Tea Tales from Across the Globe:
A Journey through International Tea Traditions
Tea holds an extremely diverse culture. From sweet masala chai in India, the traditional tea ceremonies of Japan, to the delicate “high tea” in Europe, tea has made its way around the globe. In this blog, we will highlight only a few of the most popular countries and their “tea culture” and practices. Hold on tight for your tea tour around the world.
Let’s begin with the country that legend says tea was first discovered, China. The Chinese emperor Shen Nong was sitting beneath a Camellia Sinensis tree with a cup of boiled water in hand. A gust of wind blew through and knocked some leaves from the tree into his cup. The emperor, being the herbalist he was, drank the concoction with his servant and was delighted with the taste. Of course, this is all myth. Although, in tombs dating way back to 206AD, containers of tea were found. They seem to be the oldest forms of tea we have found yet, and many hundreds of years before it was brought to the west. Since the Tang Dynasty in 618-906AD, tea became the national drink, books were written about the beverage, and people far and wide came to enjoy and learn about tea.
We can thank China for discovering the delectable brew. Shortly after, Japanese Buddhist monks were traveling to and studying in China and were able to enjoy tea as well, along with making their own customs. The most popular custom being known as “The Tea Ceremony”. It bonds the host and guest due to the complex steps and strict order that the host must follow in order to make a perfect cup of tea for their company. Japanese culture adopted the drink first by Buddhist monks for religious reasons, then onto the more elite for fashionable tea parties. Soon enough all ranks of people were able to enjoy tea by the 16th century. Japan honors tea to a level that we wouldn’t find common here in the United States. They have tea masters, tea schools, and teachings in grade schools to educate the young on the tea ceremony steps, etiquette, and rituals.
Now, the Europeans started hearing about tea around the 1600s. Dutch traders started bringing it to Britain around 1610, then the tea frenzy in Europe started. A small coffee house in England owned by Thomas Garway started offering tea in dry form and to sip on in house. More and more coffee houses started offering the “libation” due to claims that it helped you age slowly by preserving perfect health till old age. Through the years, and many errors by the government trying to make a profit off the delight, Europe started to become obsessed. Tea gardens opened on Saturdays and Sundays in the 1730s for tea and dancing. A tea shop by the name of “The Aerated Bread Company” served food and drink to their customers, but only the best were served tea as an extra favor. Tea pottery became a whole new business due to the overwhelming need of cups, saucers, spoons, and teapots. “High Tea” was created by Duchess Anna of Bedford. She was hungry between an early lunch and a late dinner and requested snacks and a kettle of tea. She then invited friends to accompany her new daily routine, and it is still practiced by many to this day in Europe.
Finally, we end with India. It was all very political, between the British and India to start. We want to highlight the positivity it brought to the country and what they have adopted for their own culture. India started to catch on to tea drinking not so long ago in the early 1900s. Through an economic depression and the inability to export tea, they had to in-turn market and sell to their own. India is known for masala chai, a different way of preparing tea than the traditional European and Chinese method of whole leaves and boiled water. Masala chai tea is brewed in boiled cream or milk, heavier on the sugar, and heavily spiced, usually cardamom, ginger, cinnamon, and clove. Many areas in India also grind their tea leaves with a mortar and pestle into a powder, steeping in hot milk and spices, and straining once steeping is finished. This method has been introduced to the world and even Starbucks has “Latte-fied” the traditional chai by adding espresso and changing the ratios of spices and sugar and milk. Still, it is highly loved and cherished by the culture that created it and the world has fallen in love with it as well.
The world should be grateful for not only the discovery of tea, but also the way different cultures can perfect it and make it their own for everyone to enjoy. Do you have any special recipes or ways that you enjoy tea? We would love for you to share it with us!