Drinking tea is an old tradition that dates back to South-west China in 2727 BCE when it was mainly used for its health benefits and calming properties. According to legend, a dried tea leaf fell into Chinese Emperor Shennong’s cup of hot water and he found the taste of his water had greatly improved. Since then the tradition of drinking tea gained immense popularity around the world. It has been incorporated into numerous cultures and a variety of tea processing techniques, recipes, and unique tea drinking traditions have developed over the centuries and are now exotic and exclusive to their area of origin. Here are some of the most interesting tea traditions from around the globe:
Maghrebi mint tea, also known as Sahrawi and Touareg mint tea is a staple of North African culture. This tea is traditional to the Maghrebi region and is brewed using spearmint leaves, green tea and sugar. Maghrebi mint tea is central to the Moroccan social culture and you cannot spend a day without being served this heavily sweetened delight. The main ingredient of the brew, spearmint has a very strong aroma and its leaves are usually brewed in hot water with sweetener to avoid bitterness. The steaming hot tea is poured from a height into small glasses and guests are usually served three times as an act of hospitality. Each cup symbolizes something different and guests are expected to accept all to avoid looking impolite. The flavor of Touareg tea deepens with each serving that is left to steep and the three glasses symbolize life, love, and death. The tea is usually served along with sweets and nuts
At the end of the Chinese Civil War in the 1940’s, Chinese refugees escaped to Thailand and brought with them the rich Chinese tea-drinking culture. Thai people adopted the Chinese tea culture and gave it an interesting and delicious twist. Thai people developed the Thai tea which is made from black Ceylon tea and is the most famous brew in Thailand. Thai iced tea which is also known as cha-yen or simply Thai tea is a hearty, high-calorie brew that is made by brewing black Ceylon tea and blending it with sugar and condensed milk before serving it over ice.
There are numerous variations of Thai iced tea and various spices including orange blossom, star anise, ground tamarind, liquorice, and cinnamon can also be added to make it even more refreshing. Thai Tea, with its spicy and sweet taste, is an absolute delight and goes well with most Thai dishes, which are usually spicy as well.
Tea was brought to Russia as a result of trade along the Silk Road in the 17th century and it is traditionally known as Russian caravan tea largely due to its history. However, during this time tea was expensive and reserved for the high society because trade journeys mainly composed of caravans and camels and would often take more than a year to complete. This changed when the Siberian rail road was completed in 1880, making tea readily available to the general population.
Russian tea is an absolute delicacy and an integral part of Russian culture. Russian tea has a two-step brewing process. The first step is where a tea leaves concentrate known as zavarka (highly concentrated black tea) is prepared and brewed in a pot. Zavarka is prepared by boiling water in a tall urn, while a small tea pot containing highly concentrated black tea sits atop of it. The concentrate (zavarka) is then poured in a cup before diluting it with hot water. This allows you to decide how strong your tea will be. Russian tea can also be flavored with honey, sugar, lemon, or other herbs and spices. In Russia it is generally considered polite to offer guests tea when they enter your home.
Russian teas are different than other cultures and countries as they usually drink a wide variety of strong black teas from Sri Lanka or India that are smoked to different degrees. In fact, many tea companies are now offering a tea variety known as Russian Caravan Tea that’s reminiscent of its unique smoky flavor.
Tea is actually a way of life for the Chinese people and the word Cha-Dao represents the Chinese tea culture which is more than 4000 years old. For them tea is more than simply soaking tea leaves in water. The Ceremony for preparing tea in China is known as Gongfu Cha and it involves a lot of artistic maneuvers and practice. The process involves a very detailed process and the word Gongfu Cha literally means brewing tea with skill. China’s has diverse climates which have given rise to many different tea varieties, such as Jasmine, Oolong, Gunpowder and pu-erh (fermented tea). Since black tea was historically preserved for export, it is not particularly popular in China. Cha-Dao (the art of making tea) is closely associated with Chinese philosophies of harmony and balance.
The art of serving tea in China comprises of numerous steps and it also involves strainers, tea towels, “scent cups”, a brewing tray, and a tureen. The scent cups are special cups that guests use to smell the bitter and strong brew before it is served. When the tea is ready, small cups are arranged to form a circle, then tea is poured in one continuous motion until all the cups are full. Unlike elsewhere where people drink tea by simply holding the cup in one hand, in China you have to use both hands (where you hold the cup in one hand and the saucer in the other hand) and then sip very slowly as you enjoy the flavor.
If you want to know more about the Gongfu Cha Tea Ceremony, checkout our complete guide here.
Tea is synonymous with the English culture. From heartier brews to dainty afternoon teas, tea is certainly a favorite beverage. The beverage was first introduced in England in the mid 1600’s by the Dutch East India Company when merchants brought the brew from India. However, it was initially expensive and English Afternoon Tea was supposedly integrated into the English culture in the 1800’s when Ann, Duchess of Bedford asked to be served a light meal between breakfast and dinner after finding the gap between the two meals too long. The British started enjoying the afternoon with tea, scones, cookies and sandwiches. Tea became very popular and it didn’t take long before the many coffee houses in Great Britain were replaced with tea drinking establishments. The tradition grew and ladies started enjoying their tea in tea gardens with flowers and herbs. Tea was actually considered a fancier alternative to coffee. The “high society”, particularly women saw coffee as a brew for “lower people”.
Even though England is one of the largest tea consumers in the world, the Afternoon Tea which traditionally comprised of tea with scones and sandwiches is now a special occasion affair. They mostly consume black teas such as English Breakfast and Earl Grey. Builder’s Tea (a strong combination of black tea, sugar and milk), is also very popular. Traditionally, Britons love tea and they usually enjoy it with sugar and milk. Today, there are many different variations of drinking tea in England. While it is commonly served with milk, it is also consumed with herbs such as lemon.
Unlike other teas, yerba mate (the drink of the gods) isn’t made from tea leaves, but from the leaves of the yerba mate plant. Yerba mate is a staple of the Argentinian culture and people enjoy it throughout the day and on all occasions. This caffeine-infused brew is prepared in a dried gourd or small pot and people drink it through a straw known as a bombilla. The bombilla is a metal straw that is native to the Argentine culture. The pot or gourd with the beverage is passed around during social ceremonies so that everybody can share the same brew as a sign of a special bond and declining it or stirring the brew with the bombilla would be a serious insult. Many Argentinians enjoy the tea unsweetened, but some people also add honey or sugar to make it more palatable.
This herbal tea is said to have a lot of active compounds including cholesterol-lowering properties and antioxidants.
Tea was introduced in Japan by Zen Buddhists and Chinese monks in the 12th century. At first, only high officials such as emperor’s court could drink tea. Tea was incorporated into the Japanese culture in the 16th century when Sen Rikyū changed Japanese tea principles. Since then, the Japanese consider drinking the brew a high art and they emphasize the appreciation of the moment and the beauty in simplicity. Furthermore, they incorporated the principles of Zen Buddhism into the art of drinking tea. Since then, tea has played a key role in Japanese culture.
During the popular Japanese tea ceremony commonly known as Chanoyu (way of tea), matcha (green tea leaves ground into a fine powder), is brewed into a frothy beverage and ceremonially served. Although green tea is the most popular tea variety in Japan, you can also find many other types of tea in the country,
including Chinese varieties.
Taiwanese bubble tea is a modern innovation of the popular Chinese tradition that was discovered in 1980’s, when Lin Hsiu Hui, a manager at the Chun Shui Tang tea house, accidentally dropped tapioca balls from her dessert course into her tea. It is a high calorie brew whose base is usually an iced tea (oolong, green, black or jasmine) with sugary syrup and powdered milk.
This has proven to be an extremely lucky incident since the teahouse started selling her creation and it quickly became a big hit. Mere decades since its creation, Taiwanese Bubble Tea has become an international phenomenon with numerous bubble tea shops opening up across the United States, Asia and Europe.
The characteristic small bubbles to which bubble tea owes its name are tiny balls of a starchy white grain known as tapioca.
Unlike in other parts of eth world where tea enthusiasts usually enjoy their tea with sugar, lemon, or milk, people in Tibet make their traditional tea known as pocha by adding salty butter to it. Po cha, which literally means “butter tea”, is brewed by boiling pemagul black tea leaves for several hours. Yak butter, milk and salt are then added, and the combination is then churned together. The beverage typically has a butter film floating on top of it which prevents chapped lips and also keeps the tea hot for a long time. The butter gives the Tibetan po cha tea a soup-like consistency which is said to be uniquely fortifying and comforting especially the cold and high altitude climates like Tibet’s mountain ranges.
Just like in other countries and tea traditions, Malaysia’s signature brew typically contains black tea, condensed milk and sugar. But what makes ulled milk’ or teh tarik really special is how it is mixed. In order to achieve its unique texture is that it is poured back and forth (pulled) between cups, giving the brew access to cool air as it moves from one mug to another. There is an exciting element of showmanship involved during preparation of teh tarik tea which is deeply engrained in the Malaysian tradition. The ability of Malaysian brewers to drag long streams of tea above the patrons’ heads without spilling it or giving the guests a shower is an attraction to both tourists and locals. To watch the brew being prepared is to witness an energetic and elaborate dance, where the beverage behaves as a partner, flowing between mugs without a drop being lost. Competitiosn have been created in Malaysia where tea brewers compete by showcasing their skills.
Almost every culture and country has a unique tea tradition, and no matter what places you visit, there is a very high chance that you will experience tea preparation techniques and different ways of serving it, as well as a wide variety of flavors. However, we all love tea and it’s definitely the most popular beverages worldwide.
We would love to hear from you! Use the comment section below and tell us about any other Tea Tradition you know within or outside of your own country.