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February 2, 2022

Warm Up with Tea - Tea Culture

“Teaism is a cult founded on the adoration of the beautiful among the sordid facts of everyday existence. It inculcates purity and harmony, the mystery of mutual charity, the romanticism of the social order. It is essentially a worship of the Imperfect, as it is a tender attempt to accomplish something possible in this impossible thing we know as life.”
― Kakuzo Okakura, The Book of Tea


Join us as we explore tea culture and traditions around the world. We start our journey in Asia and then make our way to the Middle East, Europe and then finally end in the USA.  As you read on, you will discover that in some countries, people add more than just milk and sugar to their teas. Some even add butter or cheese. Let's begin...


JAPAN 

Photo by Matcha & CO on Unsplash


Tea was introduced to Japan in the 9th century, via monks who had traveled to China. Tea has since been a part of the Japanese way of life. Tea is available everywhere in Japan and it is consumed either hot or cold, throughout the day, even during meals. The Japanese mainly consume green tea grown within Japan notably in the Shizuoka region.

The ceremony involves preparing, serving, and drinking tea, mainly matcha, in an artful manner. Each action, object, and placement are highly precise and have a meaning behind them. It is a way to showcase their appreciation for tea, entertain guests, and honor traditions. More importantly, however, the ceremony provides the opportunity to find tranquility from within and embraces being one with nature, respect, and discipline. The rituals take a lot of time, thus allowing people the opportunity to take a break from their busy lives.



TAIWAN...

Bubble tea is a cold beverage traditionally made of black tea, milk, sweeteners, and chewy balls made of tapioca starch called Boba. 


Boba Bubble Tea photo by Lisanto 李奕良 on Unsplash


Nowadays, the drink can be made with all types of green, black, floral, or fruit teas with diverse toppings ranging from classic boba to syrups, fruit jellies, and even cheese. This unique and fun drink reached international markets and became a hit there as well, becoming one of the trendiest drinks in the last couple of years and a symbol of Taiwanese identity.


CHINA

In China, hot tea is enjoyed at all times. It can be consumed either at home or in tea houses. Since the Southern provinces in China produce most of the tea in the country, the tea culture is more prominent there.


Tea ceremony from my wedding


Tea plays an important role in Chinese weddings. The bride and the groom serve tea to their parents as they verbally thank them for raising them. The parents drink the tea to bless the marriage. If they don’t, it means that they do not approve of the marriage. 

When my husband and I got married, we included rituals from both of our cultures into the wedding. We started the day with a Hindu wedding and then proceeded to the tea ceremony. We served tea to both of our parents as well as our elders. It was a nice way to bring our families together. 

In everyday life, the youngsters serve tea to elders or, a junior will serve tea to their superior, as a sign of respect, and when applicable, a sign of apology too.

 

RUSSIA

Tea served in glasses with metal handles; photo by Alexandr Popadin on Unsplash


Tea was first introduced when Mongolian diplomats visiting Moscow gifted a chest of tea to the Czar in the 17th century. It was made available through trade between Russia and China over the next 2 centuries.

In the Russian tea tradition, a samovar is the key component and acts as the main centerpiece. The samovar would be used to make tea by placing a teapot full of strong black tea and is attached at the top of a samovar to brew a concoction called zavarka. This tea would be served in glasses with metal handles and decorations. Then, hot water would be added to the liquid to dilute it and a spoonful of jam or sugar would be mixed to sweeten the drink. Tea was usually served after dinner.


INDIA

Tea plantations in Munnar, Kerala


India is the 2nd largest producer of tea in the world. The beverage holds a special place in Indian society. Tea in Hindi is called chai and it is the most consumed beverage after water. Some people drink chai even more than water. Assam and Darjeeling teas are the most popular teas in India.

Chaayos Tea cafe, Bangalore India

My husband and I had the opportunity to enjoy delicious Chai during our last trip to India. Chaayos (new tea cafe/house) was launched in a nearby mall across from our hotel in Bangalore. We were lucky enough to be there for opening night and enjoyed masala chai. In their tagline, they boast there are "80,000 ways to make your "meri wali chai", which means your kind of tea. 


In India, tea is the implied drink of hospitality, as it is the first thing a host would offer to their guests. Though there are many ways to prepare chai, the most common preparation is the masala chai.  Black tea is brewed in water, milk, spices, and sugar creating a rich, luxurious, and flavorful tan color beverage. Indians like their chai piping hot and will almost never refuse a cup. 


Even though masala chai is most prevalent, there are other preparations of tea in various regions. For example, the Kashmiri Kahwa is made of a type of green tea. The tea is brewed in water along with whole spices such as cardamom, cinnamon, and saffron in a traditional copper kettle called the Samovar, which is fueled by live coals. 


Photo of Samawaar by Muazam Mohi ud din on Unsplash

Once the tea is ready, sugar and chopped almonds are added to the drink. The end result is a beautiful, aromatic, and warm yellow-colored drink that revitalizes the soul while simultaneously keeping the body warm during the harsh Kashmiri winter.



TIBET

How about adding some salty butter to your tea? Po cha, the traditional tea of Tibet, is made by boiling a brick of Pemagul black tea for hours. Then milk, salt, and yak butter are added, and the mixture is then churned together. It is said this blend with a soup-like consistency is uniquely comforting and fortifying in the high-altitude and cold climates. Variations of this tea also include peanuts or walnuts. Would you try this tea? I'm not sure how I feel about adding butter to my tea! 


PAKISTAN

Tea is a common drink and a courtesy extended to guests across Pakistan. An element of Kashmiri culture, Noon Chai is a special blend of tea that includes a mix of pistachios, almonds, salt, milk, and spices like cardamom, cinnamon, and star anise. It's easy to pick out because of its signature pink color, which can be enhanced with a bit of baking soda Noon Chai is served on special occasions with pastries like sheermaal, kandir tchot, bakarkhani, and kulcha. More casually enjoyed is "Doodh Pati," or milk tea which is made with milk only.

 

IRAN

After tea caught on in India and China, the taste for it spilled down the Silk Road and into the Middle East by the 15th century, sparking the rise of tea houses known as chaikhanehs. However, it wasn't until the 20th century that Iranians began growing their own black tea, making it a nationally embraced beverage, which now welcomes guests and is a crucial element in social life. A silver tray customarily carries in the drink, which is accompanied by a bright yellow rock candy called nabat. So constant is tea's presence in Iranians' lives that its kettle will be kept on a stove burner all day. Tea is served very strongly. Rather than mixing in sugar to counteract the bitterness, you're encouraged to place a sugar cube between your front teeth and suck the strong brew through it. 

  

TURKEY

Turkey is usually associated with their famous Turkish coffee; however, the Turks drink more tea compared to coffee on a daily basis. At present, they are the highest consumers of tea in the world, with per-person consuming approximately 1,300 cups of tea annually. Tea in Turkish is calle çay (pronounced chai).

The Turks prefer drinking piping hot black tea brewed in plain water sweetened with a sugar cube. Milk, lemon, or syrups are not usually added to the cup. I feel milk mellows out the tea taste, so I prefer to drink tea without milk as well. The Turks are my kind of people. 


Turkish tea with sugar cubes



The tea is prepared in a samovar or, a double teapot, çaydanlık in Turkish. Water is boiled in the larger pot at the bottom, while the small pot on top contains tea leaves. The water is first boiled separately in the large pot. Once boiled, the small pot with the tea leaves is filled halfway with the water. The small pot is then placed on top of the larger pot and the whole thing is left to boil for 15-20 minutes. This gives time for the tea leaves to steep in the water while more water boils at the bottom. After the time elapses, the tea leaves are strained. The result is a clear tea with a reddish hue. It can be really strong and be consumed as is or, it can be diluted with water from the pot. Tea is poured into small tulip-shaped glasses without handles. The small glasses are then served on small saucers designed to place the glass. There is no specific time to drink tea, as people drink it from morning to night. We were fortunate enough to have Turkish tea during our trip to Istanbul in 2015. We enjoyed the fragrant tea. It was comforting and a nice treat after a long day of sightseeing. 


MOROCCO 

Photo by Jaida Stewart on Unsplash


Touareg tea (also known as Maghrebi mint tea) is a mix of mint, green tea leaves, and a generous serving of sugar; it is the customary blend in Morocco. The tea is poured from up high into slim, delicate glasses, and it's served three times to guests. Each time the flavor varies slightly. Per the proverb: "The first glass is as gentle as life, the second is as strong as love, the third is as bitter as death." Refusing any one of these servings is considered the height of rudeness. 

 


UNITED KINGDOM

Tea clearly plays an important role in British culture. This importance created many tea rituals in Britain. One of the most popular rituals, that is followed not only in the UK but also around the world, is the English Afternoon Tea ritual. 

Afternoon Tea at MarieBelle, New York City


Afternoon tea is a small meal between lunch and dinner, and an English tea ritual where, a cup of tea is served with sandwiches, cakes, and pastries between 3:30 to 5 PM. My sister and I enjoyed afternoon tea with crumpets and desserts on one of our girls' weekends in NY. I felt like I was in high society. 

Drinking tea is part of everyday British culture. It is also a way to socialize with each other, wherein friends and relatives chat over tea. Hot English breakfast tea with milk is the most common tea in the UK.


 

UNITED STATES


Tea came to the US along with the Britishers. Approximately 80% of US households consume tea. It is served hot or iced,  anytime, anywhere,  for any occasion. On any given day, over 159 million Americans are drinking tea. Approximately four in five consumers drink tea, with Millennials being the most likely (87% of millennials drink tea). On a regional basis, the South and Northeast have the greatest concentration of tea drinkers. Approximately 75 - 80% of tea consumed in America is iced.

 

Tea is a versatile beverage that originated thousands of years ago in China and propagated throughout the world via trade routes and colonization. The silk route played a key role in the expansion of Tea culture along with many other cultural exchanges. 


We had fun learning about how tea is consumed in different countries and the rituals that are practiced with tea. Tea is more than just a beverage; it can sometimes be an elixir that can calm the senses and help you contemplate life.  So, cheers to having a ‘Cup of Tea’ and see where it leads you!

For our readers: Have you participated in any of these tea cultures or traditions? What is your tea culture? Let us know in the comments.  We love hearing from our readers. 



Footnotes

https://www.mentalfloss.com/article/72891/15-tea-traditions-around-world

https://www.yoair.com/blog/tea-culture-8-ways-the-world-enjoys-tea

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