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Tea Drinking Etiquette —’Finger Tapping Salute’

“Finger tapping salute" is believed an important tea etiquette and related to Qianlong Emperor in the Qing Dynasty. (Image: Secret China)
“Finger tapping salute" is believed an important tea etiquette and related to Qianlong Emperor in the Qing Dynasty. (Image: Secret China)

Nowadays, many tea drinkers know there is an important etiquette called the “finger tapping salute.”

Long ago, during the Qing Dynasty, Emperor Qianlong was travelling through southern China incognito with some of his high ranking ministers. They stopped to rest at a tea house after passing through Songjiang.

When the waiter came to serve the tea, he stood a few feet away from the table. Lifting the copper tea pot high into the air, he poured water into a tea bowl without spilling a single drop.

Tea performance in Sichuan, China. (Image: Secret China)

Tea performance in Sichuan, China. (Image: Secret China)

Tea performance in Sichuan, China. (Image: Secret China)

Tea performance in Sichuan, China. (Image: Secret China)

Emperor Qianlong was so surprised that he took the pot and imitated the waiter. In ancient times, one had to kneel down and kowtow to acknowledge a favor from the emperor. His ministers were very surprised when he served them tea, but they couldn’t risk revealing his true identity.

Instead of kowtowing to Qianlong, the ministers tapped continuously on the table top with their fingers. He asked them afterwards, “Why did you all tap on the table?” They answered in unison: “You were serving us tea, and we tapped on the table to show our appreciation as we could not kowtow to you.”

That was the origin of using table tapping to express thanks. Table tapping is still used today as part of tea etiquette.

From older people to the younger generation: Tapping with the index or middle finger is equivalent to nodding. Tapping three times shows that the older person really appreciates the younger person.

Tapping with the index or middle finger is equivalent to nodding. (Image: Secret China)

Tapping with the index or middle finger is equivalent to nodding. (Image: Secret China)

From juniors to elders: Using five fingers together like a fist and tapping on the table is equivalent to kowtowing on the floor. Usually there are three taps.

Using five fingers together like a fist and tapping on the table is equivalent to kowtowing on the floor. (Image: Secret China)

Using five fingers together like a fist and tapping on the table is equivalent to kowtowing on the floor. (Image: Secret China)

Between equals: The index and middle finger tapping the table together is equivalent to putting the two hands together in Baoquan, a gesture used when greeting one another. Three taps shows respect.

In addition to this, guests should tap each time their host serves tea to show their appreciation.

Research by Monica and Kathy

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