Hand painted ceramic teacup filled with tea on wooden tea tray for Chinese tea ceremony

CHINESE TEA CEREMONY: RETHINKING OLD TRADITIONS IN THE CONTEXT OF MODERN EVENTS. A TEASTYLE APPROACH.

In the last few months I had the opportunity to work on one of the most challenging and compelling projects of my career. This endeavour has started to take shape late last year, when I sat down with the mastermind behind Brandingmag (https://www.brandingmag.com/), Flavia Barbat, to discuss planning a cool new type of event.

Together we developed a concept entitled Branding Over Tea. The aim is to redefine the business event by delivering quality content under the format of a social function. We want the attendees to be entertained and feel engaged from an informational point of view. Very simply put, it’s a work thing, but it doesn’t really feel like working.

Where it all started

THE IDEA

To my satisfaction, the project has at its core the principles on which I developed Teastyle and conduct my design work (read about the Teastyle concept). That is, to research and consider elements of culture and social customs from around the world that can be associated with the core subject of an event, and employ them in the development of new designs and entertainment. Or otherwise to cherry pick beautiful and meaningful traditions and art forms, and put them in a fresh context and under a different light.

For this event we explored the origins of tea drinking in China as a medium for social engagement and interaction. We identified the key elements and drew parallels between the principles of the Chinese tea ceremony and the message that Brandium aims to deliver to the business community. With technology rapidly advancing and taking centre stage in every interaction, people and businesses tend to lose sight of the foundation on which a quality image and a long lasting, continually engaging relationship is built. The purpose of the event is to explore the roots of branding and bring the focus back on quality. And the principles behind the Chinese tea ceremony will give brands a new perspective through which to examine and consolidate their image.

The afternoon will last four and a half hours and is structured as a blend between a conference and an afternoon tea. The content will be delivered by 6 expert speakers, in 3 sessions. Each session will be preceded by a tea tasting and food.

Chinese tea ceremony arrangement with tea tray and tea accessories

IN THE CHINESE TEA CEREMONY YOU NEED TO FOCUS ON THE MINUTIAE

THE DESIGN PROCESS | FOCUSING ON THE DETAILS

Given the format and scale of the event, there were obviously some limitations to staging a traditional tea ceremony. The focus is on delivering the content, while the tea service is there to entertain and paint a picture. So instead we adapted the process to suit our concept, while preserving the key aspects of tea preparation and service. The process will follow the model of a Chinese tea ceremony, but in a slightly simplified manner and will demonstrate the principles that will be highlighted by the speakers.

THE CATERING

THE CATERING

Since the message is quality and attention to detail, the same principles were of course applied to the tea and food that the guests will enjoy. As always, my aim was to include only high quality teas, with a distinctive taste and obtained from sustainable sources. Therefore I went with a company that I knew will be able to deliver on all aspects, and my favourite day to day tea supplier – Rare Tea (http://www.rareteacompany.com/about-us/why-rare-tea/what-we-do/). What stands out about this company, even more than the high quality of teas they provide, is their ethical approach, attention and care towards the tea trade and environment. And that is exactly what my work and this event aim to convey.

A selection of 6 Chinese teas will be brewed and served throughout the duration of the event. The selection includes a popular tea from each of the following varieties grown in China: white or silver tip, green, wulong (oolong), black (often called red tea in China), black smoked or lapsang, and aged pu’erh.

For the food, I had the pleasure of working with the wonderful and creative team at Bubble (http://www.bubblefood.com/). The menu is a fresh and cool presentation of popular Chinese foods, providing a familiar taste in a beautiful and exciting new shape. Split into 3 selections of 5 cold, hot and sweet canapes, the dishes are each paired with two different teas, and served before a speaker session. Having tasted them already, I can honestly say that I’m going to find it very difficult not to sneak a few off a plate during the event.

Selection of Chinese inspired Canapes for a tea ceremony

COMING UP WITH A LOOK FOR THE EVENT

THE STYLING

From a styling perspective, I wanted the ambience to feel true to the cultural inspiration behind the theme. But more importantly my aim was to create an alternative image to what a typical Chinese themed event looks like. So I incorporated traditional Chinese elements and motifs in a contemporary set-up and refreshed the colour palette, departing from the red and gold that everyone has become accustomed to. I do not want to give away more on the colour front, as it needs to surprise and impress on sight as a whole. But, you should expect a richer and more refined palette, constructed on a telluric foundation with a youthful touch.

Comfort and a sense of familiarity were two other important aspects we considered. This lead to the decision to move away from the usual banqueting layout and transform the entire space into a lounge. We also ditched the stage so our speakers will get to talk freely from inside the room. In between the speaker sessions the guests will have an opportunity to discuss the topic with their table companions or get up and share their thoughts with the entire audience.

THE CHINESE TEA CEREMONY

SIX PRINCIPLES BEHIND AN ENCHANTING RITUAL

To give you a taste of what is at the core of the content and the entire event, here is a brief description of the principles of the Chinese tea ceremony.

1. ATTITUDE IS PARAMOUNT. Tea must be prepared and served in a calm and relaxed manner. The person performing the ceremony must be at peace with themselves and mindful of what they wish to achieve.

2. SPECIAL ATTENTION MUST BE GIVEN TO THE CHARACTERISTICS OF THE TEA SERVED. Characteristics, such as fragrance, taste, as well as history, name and origin must be considered when making the tea selection. These should be aligned with the purpose and occasion on which the ceremony is performed.

3. WATER MUST BE PURE OR OF VERY HIGH QUALITY. The quality and cleanliness of water can affect the taste of the tea. So, water should be carefully selected.

Tea being poured from a Chinese traditional teapot in a teacup

4. THE PERSON PREPARING THE TEA SHOULD HAVE THE RIGHT TOOLS. Having the right tools is an important aspect in brewing the perfect cup of tea, as well as creating an enjoyable atmosphere.

5. CREATING THE RIGHT AMBIENCE IS ESSENTIAL. Comfort, beautiful art and floral displays, a quiet room or pleasant relaxing sounds/music playing in the background, are necessary elements that will enhance the experience.

6. THE TECHNIQUE NEEDS TO BE FLAWLESS. Brewing and serving the tea is Chinese culture is an art in itself. There is no magic in the ceremony, without a perfect technique.

UPDATE: You can see how the event turned out here. Also read Brandingmag’s feature on the content delivered at Branding Over Tea.

A pair of yellow Chinese teapots with white tea holders and an orchid at a Teastyle event

Images on this page: ©Matt Chung Photography | ©Teastyle