The Wu-Wo Tea Ceremony

November 05, 2020

by By Diana Rosen

For the Chinese, tea drinking is akin to breathing, something done daily, naturally, and generally with family or friends. Tea drinking with others is based on a lively and joyful hospitality that fosters family relationships and both business and social friendships. For many reasons, not the least of which is a growing middle class, many of today’s Chinese are embracing the confluence of meditation with tea drinking, except not as a solo, private effort but one experienced with others. The Wu-Wo Tea Ceremony is just one such effort.

The etymology of the Chinese words traces “Wu” to mean void or complete emptiness, and “Wo” means self or being. Translated literally, Wu-Wo means Without Self, a Buddhist concept where one who reaches nirvana where one will not exist in the physical plane anymore or, as some call it, Enlightenment. This “void of self” is the undercurrent of Wu-Wo gatherings in which there is more silence not conversation, tea sharing, and the surrounding vistas of nature are as critical to the experience as the fine qualities of the tea.


Unlike most tea ceremonies in any culture, there is no host in Wu-Wo. In fact, every participant brings their own small teapots and their own tea and brews the tea for others. No one knows beforehand which teas will be served or to whom. Small quantities of teas, for two to four people for example, are typical.

In most Wu-Wo gatherings, the participants sit in a circle, often at a round table, and brew their tea elegantly yet silently. Tea is always served to the left, but received from the right or individuals may brew and drink their own tea. For example, if four cups of tea are required, three of the cups will be served to the three people on one’s left and the last cup will be reserved for yourself.

Generally, a second or third infusion follows, all drunk silently the better to experience the tea fully with all one’s senses. When the last of the tea has been consumed, each person gathers up their tea sets, teas, and cups, packs them away, and they say their goodbyes.

The purpose of this type of sharing tea is that each person serves tea to someone who does not serve you in return, a reflection of the idea that giving should be gracious yet without expectation of anything in return.

The other objective is to experience an egalitarian, democratic experience. Each person in the circle is equal to the other, there is no hierarchy or rank. Seating is random, although it can be arranged via a drawing of names. Most often, people simply sit where they’d like to.


The preferred setting is one that is outdoors in a place lush with nature, like a flower garden, a park, a tree-studded area, or perhaps one’s own backyard. Should bad weather arrive, choosing a room indoors with windows facing the beauty of nature (and even its storms) is appropriate.

Although these gatherings are centered around a communal meditative experience, the outcome is to achieve the Taoist idea that when we live as if all of nature, all of life is living through us, we will be guided through out days with purpose and grace and clarity.Wu Wei is an ancient Taoist ph


To achieve a congenial albeit silent experience, follow these parameters:

• Come with an open mind.
• Expect no reward.
• Bring a positive attitude, and improve upon it each gathering.
• Cultivate cooperation with you and the other participants.
• Accept the egalitarian nature of the gathering by accepting that there are no distinctions of social rank, sect, wealth or origin.
• Abide by these guidelines.
• Arrive on time, otherwise you may not participate.


The tea-making element of the Wu-Wo Tea Ceremony is ideal for gung fu equipage using a small teapot, thimble cups, and an exceptional oolong or fine black tea. The items themselves are small enough to avoid awkward heavy containers. They’re elegant to use, and, most importantly, brew teas completely. An alternative could be a gaiwan as the brewing vessel for the thimble cups.


It’s easy to see elements of the Tao and Buddhist principles in the development of this tea drinking experience such as admiring and enjoying the harmony of nature, enjoying one’s tea in a convivial setting, and sharing an atmosphere of kindness with others.

While most tea gatherings in China, and around the world, are venues for lively socializing with conversation, perhaps art, music or a meal, Wu-Wo invites silent contemplation, thoughtfulness while with others, and is in its own way, a lovely metaphor for sharing the very essence of tea: its physical beauty, its brewed fragrance and taste, and the lingering after-effects of relaxation and clarity. The bonus of the Wu-Wo experience is being surrounded by a landscape of nature, as comforting as it is nourishing to body and soul.

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