Chinese tea ceremony: rethinking old traditions in the context of modern events.  A teastyle approach.

Chinese tea ceremony: rethinking old traditions in the context of modern events. A teastyle approach.

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

How to plan and style a vintage tea party like a pro

How to plan and style a vintage tea party like a pro

A table setting for a simple vintage afternoon tea party with mismatched china

Image by Andreea Bucur (©Teastyle).

HOW TO PLAN AND STYLE A VINTAGE TEA PARTY LIKE A PRO.

With summer coming up I thought, what better way is there to take advantage of the sunny days and wonderful blooms than a vintage tea party?

Personally I was introduced to the world of tea through the customs and flavours of Japan, when the first teahouse and loose leaf shop opened in town, during my second year of uni. I am still fond of the delightful minutia and intricate customs of Japanese tea drinking. They are a constant source of inspiration in my work. But it wasn’t until I moved to England and experienced my first afternoon tea, that I became a serious tea drinker. British Teatime has also fuelled my interest for the many traditions associated with tea and the cultures this drink has moulded around the world.

So I thought I’ll take this opportunity to pay tribute to the ritual that lead me to Teastyle, by sharing with you a few guidelines on how to plan and style a vintage tea party like a pro.

British Teatime, is one of the most popular and widely embraced tea rituals in the world. And for good reason. A staple of British culture, Teatime is an exquisitely sophisticated and stylish experience that anyone can enjoy.

Forgo the overly common dinner party and instead gather your family and friends at home for a relaxed afternoon with decadent deserts, delicate finger sandwiches and fragrant teas.

PLANNING STEP 1 – LOCATION & LAYOUT

PLANNING STEP 1 – LOCATION & LAYOUT

A great advantage of organising a vintage tea party is that it can be enjoyed almost anywhere and in any format you like.

Whether you prefer to sit everyone at a large dinner table or have them sit comfortably on armchairs and sofas around the room, you can definitely work within the space you have available in your house. If you have a garden and the weather is nice, than nothing beats taking your tea outside. Otherwise, a conservatory can give you the best of outdoors and indoors. Just make sure it’s warm and cosy. Your main priority when setting up the space should be the comfort of your guests and making the room feel bright and airy by filling it with plenty of light (preferably natural light).

Vintage Tea Party setting in the orangery at the Fan Museum London

Image by Tamir-Davies, via http://tamir-davies.co.uk

PLANNING STEP 2 – THE LINENS

PLANNING STEP 2 – THE LINENS

For a proper vintage tea party the tables must be covered. A classic and elegant option is to drape your table in a hand-embroidered lace-trimmed tablecloth. If you don’t already have one you can find a large variety in vintage markets or thrift stores. A simple white or cream cotton tablecloth is another classy choice and the easiest to find. And the same goes for the napkins, although you don’t necessarily need to match these with the tablecloth. Some plain cotton or hemmed linen napkins would work just fine with any tablecloth, as long as you keep your colour palette simple.

PLANNING STEP 3 – THE TEAWARE & LINENS

PLANNING STEP 3 – THE TEAWARE & LINENS

Planning a vintage tea party means you can take your pick from a wonderful variety of styles for your tableware. Use full matching sets or mix up your teaware. You might actually have just the right teacups sitting in the back of your cupboard.

The most important rule when picking out your teaware is to: FORGET THE MUGS! Fine porcelain teacups are a must for a proper vintage tea party. For cutlery a queen’s or king’s design is always a classic choice and silverware will instantly class up your table. Feel free to mix and match these as well.

Detail of tea being poured from a silver teapot in a vintage teacup

Image via http://redbubble.com

Royal Albert old country roses table setting for vintage afternoon tea

Image via http://teatimemagazine.com

PLANNING STEP 4 – THE FLOWERS

PLANNING STEP 4 – THE FLOWERS

A summer vintage tea party demands vases filled with delicate garden roses. But that obviously has its limitations in other seasons and unless your mind is set on garden roses, any other flowers will do. So look to use similar flowers which are just as spectacular as the garden rose, like peonies and ranunculi.

Picking flowers that are in season is an excellent way of keeping the costs down and creating an ambience that is in sync with everyone’s seasonal mood.

For a tea party it’s best to keep the flower arrangements simple. You can choose to use only one type or a mix of flowers. I personally think that full bunches of one type of flower with a medium or large head can be very stylish. They make a great statement and are a better fit for a mix and match tea party set-up that may already be filled with different colours, patterns and shapes. Think of filling your vases with lots of roses, peonies, ranunculi, anemones, daffodils, lilacs, lilies, dahlias and so on.

A painted tin pot filled with pink garden roses typical flowers for a vintage tea party

Image via http://emprendimientosdehoy.blogspot.co.uk

White ceramic vase filled with purple lilac branches

Image via http://www.cozylittlehouse.com

PLANNING STEP 5 – TEA

PLANNING STEP 5 – TEA

I’ll just start by saying that teabags have no place at a proper vintage tea party. Use them in your everyday tea breaks if you like, but for a tea party, quality loose leaf tea is essential. After all tea is the highlight and everything centres around it, so you have to serve the best quality brew.

As a host it is important that you know a few things about tea. Learn what teas to serve, how to brew them properly and, when and how to serve them. Here are few basic guidelines:

  • White and green teas should be steeped in boiled water at 60°-70°C for 3-5 minutes. These teas are best served before the meal or with some light deserts, so their delicate flavour can be fully appreciated, and should never be taken with milk. A dash of sugar should do, although they are great with nothing added as well.
  • Black and red (i.e. rooibos) teas can be steeped at higher temperatures between 80°-90°C for 3-4 minutes. Serve them during and after the meal. Usually the stronger teas with herbal notes go well with savoury foods while the fruitier and floral blends pair great with deserts. Traditionally black tea is taken with sugar and milk, but feel free to skip these if you like.
  • Herbal and fruit infusions can be prepared in the same manner as the black teas. The infusions go well at the end of the meal, or throughout the meal for someone who is trying to avoid caffeine. These infusions go well with a slice of lemon.
  • Finally, use filtered tap water or bottled water to brew your tea, as water can affect the taste of the tea.
A small arrangement to illustrate a vintage tea party setting with mismatched teaware and scones

Image by Andreea Bucur (©Teastyle).

PLANNING STEP 6 – THE FOOD

PLANNING STEP 6 – THE FOOD

Finger sandwiches are a staple of the Afternoon Tea and are extremely easy to make. To shake things up a bit, opt for open faced sandwiches or pinwheel sandwiches, which are just as delicious and look even more elegant than the traditional ones. Plus sandwiches don’t need to be you’re only option. Add other finger foods and canapés such as salmon or cheese puffs, which will delight your guests for sure.

Cakes, like tea are a prerequisite to a vintage tea party. But the options can be quite overwhelming. The easiest way around this is to go with your favourites or the cakes you can bake. Go the route of your typical teatime treats or otherwise think of including some pastries as well. Think fruit tarts, eclairs, petit fours, etc. Also, try adding some fresh fruit to the table for a nice twist– the guests who can’t or don’t eat sweets will appreciate it.

Besides the obvious water, fresh fruit juices and cordials, consider adding some alcoholic drinks as well. Champagne or prosecco are a classy addition but if you really want to wow your guests than look into mixing some tea cocktails. For a couple of ideas download the guidebook below.

Vintage fine porcelain tea set with a tiered stand filled with mini cakes

Image via instagram @teatimemagazine

Open faced finger sandwiches and mini square sandwiches decorated with edible flowers

Image via http://www.teatimemagazine.com

Mini Victoria sponge cakes with cream and strawberry preserve on a cake stand

Image via htp://bbc.co.uk

A FEW TABLE STYLING TIPS

A FEW TABLE STYLING TIPS

Often vintage tea parties are very colourful affairs, so it’s really easy to end up with a tacky looking set-up. When choosing your tableware, if you don’t have full sets try to pick items with different shades/tones of the same colour or colours and patterns that work well together, and try to avoid having too many bright colours. Alternatively you can keep everything simple in shades of white or cream, and add just a touch of colour with your flowers and smaller styling items.

For added texture and layering, laces and embroideries are the obvious choice. But if you are after a more decadent affair, than introduce some silk or velvet elements (think ribbons instead of napkin rings) and metallic items, in silver, gold or copper. To make sure your table is stylish, keep these textures minimal and don’t overdo it by using one texture all over or mixing too many textural elements (aim for 2, and in different proportions).

Of course I have only just scrapped the surface with this post. So if you’re tempted to plan your vintage tea party, download the guidebook below. In there you will find a lot more planning tips and tricks, and a handy checklist for all the items you will need to put this together.

Vintage tea party table setting with tea cakes strawberries and scones on tiered stands

Image by Andreea Bucur (©Teastyle).

Vintage mismatched teacup trio with silverware and apricot tart for a vintage tea party

Image by Andreea Bucur (©Teastyle).