Yunnan Ethnic Minorities and Tea Ceremony

Updated: Apr 22, 2021

The tea ceremony is an art of life, what behind a small cup of tea is the expansive culture.

Tea-Set on a Stone Mill
tea set on a stone mill

What is the tea ceremony?

China is the country with the earliest tea growing and is subsequently the most refined in tea making. It is also the home of tea culture. When the Chinese talk about tea, they are not just talking about how to drink tea, they are more concerned about the culture behind tea. Ancient tea culture is a very important part of Chinese culture, and it represents a philosophy for Chinese people to do things for others. A small cup of tea reflects one's attitude towards life. The tea ceremony is an essential part of tea culture. In Chinese, it’s called 'Cha Dao', Cha means tea, Dao means method or way, therefore, tea ceremony means the way of tea, different ethnic minority groups have a different understanding of the tea ceremony.


Tea Ceremony Utensils
tea ceremony utensils

25 Ethnic minorities in Yunnan

China is a gathering place of 56 different ethnic groups, of which the Han people account for the vast majority. When Western countries talk about Chinese culture, most of them are discussing the Han culture. The cultures of the remaining minorities are rarely mentioned. Yunnan has occupied 25 ethnic minorities, and it has become the province with the largest number of ethnic groups in China. Their tea ceremony also makes Yunnan tea unique from a cultural perspective. Tea is an indispensable thing in the daily lives of various ethnic groups in Yunnan. Especially in interpersonal relationships, it is often a symbol of humanity and beauty.

25 ethnic minorities in Yunnan love to drink tea, and the colourful ethnic tea culture has formed China's largest treasure house of tea culture. The taste of tea differs from person to person, from time to time, from event to event, and different places and ethnic groups have different tea drinking customs. The combination of tea and ethnic culture forms the special tea ceremony, tea art, tea drinking customs with their own ethnical characteristics, which has accumulated rich cultural resources and is considered unmatched by any country or region.



What is the ethnic minorities' tea ceremonies?

The ethnic minorities in Yunnan all use tea to express their rituals. Among the various ethnic groups, hospitality with tea, marriage with tea, rituals with tea, tributes with tea, etc..


Treating guests with tea and substituting tea for wine has always been the traditional etiquette of people of all ethnic groups in Yunnan.


For example, the 'Three-Course Tea' is a drink dedicated to guests during the wedding ceremony for Bai people living in Dali, and it is also a form of etiquette. It is unique in that each tea has its own characteristics, which can be summarised as the first cup tastes bitter, the second cup is sweet and the third one is full of aftertastes. In addition to the delicious taste and interesting drinking etiquette, it also contains a philosophy of life, which could be decoded as sometimes life will experience bitterness and happiness when you look back, they are all special moments and treasures of life. Therefore, it is loved by the Bai people and developed into a complete tea culture etiquette.


Three-course tea from Bai ethnic group in Yunnan
three-course tea from Bai ethnic group in Yunnan

The Naxi, Tibetan, and Pumi people living in northwestern Yunnan like to drink buttered tea. People first boil the tea with water, filter out the tea residue, and then pour the tea into the buttered tea barrels. Add the ground walnuts, peanuts, sesame, hemp seeds, and ghee. Repeatedly pull the special lever in the bucket to make buttered tea, add sugar or salt, and drink. Tea also plays an important role in the wedding, funeral, and ceremonial activities of ethnic minorities in Yunnan.


A Tibetan pouring buttered tea
a Tibetan pouring buttered tea

When the Lahu man invokes marriage, he proposes the idea to the woman's house, he must bring a pack of tea leaves, two teapots, and two sets of te