Chinese Wedding Tea Ceremony Guide

In most Asian weddings I have worked on in the past decades, the tea ceremony has always been an essential part of the special day. A tradition practised since the Tang Dynasty in China, the tea ceremony involves the bride and groom's families bringing their blessings to the wedding couple. During this traditional event, the couple will serve tea to their parents and older relatives while kneeling on a red pillow. The drinking of the tea itself symbolises the acceptance of the marriage. In return, the couple would receive cash-filled red envelopes, followed by a few words of encouragement. In addition to money, the bride often received gold bracelets and necklaces from close relatives on both sides of the family. Since the Tea Ceremony plays such an important cultural role in bringing unity to the bridal couple and their families, I list the steps in preparing for such a unique occasion. 

Determining the locations of the Tea Ceremony:

In contrast to tradition, the tea ceremony is often held at the bride's parent's home before the groom's as logistically it makes more sense as he would already be there in person to pick her up. However, if the wedding schedule is very tight, the couple can choose to have the tea ceremony at one location, either in a rented space or at a restaurant. 

Deciding what to wear:

The bride would often wear a red cheongsam ((長衫), while the groom would wear a Tang suit (唐裝;). The couple can find this traditional attire in Chinatown, local Asian malls or online.

Things that you would need for the Tea Ceremony:

  • Electric or stovetop kettle for boiling water
  • Tea ingredients include the following: Oolong tea leaves, Red dates (红枣, hóngzǎo), Dried Longan (桂圆, guìyuán) and lotus seed (莲子, liánzǐ). 
  • A red Chinese tea set with a double happiness character for the parents, plus extra red paper cups for relatives and siblings.
  • Two pillows for the couple to kneel on during the ceremony
  • A sizeable double happiness character (囍) decoration to hang on the back wall during the tea ceremony.
  • A basket or tray to hold all the red envelopes and gifts.
  • A list of all the relatives participating in the tea ceremony

Helpers that are involved with the tea ceremony:

In general, the bridesmaids would be helping in the tea ceremony, as their roles may range from preparing the tea cups to boiling the water. However, it would be the Maid of Honour holding the tray of tea as she stands beside the wedding couple throughout the ceremony. Additional responsibilities for the bridesmaid include putting red envelopes/gifts into the basket and helping the bride to put on gold bracelets and necklaces. 

How many tea and cups to prepare?

The bridesmaids need to prepare two cups for each guest on the list.

The order in which the tea ceremony is conducted:

Traditionally, the parents are served tea first, followed by grandparents and then the rest of the extended family in order of their age. Younger siblings can participate in the ceremony as well. However, in this instance, the bride and groom will serve tea while standing versus kneeling for older family members.

Seating and kneeling arrangements:

The tea ceremony starts with the bride and groom kneeling in front of their respective parents or in-laws as they sit on their chairs. The bride would kneel on the right side while the groom on the left, both facing the double happiness (囍) decoration hanging on the wall or window. The father would sit facing the bride, while the mother would be across from the groom. In terms of gender, this seating arrangement applies to the rest of the family members participating in the tea ceremony.

Serving the tea:

The groom would serve the tea first to his mom/mother-in-law/auntie, while the bride would follow. Then, in the same order, the couple would bring the tea for the dad/father-in-law/uncle. As the couple serve the tea to their parent or relatives, they need to say, "Mom/Dad/etc., please drink the tea." in either Cantonese or Mandarin. After the parents or relatives drank the tea, they would give the couple red envelopes, sometimes pieces of jewelry and a few words of wisdom. 

How long does a tea ceremony last?

It all depends on how many relatives are on the list for the ceremony. On average, each couple would take about 5 minutes. As a common saying goes, "the more, the merrier", as the longer the guest list, the more red envelope, gifts and helpful advice the couple would receive.