MUSCATINE, Iowa — At Muscatine High School, Confucius say, "Education is our cup of tea."
Chinese teachers with the Confucius Institute of the University of Iowa visited the Ceramics II class at MHS Friday to teach students about tea ceremony in the Chinese culture. After the presentation, students brewed tea in pots they made and shared it with classmates.
“We’re a division underneath International Programs," said Erin Mullins, program coordinator at the Institute. We came here last year and the Stanley Foundation paid our transportation. [Adrianna Corby] invited us back to demonstrate again."
MHS art teacher Adrianna Corby had contacted the University of Iowa for opportunities like the one on Friday. As part of the class's preparation, she had her students research different cultures that drink tea with a ceremony attached to it.
Presenter Dandan Du showed the students what different tea leaves looked like and how they were packaged, explaining that packaging is important to the overall presentation of the tea.
Once the tea's out of the package, what it goes into just as important.
“Even if we buy the same teapot, if I store it in Iowa City and you store it in Muscatine, teas can taste different. It might be the weather or something else,” that can affect teapots.
In a Chinese tea ceremony, thought must be put into each step.
Xi Ma, Confucius Institute’s curriculum coordinator, said for everyday tea drinking one, might forgo the ceremony.
“For important people, you want to make it look more serious, to show respect to your guests. So you have certain courses you go through and detail in the presentation,” said Ma. “You follow the rules when you serve tea to people, like you warm your teapot first before you put tea leaves in and everything you do to bring out more delicious flavor and taste of the tea and make it smell good.”
For their presentation, a cloth was put down under the teapot, which was near four teacups that, unlike American teacups, lack handles.
The Chinese use three types of teapots: porcelain, clay and glass. Glass is best for green teas that are lighter. Herbs and leaves can be added to the teapot for a beautiful presentation of the tea. Porcelain is best suited for darker teas, like Oolong or Black tea, because the porcelain retains heat better. Clay teapots are Du’s favorite because you can brew any type of tea.
However, no matter which teapot you have, it’s important to only brew one type of tea per pot.
“Only use teapots for one type of tea. If I use this one for Black tea, then I always use it for Black tea because the [teapots] can absorb the flavor.”
It’s also important to pour the tea back and forth between cups to ensure that each cup will have the same strength and flavor. Each cup should only be filled three-fourths full. Du said what’s left over should be poured into a “fairness cup,” as the further down you get in the teapot, the stronger the tea will be. Because this is unwanted, or “unfair,” the rest is poured into the communal cup for refills. This also keeps the tea from over steeping, which would create a bitter taste.
Tea ceremonies also have provincial origins, like San dao Cha, the three-tea ceremony. This ceremony is most popular in the province of Yunnan and is used only for very important guests. The first course is a bitter tea followed by a sweet tea that contains sugar and sometimes nuts. The last tea has dates or ginger added so the drinker is left with a sweet aftertaste.
Du said tea ceremonies are an important part of wedding ceremonies. The bride and groom will kneel to serve their parents and parents-in-law tea as a sign of respect and to indicat that they are all now family. The parents will then present the couple with money.
Du, Ma and another teacher, Yue Liu, helped the students with the tea leaves and adding hot water to the teapots so the students could serve each other. “Americans say ‘thank you very much for the tea.’ We say nothing,” said Du as she laughed at the students’ confused expressions. In China it is proper to tap your fore and middle fingers lightly on the table to symbolize gratitude. “But this is only when served tea.”
Students took turns trying to thank each other with the gesture and tasted Black, Oolong and Flower teas.
“I tried all of them. I liked the black tea the most,” said Magdalena Lopez, 15. Her elephant teapot design worked well during the presentation. “I’ll use it again after I make a lid.”