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Traditional Chinese Tea Ceremony

A few weeks ago we dropped in to Scrumptious Reads on James St on our way home from the movies. I had read in their newsletter that they had some urban bee rooftop honey on taste and whilst honey’s not top of my list, it is certainly on the top of Anthony’s. We popped in to chat with co-owner Julie and were lucky enough to arrive just as May King Tsang was starting a demonstration of the Gong Fu or Chinese Tea Ceremony.

I’d originally met Julie when she came to my house for a Gastronauts Supper Club dinner. Since then we’ve seen each other at a few events and I’ve dropped into the shop a few times to browse and buy gifts.  I met May King over Twitter and knew she ran events such as Tea and Food Matching dinners but had not met her in person.  Manchester born, May King calls herself a BBC (British Born Chinese) and now lives in Brisbane.  She is Australia’s only certified ‘Tea Note Speaker’ and is a delightful personality, full of generosity, curiosity and smiles.

Tea Ceremony Equipment
May King decided to run a guided Chinese Tea Ceremony after she’d heard numerous people complaining of being ‘ripped off’ for paying what they thought were large sums for a very small glass of tea in the back streets of the tourist towns in China. She realised there was a cultural gap – the Chinese were offering a whole experience but tourists thought they were paying an exorbitant amount for a cup of tea. Communication barriers probably didn’t help the situation so May King decided to run short ‘tutorials’ on the traditional Chinese Tea Ceremony so that Westerners would have a better understanding on the Ceremony, the reasons for certain actions and to learn more about the tea itself.


We sat and watched as May King filled the cups and tea pot with water several times so they would be warmed to the requisite temperature. In between we smelled the Oolong tea and talked about its scent and taste, discussed how the tea was picked and about tea traditions. Finally the tea was poured from the pot to a jug and then into warmed aroma cup and topped with a drinking cup. When we were ready to have our first cup, May King showed us how to tip the tea from the aroma cup into the drinking cup and told us the parable of the Golden Carp. ‘The Golden Carp jumps over the Golden Bridge’. We smelled the aroma and then tasted the liquor.  There were only a few small sips and then it was back to warming the cups and steeping the tea again.  Each time, the flavour of the tea changed as the leaves opened up.

Tea Steeping - step 1

Tea Steeping - step 2




Tea Poured


Tea Caddy 2








May King suggested that a traditional ceremony would have minimal and perhaps no talking at all but she had broken with this to provide a better insight into the world of tea and Chinese culture. We stayed for half a dozen cups then said our farewells.  A very relaxing interlude on a Saturday afternoon.

Tea Set

If you haven’t been to Scrumptious Reads in James Street, it’s a fascinating visit. There’s all the popular cookbooks as well as more specialist volumes. The shop has a wide range of food themed magazines, periodicals and unusual publications.  If you are in any way interested in food or publishing, a visit is a must.  You’ll be be certain to develop a long list of books that you covet and be able to give it to friends and family who are looking for gifts for you.  Visit the Scrumptious Reads website or sign up to their newsletter to keep up to date with the wide range of events and activities.

May King runs the Gong Fu Ceremony on a fairly regular basis at weekends so check her website (or Scrumptious Reads’) to find out when she’s next running it. It’s free to attend and May King will be delighted to talk with you and share her knowledge of tea, hoping it leads you into a whole new tea appreciation world.  May King speaks at a number of business, food and beverage events as well as hosting guided tastings and of course, sells tea.

May King Tsang

May King Tsang – ‘Tea Ambassador’

MayKing Tea – http://about.me/maykingtea
May King’s Blog – http://maykingtea.wordpress.com/
Scrumptious Reads – http://www.scrumptiousreads.com/

16 comments… add one
  • Hotly Spiced October 25, 2013, 1:40 pm

    I've never been to a tea ceremony. It looks very interesting and like something I need to experience xx

    • Fiona Bris-Vegas! October 25, 2013, 8:37 pm

      I'm not even a tea drinker but it was such a fascinating afternoon with lots of new information and ideas.

  • Krista October 25, 2013, 4:09 pm

    How lovely to learn from May King! I was able to attend one of her classes as well and really loved it. 🙂

    • Fiona Bris-Vegas! October 25, 2013, 8:46 pm

      We were very lucky to be wandering past as James St is not our usual haunt. Thanks for visiting!

  • belleau kitchen October 25, 2013, 4:54 pm

    What a lovely post and how lucky to have had such a fab experience.

  • Jan Rhoades October 26, 2013, 8:19 am

    I fondy remember one of the highlights of my visit to Japan was a traditional Japanese tea ceremony (we had to pay for the privelege). It was delightful and served with some traditional Japanese sweets. The cups were larger than the ones used by May King, which was just as well beause it was very chilly on our outside benches by a beautiful lake.

  • Maureen | Orgasmic Chef October 26, 2013, 11:30 am

    I've been to a Japanese tea ceremony in Tokyo and my daughter-in-law is Chinese and has surprised me with a tea ceremony. May King was my assistant during the finals for the Dilmah High Tea and you're right – she knows her tea! She's also got a delightful personality. I'm so glad she's going to stay in Australia.

    • Fiona Bris-Vegas! October 27, 2013, 4:26 pm

      Hi Maureen – I didn't know you were in the finals. Well done! Yes, it's very easy to get along with May King. Great to have her here in Aus.

  • rhubarbwhine.com October 26, 2013, 1:18 pm

    They're fun, aren't they? I'm not a coffee drinker, and coffee's been it's own cult for such a long time. I love that tea really has had a resurgence in interest in the last few years.

    • Fiona Bris-Vegas! October 27, 2013, 4:27 pm

      I'm a firm coffee drinker Rhu but can appreciate the ceremony and the beauty behind it.

  • Bizzy Lizzy's Good Things October 26, 2013, 4:55 pm

    I've never been to a tea ceremony of any description. It sounds wonderful, thanks so much for sharing this great post!

    • Fiona Bris-Vegas! October 27, 2013, 4:28 pm

      Not that I'm planning a trip to the 'Far East' any time soon but now I will understand a little more when I visit.

  • Joanne T Ferguson October 26, 2013, 7:53 pm

    G'day! I have been to several tea ceremonies worldwide, true!
    Really enjoyed your posting today Tiffin too!
    There is always so much to learn and not necessarily just about the tea!
    Who would like to belong to your Supper Club? Me! 🙂

    • Fiona Bris-Vegas! October 27, 2013, 4:30 pm

      Hi Joanne – yes, Gastronauts is fun though it's been in hiatus for a while. I'm trying to get the chief organiser to have a Christmas picnic. Fingers crossed.

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