Tea cultures around the world

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Most of us know that tea is one of the most consumed (second most to be precise) beverages across the world.  Similarly, there are some other commonly known facts about tea like the health benefits associated with it or the fact that tea contains properties that are an instant stress buster. The following, though, is one thing that makes tea even more special. Even though it is consumed in all corners of the globe, each community and place generally has their own traditions and ways of preparing the world’s favourite cuppa.

In this article, we will take a look at the ways in which tea is consumed in some of the more prominent tea producing/drinking regions.

1. CHINA

Which better place to start with than the place where tea is believed to have originated

Just like legend states that Newton discovered gravity due to an apple falling on his head, the discovery of tea is also part of a legend. Tea was discovered in China when a couple of tea leaves accidentally fell into a cup of hot water of the then Chinese Emperor.

In China, tea is not a way of life, it is life. Tea is generally consumed with every meal and often used as a substitute for water. Green tea, white tea and oolong are among the more commonly drunk varieties. It has been used across generations in China as a medicinal beverage which has the ability to contain certain illnesses apart from being consumed for pleasure of course.

Due to the various climatic conditions across China, the country is able to produce a number of different types of teas. There is a tea serving ceremony called gongfu where the person who is preparing the tea is considered to be an artist. This ceremony usually includes many different types of cups and styles of pouring tea.

2. ENGLAND

There are few places on the planet which can claim to be as synonymous with tea.

Tea is the most widely consumed hot beverage in England. Even though it was initially introduced in men-only coffee houses, the concept quickly grew in popularity. This led to the widespread growth of teahouses all across England. While most of the tea originally consumed here came from China, the black tea of India rapidly became the preferred choice when there were problems in trade relations with China.

Over a period of time, the concept of tea bags originated and the love affair with tea grew even stronger. Even though the varieties of teas have increased, black tea is the runaway favourite, whether it be part of the famous ‘afternoon tea’ concept or teas like English Breakfast and Earl Grey that are served more casually to guests.

The ‘Cream tea’ here is generally served with scones, jam (traditionally strawberry) and clotted cream. This is as opposed to the notion that cream gets added to the tea. Things like vegetables, breads and meats will be part of the ‘high tea’ which is generally the evening meal.

3. INDIA

A tea production and consumption heavyweight which certainly spices things up as far as tea is concerned

India is a vast country with a number of different cultures, traditions and beliefs and these differences are also apparent when people of this country prepare their tea. Most of the tea produced in this country is amongst the finest black tea in the world. There are a couple of different varieties which can be found here as well. CTC and orthodox are the two main production styles.

One of the most commonly photographed things in India is probably the various tea stalls that are prevalent in every nook and corner of the country. After all, Indians are the highest consumers of tea in the world apart from being one of the top producers. Most of the tea is prepared from loose black tea and a large portion of that is consumed with the addition of milk and sugar.

There are a large number of people in India who add spices like cardamom, cinnamon and cloves apart from other additives like sugar, honey and milk. There are some though, especially towards northern India, who will only drink black tea made in a certain region with a particular appearance and milk. No milk other than that of a buffalo can be added to it before consumption. Arguably, the most popular out of all the different preparations is the famous Indian masala chai.

4. RUSSIA

Vodka is not the only beverage that this region loves or is famous for

In a journey that took almost a year, tea first arrived from China via camels and caravans in the 17th century. Given the scarcity, it was initially a niche product meant for the rich. Most of the tea consumed now throughout Russia is strong black tea from India and its nearby regions. It is more or less a given that guests will be served tea.

Tea in Russia is prepared in a small urn like metal container called the samovar and the unique thing about this preparation is that it involves a two-step process. First, a very strong loose leaf black tea concentrate called zavarka is prepared and then a portion as per the preference of the drinker is added to hot water and served.

The tea here is further flavoured with things like jam, honey, sugar and lemon to suit individual taste buds. Another thing which is strictly followed here is the accompaniment of an assortment of snacks with tea. Things like cakes, cookies, biscuits are provided since serving tea ‘naked’ would be considered impolite.

5. JAPAN

From samurais to monks, everyone drinks tea here

Though the concept of tea took a little longer to catch on compared to some of the other regions, it did not take Japan long to play catch up. There is a huge diversity in the types of teas here. Unless specified otherwise though, the mere mention of the word ‘tea’ would mean that it is green tea that is being referred to. The drinking and making of tea are both considered to be forms of art here.

Japan has a number of tea ceremonies which are attended by different people. They are all expected to show humility and respect while in attendance. These ceremonies range from something as simple as serving tea to a group of people in a teahouse to more complex and detailed rituals. One such particular ceremony is where the viewpoint of the guest being served is taken into consideration and the movements of the brewer are choreographed accordingly.

There are a number of schools which teach these ceremonies and quite a lot of people come to learn the various aspects. Teahouses, known as sukiyas, have doors so low that one needs to bow before entering. This is seen as a mark of showing respect before entering a sanctified place. At times, more importance is placed on the aesthetics as compared to the tea itself. This shows how important a role tea has in Japan.

6. MOROCCO

The north African nation which introduced the people of the world to mint tea

Morocco ranks as one of the highest consumers of tea in the world in terms of per capita. Like some other tea loving nations, it is customary to serve tea to guests. A refusal to drink tea is thought to be rude here.

In Morocco, a lot of green tea is consumed with the addition of spearmint and sugar. It is considered to be one of the more refreshing drinks in harsh climatic conditions. In olden days, the entire process of making and serving tea was conducted in front of the guests. It started off with the host carefully cleaning the teapots in boiling water before proceeding to actually making the tea.

But the show does not stop here. While the first round is on, a second gets prepared and while that is on, the third and final round is being made. Each time the taste is different due to the difference in steeping times. The last serving is deemed to be extremely bitter. While it is not in common practice anymore, this traditional ceremony is still prevalent in certain areas of Morocco.

7. VIETNAM

The tea customs here may not be so complex but are nevertheless quite elaborate and detailed

Tea has been a part of the Vietnamese culture for a long period of time. This country is also one of the top producers of tea in the world. One interesting ritual about tea in Vietnam is associated with the way it is served. The pouring of the tea is done in a graceful manner as it is believed that this particular method can help the flavour of the tea spread evenly across the cup. The host then serves it to the drinker while holding the cup with three fingers.

A lot of attention is paid to the serving of tea in Vietnam. The size or type of cup is chosen as per the season. During colder months, a cup with an equal sized brim and bottom is chosen. This design not only prevents the tea from cooling faster, it also makes the cup of tea fit into the palm much more easily. In summers, a cup with a larger brim is preferred so that it allows the tea to cool down faster. How thoughtful is that!!!!

8. TURKEY   

Not only are they amongst the top producers, the people of Turkey consume the most amount of tea per capita in the world

While people around the world associate Turkey with coffee, it is a little-known fact that the hot drink that the Turkish love most is black tea. It is very much part of their everyday life and is drunk at any time of the day. Though tea has now been around for over thousands of years, the tea culture here is relatively new. It only became an alternative in recent times once coffee was deemed to be too expensive.

Tea traditions here are not very complicated and involve a simple process involving two pots/ kettles being placed to boil on top of each other. The pot at the bottom contains water and the pot on top contains the tea leaves- usually a spoonful per drinker. Once the water is boiled, it is poured into the pot with the tea leaves, allowed to steep and then served when ready.

Teabags are frowned upon to an extent in Turkey. Majority of the users are generally visitors who also form a huge chunk of the herbal tea drinkers. Local people mostly consider these teas with a variety of herbs for their medicinal properties.

9. TIBET

Butter and milk are the two most popular additives to tea here

Tibetan tea culture has been around for quite a few centuries and came about due to the trade routes of olden days. The harsh climatic conditions would not allow for tea to be grown here and as a result, the people of this region had to depend on various traders. It is also because of these adverse weather conditions that tea gained prominence in a short span of time as it helped against the bitter cold.

The two traditional types of teas prepared here are tea with butter added to it and tea made with milk. The former is the more popular choice. Butter, generally made from the milk of cow or yak, is added to the tea along with some salt. This is considered to be a good drink in terms of both hydration and nutrition. The calorie content of this drink is a major boost for the energy levels required in such elevated altitudes. The taste, though, is one which might take a while to get used to.

10. SRI LANKA

Different altitudes in this country allow for a variety of teas with distinct flavours and tastes

Tea cannot be grown in all types of climatic conditions and that is one of the biggest advantages of Sri Lankan tea. Due to the beneficial climate and terrain, they have all types of teas ranging from low grown ones to high grown varieties- each of which has characteristics that are unique.

Tea is such an important part of the culture in Sri Lanka that it has managed to find its way into a variety of other consumables that are prepared in this coastal region. It is often part of cocktails and tea leaves have also been used in a number of different dishes. Most of the tea that is drunk here is black tea. One of the specialties that is produced in this region is white tea. This kind of tea is generally produced in nominal proportions compared to some of the other popular varieties.

11. HONG KONG

There is always that one which stands out no matter what

While Hong Kong may not be known as one of the traditional tea heavyweights, it makes this list due to a very unique reason- the naming behind one of their most popular types of teas. This tea is commonly prepared with evaporated or condensed milk and is generally made in a custom tea bag which resembles a sock. This elaborate setup is part of what is now famously known as ‘The Pantyhose Tea’ in Hong Kong and also by a lot of tea drinkers around the world. What next!!!!

This list should, in no way, be treated as an exhaustive list of tea cultures and traditions given the abundant availability of tea and the great number of tea drinkers all over the world. Tell us your favourite tea ritual in the comments below or if you have one of your own!

Tea-ing off till the next time!

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