signifies a willingness to forgive.

In a Chinese home, the culture of humility continues. The host would go through a somewhat elaborate ceremony to serve tea to his guest and the guests is always served first.

In fact, the protocol is as follows:
Guest before host,

Ladies before men,

Guest of honor before other guests

and elders before the young.

Tea cups are handed out in a counter-clockwise direction, ending in the host, signifying the guest as welcome as they are ushered in.

In return, the guest should tap his cup with two fingers when he is being served by the host as a symbol of respect.

As you can see, serving tea to the guest is an act of humility and hospitality, not merely provision of basic needs.

Today, we can incorporate this into our business culture. When you are taking customers out for a business lunch, always pour them tea before serving yourself.

Or if you are in the service retail business, you can consider serving Chinese tea to your customer, even better if you brewed it for them. If you are a private banker for example, you can display your willingness to be in subservience to your client and the gesture relaxes him or her, opening up for a more rewarding discussion.

Try it, show your humility by serving Chinese tea to your guest or client.

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