Tapping for Tea

I have to admit that the practice of finger tapping when tea is being poured is something of a mystery to me. Which probably makes sense since as far as I’m aware it’s a practice that’s primarily confined to certain Asian countries and most notably China. But when I ran across an article recently at an Asian food site I thought it was time to take a closer look at the practice.

China Tea Sampler - steep and tap! (Photo source: The English Tea Store)
China Tea Sampler – steep and tap! (Photo source: The English Tea Store)

I took a look a few of my favorite books on tea history and Chinese tea culture and they seem to be curiously silent on the subject. From a European perspective, I found reference to a similar custom practiced with wine in this report that dates all the way back to 1885. But as the aforementioned article suggests, finger tapping is a practice that supposedly dates back several centuries to the Qing dynasty.

As the story goes, one of the Chinese emperors of the day had disguised himself so that he could get out among the common people. Though he was traveling with a servant it was the emperor who actually found himself pouring tea for said servant at a teahouse. Which left the servant with the dilemma of how to show the appropriate level of gratitude without blowing the emperor’s cover. His solution was to bend two fingers and rap the knuckles on the table to show his appreciation.

Which sounds like it could be another of those quaint legends about tea that are too good to be true but it’s a custom that still survives to this day in some places, although often with three fingers used instead of two. Not surprisingly, the custom is said to be more popular among older tea drinkers than the young and one can’t help wonder if it might be in danger of falling by the wayside as those elderly tea drinkers pass along.

Of course, there’s no law that says that only elderly Chinese tea drinkers can tap for their tea. So the next time someone pours tea for you do your part to preserve this tradition and give them a few taps.

While it really has nothing to do with the subject of this article here’s some bonafide scientific research on finger tapping that’s too good to pass up.

See more of William I. Lengeman’s articles here.

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