Something old and something new—it sounds like a wedding day saying. But in this case it refers to a traditional way of drinking Chinese tea that seems to be making a comeback among a new generation: drinking tea from a bowl at a tea stall beside street or road.
According to an article this month in China Daily, the stalls are finding new clientele, at least in Jinan, the capital of coastal Shandong Province. The owner of one stall reported that he was selling upwards of 300 bowls of tea on weekdays, more on the weekends.
Tea by the bowlful is unquestionably at the lower end of the Chinese tea-drinking spectrum. There is no formal ceremony dictating how to do it, nor time consumed in the process. There are no niceties and courtesies intended to ingratiate a guest. There are, in fact, no teacups, and the teapots are notable for their volume, not their delicacy.
The whole idea of Chinese tea stalls was—and is—to quench thirst with a passable brew. The teas generally are blended or otherwise unremarkable in their taste and aroma. Tea masters are not part of the job description for a tea stall operator.
Yet the Chinese teas served in the hand-held bowls are palatable. They are refreshing. They also are inexpensive and, therefore, readily available for every passing thirsty stranger, young and old, rich and poor, connoisseur or tea-gulper. This egalitarian outlet for tea perfectly fits the reputation of tea as the second most consumed beverage in the world.
Chinese tea by the bowlful—fast food for the tea lover.