Sandaocha (Three-Course Tea) Ceremony of Bai Ethnic Minority in Dali

Significance of Three-Course Tea

Three-course tea is a way of drinking tea when Bai people in Yunnan entertain VIPs. In November 2014, the “Three-Course Tea” was approved by the State Council to be included in the fourth batch of national intangible cultural heritage representative projects. 

Ceremony of Three-Course Tea

Baked Tea Serves Ordinary People

The Bai people are very hospitable. When a guest or visitor comes to a house, the host will invite him into their main room and serve him with the so-called “three-course tea.” There are two types of “three-course tea.” One is baked tea, which used to serve ordinary guests. The method of making baked tea is: put selected Dayezi tea (a tea with large leaves) or Xiaguantuo tea into a jar, bake and shake it over charcoal fire until the tea leaves turn yellow and fragrance emanates, then pour a small amount of boiled water into the jar. Snow-white tea froths will then overflow the jar and its redolence will rush into your nose. Add a proper amount of boiled water, and then you can pour it into exquisite teacups to serve the guests. In teacups, the tea water looks like amber with crystalline clearness and irresistible redolence. Due to the noise the jar produces when pouring water into the baked jar, it is also called “thundering tea.” Since this type of tea is served three times in most cases, people call it “three-course tea” “drink the first cup for its fragrance, the second for taste, and the third to quench the thirst.” 

Another Type That Serve Senior Guests

The other sort of “three-course tea” serves senior guests. The first cup of tea — “thundering tea” – is made from local bitter tea. The second looks like soup. It is made from brown sugar, milk fan chips, walnuts, chayote, sesame, orange skins, and popcorn. It tastes sweet. The third cup of tea is made by mixing prickly ash, ginger, pine nuts, and Chinese cinnamon with honey and bitter tea. The tea set includes a jar, a porcelain mug, a tray, a copper kettle for making condiments, a small plane, a copper strainer, a spoon, a sugar mug and a condiment tray. The first cup of tea has the symbolic meaning of “To make great achievements, one should not fear hardships.” It also shows welcome to the guest. The second cup, the sweet one, means that after all hardships, the sweet will finally come. The third cup is pungent, with a distinct aftertaste. It suggests after going through all kinds of hardships, and enjoying the joys of life, one can recall both bitter and happy experiences. The custom has inherited the traditional tea culture that is unique to the Bai ethnic group and shows the spirit of our age. By showing the wisdom of life-“bitterness, then sweetness, and last aftertaste,” it reflects the beauty of Bai culture.

Three-Course Tea Today

With the development of the tourism of Dali, the “three-course tea” custom as a unique cultural inheritance has generated many new forms of cultural entertainments. Its combination with tourism, singing and dancing has brought out a lot of meaningful and special activities like tea party, tea banquet, and so on so forth. These activities have won the praise and favor of both foreign and domestic visitors.

Editer by Ziwei Chen/陈紫薇