Chinese Tea Ceremony in Chiang Mai at Sati - The Art of Tea and Yoga
Did you know that tea has a spirit?
Today, me and a group of friends attended a beautiful tea ceremony at Sati, led by the most knowledgeable and graceful lady we could have hoped to meet: Echo.
Echo is a lovely, intelligent person and an amazing conversationalist with an encyclopedic knowledge of tea.
She can tell you about the history of tea in China, the differences between Japanese and Chinese tea ceremonies, describe the different effects each of the teas she has available might have on you and answer any burning tea-related questions that you need answering. Her way of describing and explaining is poetic, patient and eloquent. It is abundantly clear that Echo has a love affair with tea.
Sati is an extremely calming, relaxing environment. When we were there, peaceful Tibetan music was playing and a gentle breeze played through the open windows. Heavy wooden furniture decorates the blue and white room downstairs, and the upstairs room is bare to serve as a yoga studio.
A tea ceremony with Echo is absolutely incredible value at 150 baht per person.
You should book in advance on her Facebook page or by calling 088 431 8976. She will close Sati to other guests while you’re there, so you can have a totally private and uninterrupted tea ceremony. It really is special and I can’t recommend this experience enough. Of all the tourist things to do in Chiang Mai, it was probably the friendliest and most comfortable thing we've done, and Echo herself played no small part in that. Thank you, Echo, if you’re reading this!
After we had sat down, listened to the descriptions of the different kinds of tea we could choose from and asked a few questions, we decided to try green puer tea. Our friend Ellie had already tried black puer tea and said it was really good, so it seemed like a good choice.
The tea ceremony set was really quite special. On the wooden tray there were six dainty white cups with a blue pattern, a small brown tea pot, a small white pouring pot, and the most curious item of all – a kind of stone foot fish ornament. This was a spirit of tea! It played an important part in the ceremony, as you’ll see later. Next to the tray was a dry purple leaf, a wooden vase holding several implements, and a stack of six small wooden trays. There was a small kettle on an electric hob. Everything seemed very precise and in its place.
Echo bought over the tea ‘cake’, which was carefully wrapped in paper and clingfilm to preserve the taste and fragrance, and to make sure that the tea didn't become contaminated by any other smells.
Echo began the ceremony by closing her eyes and making her Tibetan singing bowl sing loudly in the room.
Then, she unwrapped the tea. It was spellbinding to watch her unwrapping the cake while the Tibetan music played in that calm, still room. I almost forgot to take photographs, and I almost didn't take any at all, because I was worried it might break the spell. Echo then used a wooden-handled tool to break tea leaf chunks away from the cake, and piled the leaves onto the purple leaf. The tea had a slight scent; earthy. It reminded me of hay.
She then warmed the tea set by pouring hot water in all of the pots and cups and finally over the stone foot fish. The tray had holes in, and a container concealed underneath. All of Echo’s movements were practiced and efficient; she told us that she does this ceremony every day, even if it’s just by herself.
This green puor tea was two years old, so had to be awakened!
Echo ‘awakened’ the tea after it’s two years of slumber by steeping it for just a few seconds in the brown tea pot and quickly pouring every cup full, and then some over the fish… then all the cups were poured over the fish. Now, the tea was awake!
Then it was our turn. Echo poured fresh water into the brown tea pot and again, only steeped the tea for a few seconds before pouring everyone a cup full of tea, and then one over the fish. The colour was a fresh, bright yellow. We were shown the correct way to hold our cups and drink the tea, and then we drank! Every time our cups were empty, she would pour more hot water into the brown pot and fill our cups again.
Every ‘round’ of tea was served by Echo clockwise. This was important – the loving way to serve tea. If she had done it anti-clockwise, then it would have been a big hint telling us to get lost and get out, according to the etiquette rules of Chinese tea ceremony!
The taste of the tea changed after each round. It started off quite bitter, but definitely got fruitier and sweeter. Hey, I should become a tea critic ;)
It’s not just the number of rounds that affect the tea’s taste, said Echo. She told us that every person at the ceremony affects the taste. We asked how on earth could that be? We hadn’t touched anything! Echo firmly believes that the character and emotions of everyone present at the ceremony affects the taste of tea, and the emotions of the one who serves the tea affects the taste most of all. She told us that sometimes, when she is feeling strong negative emotions, the tea has no taste whatsoever.
The tea ceremony was not a scary, formal experience.
While we drank tea, we talked about the role of tea in different cultures around the world, the history of tea, Echo’s personal beliefs about tea, tea in Thailand and even a little bit about teaching, wine, chocolate and coffee! Echo described how in all cultures, sitting down with friends to drink tea is so conducive to relaxing, talking and laughing together, and that’s exactly what we were doing. It was incredibly lovely.
At one point, Echo asked us if we were high yet! We laughed of course, but you know what, we kind of were. Mike described how his head felt strangely light, and I felt *so* focused on whatever I happened to be looking at. Echo nodded, and said that what Mike had described was what people try to attain when they practice yoga. She described it much more eloquently, and talked about chi and … other things I don’t really know about, but it was fascinating to listen to.
I once heard something about when you drink tea with a stranger, you form a special kind of tea-drinking friendship, and I think that probably happened today. I will definitely, definitely, definitely be going back to Sati to drink tea with Echo. We said that next time I visit, we’ll drink a smoky black tea. I can’t wait. Maybe one day in the future I’ll take Echo some British builder’s brew with custard cream dunkies, and see what she thinks of that..! Haha. Andy thinks she’ll be horrified.
I’m so happy to live in this beautiful city where I can meet people from so many different cultures and backgrounds.
Sati - The Art of Tea and Yoga is at 5 Chaiyapoom Road, Tambon Si Phoom, Chiang Mai, 50300.
You can call Echo on 0884318976 and visit her Facebook at www.facebook.com/satihouse.
Echo writes a blog too: satihouse.tumblr.com