Blog 71: What Holds the Sea of Tea?
First of all, I have to admit that this is an awkward title. But I promise you, this title would soon make sense for you.
In modern tea-drinking, we have a teaware called a “Sharing Pot” (see picture below). The purpose of a sharing pot, as clear as its name suggests, is to pour tea into tea cups.
However, sharing pot is only a superficial translation of what it does. In its native language, a sharing pot is actually called Gong Dao Bei (Chinese: 公道杯, meaning: fair/just cup) or Cha Hai (Chinese: 茶海, meaning: sea of tea).
Understanding the true meaning of “sharing pots” in Chinese helps us understand the history as well as the modern tea table manner .
As we introduced earlier, both Gong Dao Bei and Cha Hai are the same teaware. While Cha Hai refers exclusively to a teaware, Gong Dao Bei is originally a liquor drinking vessel.
In Chinese liquor drinking, Gong Dao Bei is used to make sure that all guests have the same amount of liquor. Gong Dao Bei as a drinking vessel has a shallow bottom. If the host pours too much into a cup, the liquor would overflow. This is why in Chinese “Gong Dao Bei” means “fair cups”. Everyone gets the same amount of liquor.
When it comes to tea, Gong Dao Bei serves a more practical purpose. If we pour a pot of tea directly into cups, the first cup and the last cup would have very different tastes. Using a Gong Dao Bei can make sure all servings share the same taste and quality.
As time passes, Gong Dao Bei becomes more and more common in tea-drinking. Therefore, it gets a more tea-related name: Cha Hai. Hai in Chinese means “sea/ocean of tea”. In many Chinese expressions, “Hai” (海, sea/ocean) means broad, massive and abundance. A teaware that bears such a name also carries a cultural significance.
On a tea table, guests have their own tea cups and the host manages the rest of teawares. The only tool that connects the host and guests is the sharing pot/Cha Hai. A sharing pot holds more than just tea. Using it correctly, a host can show his great tea table manners.
When pouring tea, you should hold the sharing pot lower and closer to your guest’s cup to avoid splashing on the table. Pouring lower also helps preserve the aroma in the tea cup.
Normally, we only fill the tea cup up to 70%. In an old Chinese saying, it says that “a full cup of liquor shows respect for your guest, but a full cup of tea intimates your guest” (酒满敬人，茶满欺人。) Liquor is cold, but tea is hot. Filling a tea cup full makes it impossible for your guests to pick it up.
Furthermore, when pouring tea, we should be careful that not to reach over the tea table. See the picture below, it’d be wrong if we use our right hand to pour tea for the guest on the leaf because our entire arm would be across the table. The correct method is to use our left hand to pour for guests on the left, and use our right hand to pour for guests on the right.
This is only a very brief introduction to the handling of a sharing pot. We’ll certainly revisit this topic in the future. Although paying attention to these details wouldn’t affect the quality of your tea, your guests would definitely appreciate the tea even more in a this elegant presentation.
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