The gathering place: The tradition of teahouses in Asia

Throughout history, teahouses have been a fixture in the life and culture of Asian peoples, particularly Chinese. Like the cafes of Europeans, teahouses were places to enjoy a favorite beverage, consume small snacks, and to gather over tea and socialize — exchanging innocuous gossip or serious news.

As their popularity increased, teahouses caught the attention of the Communist party, who worried the gathering places hosted the opportunity for the educated to congregate and instigate rebellious activities. Due to the Communists’ suspicion, teahouses were shut down for over 30 years. Tea farms went fallow when they no longer had an industry to sell their tea into. Today, however, cities across China are once again teeming with teahouses, now graced by government officials and businessmen of every kind.

Tea culture extends into spiritual and formal dimensions in the Chanoyu, the tea ceremony of Japan. Here the elite gather to watch the refined performance of matcha being made and served. Each gesture and accessory conveys a profound and subtle meaning from the host to the guest. The tea ceremony may happen in a tearoom inside a house, a temple, a monastery, or a stand-alone garden hut built specifically for the tea ceremony. As for a boisterous, traditional Chinese-style teahouse — in Japan, those were often fronts for brothels!

In Taiwan, where a rich tea culture exists, the teahouse has been an absolute fixture of importance. At Mao Kong, some 200 teahouses are perched, with various vantage points, atop Taipei; each features high quality teas, specialty meals and cool atmospheres to attract nightly visitors.

One can create a space for tea anywhere. In Taiwan, there is a movement called Wu-Wo tea ceremony, literally meaning ‘No Me.’ In this ceremony, gong-fu style tea or other styles co-exist, and a simple mat or cushion serves as the only seating arrangement on the ground. Tea can happen anywhere, with anyone!

Comments are closed.