In Memoriam: A Tea Ceremony

Death is the end of a life; it is not the end of a relationship.

After the loss of a dear friend, my parents called to share their thoughts on death and funerals.  As we explored what death rituals mean to us, we lamented the loss of community and tradition that had been an integral part of this aspect of life. Families frequently live hundreds, if not thousands, of miles apart and visiting the grave site of a loved one has become less of a reality, not just because of distances, but because of the pace of the world in which we live. The following Tea Ceremony was developed to honor the memory of a loved one in a way that is sacred, meaningful, positive, and accessible. It helps to create a space wherever you are to continue the relationship with the one you have lost.

In Memoriam: A Tea Ceremony:

  • Place:
    • Quiet, away from other activities
    • Preferably outdoors or with a view of nature
    • Music, if used, evoking times/places you shared with your loved one
    • Sign or notice at the entrance of the space, asking for quiet
  • Accoutrement:
    • Photo of your loved one
    • Token object (jewelry, clothing, work-related items, books, etc)
    • Scents, if applicable, that you associate with your loved one (i.e., your grandmother’s favorite perfume)
    • A candle or tea candle and matches; a candle snuffer if you have one
    • Vintage cloth, napkin, etc to set a small table or section of flooring
    • Journal and pen: when you begin, write the date, the name of the person you are remembering, the date and day of their death, and the tea you will be drinking.
    • Glass jar with lid
    • Unsealed container for drying tea leaves
    • Cup of water
    • Box of Kleenex (allow yourself to cry)
  • Tea:
    • Choose one tea or tea style that reminds you of your loved one.
    • Gaiwain set (or other tea preparation container)
    • Kettle and water
    • Tea cup
    • Additional items as needed based on the tea type and your memories (milk, sugar, honey, lemon slices, ice for iced tea, tea biscuits, etc)
  • Ceremony:
    • Place items in the designated area
    • Wash you hands and arms (to above your elbows)
    • Set out the cloth to designate your sacred area. Place the following items on the cloth:
      • Teaware
      • Cup of water
      • Candle and matches
      • the glass jar
      • the drying container.
      • Photos, tokens, scents
      • Journal and pen
    • Take a sip of the water and say your loved one’s name.
    • Light the candle
    • Take a sip of the water and say your loved one’s name.
    • Prepare the tea
    • While the tea is steeping, take another sip of the water and say your loved one’s name.
    • Pour the tea in your tea cup. Close your eyes and while holding a loving memory of the deceased in your mind, smell the tea liquor aroma. Take a sip.
    • Call up and explore memories of your loved one while you enjoy the tea, the music (if playing), the scents, photos and tokens.
    • If a particularly lovely or a new memory comes to you, write a brief description in your journal.
    • When you finish drinking the tea, select a tea leaf from the infused leaves and place the tea leaf in the drying container. Take the previous (now dry) tea leaf out of the drying container and place it in the glass jar.
    • Close your eyes and say good-bye to your loved one
    • Blow out the candle.
    • Take another sip of the water.
    • Clean up the area and put the items away for the next time.
  • On the anniversary of your loved one’s death, take the dried, used tea leaves to the grave site and scatter them over the grave. If there is no grave or you cannot visit the site, go outdoors and scatter the dried leaves in your yard or other location that has meaning for you.



Sonia Rapaport, MD

Writer. Doctor. Mother.

Tea lover.

World Tea Specialist. April 2017.


​I begin every day with tea. Usually, it’s an oolong, but I often have green, yellow, or blacks teas. Many days it’s more than one type. I choose the tea, weigh it out in a gaiwan or Yixing pot, heat the water, and infuse it multiple times. I pour the tea into two insulated bottles and take them to work. It’s the time of day I look forward to the most: this choice of tea, the ritual of weighing, heating, infusing, pouring. The aroma of the dry leaf, the tea liquor. The sips of tea that never make it into the insulated bottle. The anticipation of the afternoon, when I will drink the second bottle, the tea still hot.


Tea pulses throughout my day, my qi.


I began serious tea cupping several months ago, when I began taking courses at the World Tea Academy. Cupping is the technique of comparing teas by keeping consistent the weight, the temperature of the water, and the length of the infusion. Keep every other aspect of the cup consistent, and the tea leaf becomes the unique variable. Professional cupping includes inspection of the dry leaf, its appearance and aroma; the infused leaf, appearance and aroma; the tea liquor, appearance, aroma, taste (both hot and cooled), the mouthfeel, the finish. Cupping brings out flavors that are might missed for their subtlety, if infused at the temperature or length of time generally considered optimal for that tea. Keep a log of these standardized cuppings and you can evaluate and compare teas over time. The WTA cupping assignments showed me the gift-opening-joy of discovering the passion in tea leaves.


I drink my first bottle of tea in the morning, while I address emails and calls on my desk, and while I am interviewing my morning patients. The flavors and warmth of the tea grounds me, reminds me of the peaceful ritual of the gaiwan infusion, helps me create a peaceful space for the individual in my office.


My second bottle is my favorite lime-green colored Sip by S’well, which I save for last. I am always delighted by the permanence of the heat; the hot tea seems to fortify me even on afternoons when I work through lunch, when I have been present for other people’s pain for hours in a row. Finding balance in the face of suffering is one of the greatest challenges I face. The key is to settle into the peace of the moment.


When I think of peaceful moments in my life, memories that float easily into my thoughts, tea is frequently at the center: Tia Berta sipping yerba mate through her lovely silver bombilla, or preparing manzanilla tea for an upset stomach. Serving English Breakfast tea and cookies on the front porch as my children and their neighbor friends gathered on balmy summer afternoons, the chimes playing in the breeze. Discovering Rooibos tea, back when it was exotic and rare. Taking Jasmine pearl green tea with my daughter, Sarah.


I look forward to tomorrow morning’s tea cupping: three yellow teas from China, including the mythical Jun Shan Yin Zhen, one of China’s Ten Famous teas. Jun Shan Yin Zhen is grown in the early spring, on from Jun Shan Island (also known as the Island of Immortals) on Lake Dong Ting in Hunan Province. Tomorrow’s tea is from Tea Spring, and was plucked this spring. The tradition of this tea, one of the Imperial tribute teas of the past, underscores how we value the careful and well-crafted work of human hands. There is no machine product that has the same value.


This month I finished certification as a World Tea Specialist; I am excited to continue on to advanced certifications. As I delve deeper into tea knowledge, I realize how little I know. Tea is like medicine in that.