What does tea symbolize in Chinese culture? This question may seem like a silly one, but a look at the tea ritual in China makes it abundantly clear that its meaning can be applied to a great many events and circumstances. Tea, more than any other plant, serves to symbolize the mystery and enlightenment, two of the most important ideals to which the Chinese are devoted.
In Chinese culture, tea itself is treated with respect. Unlike coffee, which is often stirred and decaffeinated, tea has an elegant flavor that is best left to be enjoyed slowly. Tea is served both hot and cold, so that it can be enjoyed by anyone who happens to be sitting by. Tea is also used to facilitate important events in Chinese society, such as funerals and weddings. As part of the ritual, the tea will be served to the guests, which act as a sort of cleansing ceremony, purifying the cup in the name of heaven and good health.
While the specifics of this symbolism vary from one region to another, there are a few basics that are shared by all traditions. The steaming hot tea leaves are often broken into smaller particles to order to make the beverage denser and more bitter, and this practice is thought to be what caused the early Chinese to refer to the China Tea bag as "tea dust". The use of a tea bag is also seen at weddings, when the bride and groom pour boiling water over their tea leaves, a symbolic act of washing away all previous sins. At funerals, where the body is not cremated, the funeral procession carries a basket of tea leaves along with the deceased person's favorite cup of tea, symbolizing a hope of revival and everlasting life.