So you’re planning a tea ceremony for your wedding but you’ve never done one and have no idea where to start. You’re not alone and we’re here to help! Here’s a breakdown of the basics to help you run a smooth Chinese wedding tea ceremony.
What is a tea ceremony?
Traditionally, the tea ceremony is one of the most significant events of the wedding. It’s when the bride and groom pay their respects and show their gratitude towards their parents, new in-laws, and elders by serving them tea. In turn, their families will give their blessings to the newlyweds by gifting them “hong baos” (red envelopes with money). If you're looking to celebrate your Chinese culture at your wedding, a Chinese wedding tea ceremony might be the perfect addition to the celebrations!
What's the order that you serve in?
If you’re following tradition for Chinese wedding tea ceremonies, then the groom’s family is served tea first followed by the bride’s (you can also choose to alternate families between rounds). The groom kneels on the right and serves the tea first while the bride kneels on the left and goes after. Once the parents and grandparents are served, then the rest of the extended family (uncles/aunties, elder siblings, elder cousins) are served. Red envelopes are gifted to the couple after each serving.
The Essentials: What do you need for a Chinese wedding tea ceremony?
- Tea pot & tea cups with enough additional cups for each person (2 cups per guest)
- Serving tray
- Tea (oolong, black, jasmine, green, puerh, etc.)
- Kneeling pillows
- Cheongsam to wear
The Logistics: What do you plan for in a wedding tea ceremony?
1. Make a list of the order in which your guests will go - It’s really up to you and your partner to determine the order in which you’re serving everyone!
2. Determine when and where to have it - Any private venue or restaurant with enough space for all the guests will do just fine for your wedding tea ceremony. You can also host it at the family home of the bride or groom. Read up on the different places you can host the tea ceremony in our blog here.
As to when to have it - during the rehearsal dinner or cocktail hour, before the wedding ceremony, or even the day after the wedding will work. It just depends on what you prefer and how much you already have going on that day.
3. Decide what to wear - this is probably one of the more important and time-consuming decisions you'll make! Typically, the bride wears a floor-length red cheongsam with a mandarin collar or a more traditional Chinese wedding dress called a qun kua. Learn more about the different styles of cheongsams (qipaos) with our Cheongsam Style Guide.
For the groom, either a simple tux or a more traditional Chinese outfit will look good. Here are some ideas on how you two can match and show up to your wedding like the power couple we know you are.
4. Decide what type of tea to serve - you can't go wrong with one of the traditional teas (oolong, black, puerh tea) or ask your parents and family members what their favorite teas are. If you have a personal favorite, that’s perfect too! You don't need that many grams of the tea but you’ll want to go for the higher quality ones.
5. Purchase decorations - depending on how fancy you want to get for your Chinese wedding tea ceremony, you can find anything from large double happiness backdrops, roll out red carpets, red lanterns, table cloth, flowers, and more.
Get all the supplies you need for your tea ceremony—from the tea set to kneeling pillows (your knees will thank you!) in our one stop shop.
6. Allocate time for the entire ceremony - plan on setting aside 2-3 minutes for each round of tea serving especially if you want to take photos with each group.
7. Prepare the setup in advance - make sure to place two chairs or a bench, some kneeling pillows, and a table to hold all the supplies (teapot, cups, tea, etc.).
8. Practice going through the etiquette in your head beforehand - make sure to remember to hold the cups with both hands and practice saying the lines in Chinese if you're planning to!
Common Questions About Hosting a Chinese Wedding Tea Ceremony
What do you wear for a wedding tea ceremony?
Typically, the bride wears a floor or ankle-length red cheongsam (qipao) dress featuring a mandarin collar. A more traditional Chinese wedding dress you can wear is the qun kwa. The groom will typically wear a tux or suit to match or opt to wear a more traditional brocade jacket (changshan). For wedding cheongsam ideas, check out our guide here.
What do you say when you're serving tea?
You refer to the relative by their relationship to you and say, "Mom, please drink the tea." Typically, this is said in Chinese (Mandarin or Cantonese). You can refer to our Chinese relatives names 101 guide for help.
What holds the tea during the ceremony?
Your Maid of Honor will stand next to the bride and groom and hold the tea cups filled with tea on a serving tray. After each round, the Maid of Honor will bring over a new set of tea cups filled with tea. You should allocate 4 cups per couple you serve (or 2 cups per person you serve) and have enough tea to make 3 pots of tea.
What are the red envelopes for in a wedding tea ceremony?
Red envelopes are gifted to the couple by your elders after each serving. It's both a symbol of blessing to the newlyweds and also a practical gift filled with cash inside.
Tips from Other Chinese Brides
"Both the bride and groom will take turns serving the same person. Each person served will be drinking 2 cups of tea so don't pour too much tea into each cup!" - Jess
"You'll need a lot of cups (4 per couple you serve) for the ceremony! Plan on either having someone rinse and bring out new cups after each round or using disposable cups." - Michelle
"You'll need a place to store all the red envelopes you'll be gifted from your elders during the tea ceremony. Have your Maid of Honor help keep them somewhere safe." - Vivian
A tea ceremony is a great way to incorporate part of your heritage on your wedding day. Whether you’re going the more traditional or modern route, there are plenty of ways to make this experience yours.
In the mood for more?
- Subscribe below to get our ultimate Chinese wedding tea ceremony e-guide. It includes FAQs, a planning cheat sheet, and everything else you'll need to know.
- 5 Lessons Learned Running a Tea Ceremony as Maid of Honor
- 4 Great Places to Host Your Tea Ceremony