Yunnan Tea Ceremony from the Bai Ethnicity

As one dives deeper into tea, the rituals and lifestyle behind it also slowly become of interest. One ritualistic part of Puerh tea we find interesting stems from Dali in Yunnan, China. Located there are the Bai people, known for helping harvest some of the best tasting deep purple Puerh tea leaves. They are known for various rituals and philosophy surrounding tea and ceremony.

Ancient texts and traveler accounts reveal that tea has been a cherished beverage in Dali for centuries. In the era of Nanzhao, the precursor to the Bai ethnic group in Dali, records show that tea was prepared with a unique blend of pepper, ginger, and osmanthus fragrans. Even the famed explorer Xu Xiake, during his visit to Dali in the Ming Dynasty, bore witness to the Three Course Tea ceremony. He described the event as a three-part sensory journey, with each course presenting distinct flavors—clear, salty, and sweet.

About The Three Course Tea

The Bai ethnic group of Dali has elevated tea drinking to an art form. One of their most cherished traditions is the Three Course Tea ceremony. This is a practice deeply intertwined with significant life events. On auspicious occasions like welcoming esteemed guests or celebrating weddings, the Bai people come together around a firewood pot where tea is brewed and friendships are forged.

The preparation of Three Course Tea adheres to strict rituals encompassing “three courses,” “six rules,” and “eighteen orders.” The first course, known as the “thunder tea,” is a bitter brew featuring Baidou baked tea. The tea leaves are carefully roasted to a light yellow hue, and when hot water is poured over them, it produces a sound akin to thunder—a testament to its moniker. The second course offers a delightful contrast, with sweet flavors achieved by adding walnut pieces, milk, and brown sugar to the tea. The final course, the aftertaste tea, combines honey with spices like pepper, ginger, and cinnamon. This concoction delivers a complex blend of sweetness, spiciness, and numbness, leaving a lasting impression. The third course’s “spicy” notes phonetically resemble “close” and “wealth” in Chinese, imbuing it with symbolism that speaks of closeness and prosperity.

Beyond Flavor: The Philosophical Essence

The Three Course Tea is not only a sensory delight but also aligns with a life philosophy—beginning with bitterness, then experiencing sweetness, and culminating in an enduring aftertaste. This mirrors life’s journey, symbolizing the stages of striving, achieving, and cherishing the fruits of one’s efforts.