Since the time of the ancient Chinese Dynasty almost five thousand years ago, tea has played a role in sacred rituals for spiritual and healing purposes. Since then, the tradition of drinking tea has spread around the world. Almost every country has special tea recipes and ceremonies for its preparation. Here is how people around the globe enjoy tea.
People in India love tea, and drink more of it than any other country, including China and Japan. For this reason, India is also the biggest producer of tea in the world. Chai is India’s national drink, and you can find people serving and drinking it literally on every street corner. Chai is made from black tea with cinnamon, fennel, ginger, cardamom, black pepper, clove, and some milk. These ingredients give chai a nice spicy, refreshing, and exotic flavour.
Unlike in the West where tea aficionados most often enjoy their tea with milk, sugar, or lemon, people in Tibet add salty butter to it for po cha, the traditional tea of Tibet. Po cha "butter tea" is made by boiling the leaves of black tea for several hours. For drinking, they add milk, salt, and yak butter, which gives the tea a soup-like consistency. The butter film floating on top of the tea helps it stay hot for a long time, and also helps prevent chapped lips. This makes po cha tea the perfect beverage for the cold climate of Tibet’s mountain ranges.
Bubble tea, a favourite tea in Taiwan (which has now also spread into many other parts of the world), is not an old, traditional tea at all. In fact, it was only “discovered” in the late 1980s, when the manager of the Chun Shui Tang teahouse dropped tapioca balls from her dessert into her tea by accident. Well, let’s just say the incident has proven to be extremely lucky since bubble tea quickly became a big hit, and not only in Asia. Bubble tea is made from iced tea, which can be black or green, with some milk and syrup. The small tapioca bubbles are a type of starchy white grain.
Japan is likely what most people think of when it comes to tea. No wonder, tea has always played an important role in Japanese culture. During the Japanese tea ritual, matcha, a green tea ground to a fine powder, is ceremonially prepared and served. Although the Japanese enjoy green tea the most, you can also find Chinese varieties and many other types of tea in Japan. There are many tea houses all across Japan where you can enjoy an authentic Japanese tea ceremony.
For a visitor to Morocco, it will seem as if Moroccan mint tea, also known as Touareg tea, is really the heart of Moroccan culture. And it may well be. Small cups of steaming hot and sweet mint tea are served not once, but three times to guests as an act of hospitality. Each single cup symbolises something different. They stand for life, love, and death. Needless to say, don’t reject tea if it’s offered to you in Morocco; this would be seen as very rude.
The tea culture in New Zealand is very similar to that of Great Britain. The reason for this is that New Zealand in the nineteenth century had many British missionaries who brought with them their British tea culture. And just as the Britons did, people in New Zealand started to incorporate tea-break and afternoon tea into their daily lives. Today, Kiwis still love their tea “British style”, but also aren’t saying no to other types of tea, such as green tea or Chinese oolong.
At the end of Chinese Civil War in the late 1940s, many Chinese refugees fled to Thailand, bringing with them Chinese tea culture. But the people in Thailand didn’t just adopt Chinese tea-drinking culture; they gave it an interesting and tasty twist. They developed cha yen, which is a Thai iced tea made from Ceylon or Assam tea with spices like tamarind, anise, and orange blossom added. In some parts of Thailand, they also add milk to the cha yen, which makes it a hearty beverage that is high in calories. Cha yen, with its sweet and spicy taste, is very refreshing and goes great with Thai dishes, which are normally spicy as well.
Everyone knows the Britons love tea, and this isn’t any different today than it was centuries ago. British tea culture stems from the time when merchants brought the exotic drink back from India when Britain was an empire. The “high society” in Great Britain, particularly the women, considered tea a fancier alternative to coffee, which was seen as a beverage for lower people. It didn’t take long before tea drinking became very popular in Great Britain, replacing the many coffee houses in the country with tea-drinking establishments. Traditionally, Britons enjoy their tea with milk and sugar.
The Russians are very good when it comes to drinking, and this doesn’t just mean vodka. Tea is also immensely popular in Russia. However, it took until after the Bolshevik victory in the Civil War in the 1920s when workers and soldiers got free tea for it to become popular. Before that, tea was considered a beverage only for the upper class. The popular zavarka tea is a strong concentrated tea for the Russian tea ceremony, which is made in a small teapot that sits upon a samovar. Depending on how strong a tea drinker likes their tea, they pour more or less zavarka to their cup first, then add hot water from the samovar.
The traditional Chinese gongfu tea ceremony (which means “making tea with skill”) is the ritualised preparation and presentation of tea in China. The ceremony is very complex and involves a very detailed process. Tea is usually prepared by using a tureen, strainers, tongs, tea towels, trays, and even special cups so that guests can smell the tea before it is served. When the tea is finally prepared, cups are arranged in a circle, then in one continuous motion, tea is poured until each cup is full. Don’t make the mistake of drinking your gongfu tea by holding your cup in one hand as you would do elsewhere. In China, you take your tea cup with two hands (including the saucer) and then you sip slowly and savour the flavour.
What chai is in India yerba mate is in Argentina. Unlike the other teas mentioned in this article, yerba mate is not made from the tea plant, but from an herb with the same name. In Argentina, mate tea, “the drink of the gods”, is a staple of life and people drink it on all occasions. The tea is prepared in a small pot or dried gourd from which it is drunk through a straw called a bombilla. It is very common that the small pot with the mate tea is passed around during social gatherings so that everyone can share the same tea as a symbol of a special bond. Declining the tea would be a grave insult. Many people in Argentina enjoy mate unsweetened, but some also add sugar or honey for taste.
The popular noon chai tea in Pakistan has its origins in Kashmiri culture. It is a special blend of tea that is prepared with a variety of spices such as anise, cinnamon, and cardamom, as well as a mix of almonds, pistachios, and some salt and milk. Noon chai tea has a very distinctive pink colour. In Pakistan, noon chai tea is often served on special occasions and holidays where people enjoy it together with pastries. It is also commonly served to guests as a sign of hospitality.
Teh tarik (“pulled tea”) in Malaysia is made from black tea, sugar, and condensed milk like tea in some other countries. But what makes it special is how it is mixed. To give teh tarik tea its distinct frothy texture, it is “pulled” by pouring it back and forth between mugs during preparation. There is always an element of showmanship involved when brewers prepare teh tarik tea. The ability to drag a long stream of tea above the heads of the patrons without giving them a shower is always an attraction for locals and tourists. There are even competitions in Malaysia where teh tarik brewers compete by showing off their skills.