Arriving at our Dali hotel, I’d seen a sign advertising a “traditional three course tea ceremony.” I love tea and have attended a few classes in Chinese-style tea ceremony, so I asked Huang to arrange a visit. He rolled his eyes and said he had never taken guests to one – he was surprised that I wanted to go. I explained my interest in tea and he duly scheduled a trip to a “folk residence” which serves the three courses of tea. Turns out the experience was well worth the eye-roll, as we soon found out.
The residence itself was a traditional family courtyard dwelling, beautifully restored and touched up with typical local details. (Since our trip I've seen it featured on CCTV as an example of local, tourist-focused entrepreneurship!)
I strongly suspect that Dali’s three courses of tea “ceremony” was concocted strictly for tourist consumption. Perhaps at the core is a kernel of authenticity – the “three courses” are basically three cups of tea – the first sweetened to represent carefree childhood, the second bitter, to represent the cares of maturity and the last with an odd but neutral “aftertaste” that’s said to represent a reflective old age.
We took our seats and the scratchy, loud music started up. A troupe of young Bais took the stage to perform various dances, acting out supposedly traditional rituals for farming, courting, etc. The dancers’ bored looks made us uncomfortable.
As a grand finale, the audience was invited on stage to do what looked like a Bai version of the hokey-pokey. Tom and the girls floored me by gamely taking part.
In the end, Huang was right to advise us to give the three courses of tea a miss. But in a way, it helped us appreciate all the more the truly authentic experiences we would have later in our trip. The next day we would meet and have dinner with a Bai family in another traditional house that showed us that Bai culture is very much alive and integrated into modern life in a way that this tacky tea ceremony was not.
Next: Bai Dinner