Perhaps, tea is the only beverage in the world that is so diverse and yet healthy. Tea drinking ritual has changed through history, based on culture, traditions and geographical boundaries. Thanks to the regional differences and practices that Tea is much more than a beverage that keeps us warm. Tea ceremonies and rituals around the world say a lot about respective cultures and their people.
So, here is a look at what this age-old beverage means to people and cultures from different parts of the world and how they like their cuppa.
Tea is not as old in India as it in China or Japan. Tea gained popularity in India only after the British in the 19th century introduced the common Indians to the taste of tea. They created more and more plantations in India to cater to the growing popularity of tea in their country.
Since then, tea has become an integral part of the Indian culture and became a part of the Indian diet. Chai is the most common style of tea in India that is known for its rich blend and strong taste. Chai is black tea mixed with milk, spices like cardamom, cloves, fennel and sugar. It is a creamy form of tea that is referred to as Indian Chai Tea in the West. The concept of 'Afternoon tea' in India is synonymous to cups of strong chai with spicy savories and Indian cookies.
India is one of the largest exporters of tea. Among all the varieties of teas produced in India, Darjeeling is known for its delicate musky essence and complex taste and is rightly known as the ‘Champagne of teas’. Assam tea on the other hand is known for its full-bodied, strong leaves that taste malty. Nilgiri is known for its fruity teas.
China is arguably the place where tea had originated. What started its journey as a medicinal drink that added to general well-being and vitality of life later became a way of life and an indispensable part of the Chinese culture. Even today, Chinese teas are prescribed for their medicinal properties, though some debate it.
Tea in China was served at the imperial courts to the aristocrats. Later on, it became a drink of the common man. As more and more tea houses mushroomed across the country, the beverage became a part of Chinese lifestyle. ‘Gongfu’ in China is a famous tea ceremony that is performed by making several infusions with same amount of leaves of varied flavors. The first book on Tea was published in China in the 8th Century, written by Ch’a Ching. Tea plays an important role in the history of China as it has been a part of historical courtship rituals, imperial tributes, ancestor worship and more.
China used to be the only tea exporting country in the world for centuries. Green tea is the most popular tea consumed in China, followed by Oolong and Pu-erh.
Going by the common beliefs, tea was perfected in Japan. Soon after it came to Japan from China, it became an important part of the Japanese society. From Monks to Samurais, tea became a part of everyday life. It also became an important part of Japanese culture as educated women were expected to have the best tea making skills. Japan is known for its historical tea ceremonies that date back to the mid 1500s.
Tea was also recognized among the elite class of the Japanese society for its medicinal properties. Color and fragrance are of utmost importance to the Japanese people when it comes to tea.
Green tea remains to be the most preferred type of tea in Japan. Matcha, a powdered tea used for tea ceremonies, come second followed by Sencha, Bancha and Gyokuro.
Tea arrived in Russia in around 17th century. Due to the shortage of availability, tea was confined to the elite class that could afford it. As the import grew in terms of amount, tea became an integral part of the Russian lifestyle as more and more people could find it in the market in abundance and for a cheap price.
Russia is famous for Samovar that is an ancient vessel for making tea. It is a decorative urn that could hold hot water in a chamber and also had an inner chamber that had heated coal. On top of it rested a teapot that contained tscheinik, Japan’s very own strong tea. Whenever someone wanted a cup, they poured tscheinik and mixed it with hot water from the samovar. Samovar soon became an important part of Japanese culture and hospitality. It has also been mentioned multiple times in Russian literature by various authors. Russians prefer blended teas from India and Sri Lanka, smoked to perfection. Russian cup of tea is usually accompanied by sweets and sugar cubes. Homemade jam is also a popular accompaniment.
The British are known for their tea culture. Introduced in the mid 1600s, tea was consumed by just the elite because of its high price. Soon tea became a drink of the common man and widely available in the tea houses. British were soon known by their ‘tea-times’ and recognized by their morning, afternoon and evening tea culture.
English people are known for their ‘Afternoon Tea’ that refers to the tea break in the afternoon accompanied by savories, sandwiches, scones, Devonshire cream and cakes. Even today, afternoon tea is synonymous to the British.
English prefer black tea the most and have one named after them, known as the English Breakfast Tea. Darjeeling Tea of Indian origin and Earl Grey are also English favorites.
Americans are known for popularizing iced-tea as they introduced it to the tea culture in 1904. The movement for American Independence also started with tea in the year 1773.
Till World War II, green tea was consumed the most in America. Eventually, other flavors and types of teas were introduced and they soon became a part of the American tea culture. America has seen a huge transformation over the past decades in terms of tea consumption. As more and more tea shops and tea houses kept coming up in American cities, the demand for specialty teas and flavors kept increasing. Americans have started to experiment with their cup of tea and hence, the import of tea has gone up remarkably in the recent times.
Morocco has been a tea drinking nation for centuries. Introduced by the Arabs, tea became an important part of Moroccan lifestyle. The tea drinking ceremony in Morocco is known for its extraordinary rituals that include lighting up incense and washing hands of the participants with orange blossom water while they watch the host make tea. Usually the head of the family prepares tea in a classic Moroccan tea ceremony.
Moroccans drink green tea the most and blend it with mint leaves, sugar in tall teapots. Tea is poured from a height and served in little glasses. The style of pouring tea in the glasses results in the formation of bubbles on the surface, which is a sign of the tea being correctly served. Tea is accompanied by figs, nuts and dry apricots.
Turkey is known for its strong brew. Like Russia, Turkey has also seen the popularity of Samovar, the tea urn. People in Turkey used to carry Samovar in their cars so that they could have tea on the go. In Turkey, tea is served in tulip shaped glasses along with sweetmeats and other savouries. Placing sugar cube under the tongue and sipping tea from the glass is a common practice in Turkey.
Turkey loves black tea the most. However, green tea and other herbal teas are gaining popularity in the country.
Egypt is the world’s largest importer of tea. It is known for its affinity for black tea.
The usual practice of making tea in Egypt includes boiling tea leaves in hot water and adding lots of sugar to it. A dried mint leaf is a popular way to add flavor to tea.
Tibet & Mongolia:
Both Tibet and Mongolia are known for their love of brick tea. Their tea making process is known for the add ons that they use. The brick tea is crushed and soaked in water through the night. The tea is then strained and mixed with milk (usually yak milk), butter, salt, butter and grain (barley). The thick soup is served in bowls and popularly known as ‘tsampa’.
Lunch time is the tea time in Sri Lanka and Sri Lankans are known for their teatime snacks ‘hoppers’.
‘Hoppers’ are bowl shaped pancakes made of rice flour, milk, sugar and salt that is served with spicy curries and sauces. Tea with hoppers is served through the afternoon and is a specialty of Sri Lanka.
Malaysians enjoy drinking strong brews that is mixed with condensed milk and sugar. The tea is mixed well and poured several times to make the blend frothy. Iced tea is also a popular drink in Malaysia.
Afghanistan & Iran:
Tea is the national beverage of Iran and Afghanistan. Both countries are known for their love of black and green tea. Tea is served in beautiful porcelain bowls to the guests who sit cross-legged on floor mats and enjoy tea with their family and friends.