In past posts I’ve written about the different kinds of tea and some of their benefits. But what I haven’t talked about is the way tea is consumed around the world. Not everyone throws a tea bag in a mug and pours hot water on it (like me). Tea is taken very seriously in various parts of the world, and each part does it in their own, unique way.
Indian Tea Culture
India is known for its Assam and Darjeeling teas, and is popular all over as a breakfast and evening drink. It is usually served with milk and sugar, and is almost always black tea. The tea leaves are boiled in water, and then the milk is added. Offering tea to visitors rather than alcohol is customary in India.
Don’t be offended if you’re offered it in a steel mug. This is also customary.
*Side note: I have a co-worker who’s from India and loves her afternoon tea breaks. Yet she never offers me tea when I come into work. What’s up with that???
Chinese Tea Arts
In China, there are several special circumstances in which tea is prepared and consumed. For example, tea is consumed as a sign of respect. The younger generation always shows its respect to the older generation by offering a cup of tea. Inviting and paying for their elders to go to restaurants for tea is a traditional activity on holidays. Tea is also used to apologize to others. For example, children serving tea to their parents is a sign of regret and submission.
During a traditional Chinese wedding, the bride and groom kneel in front of their parents and serve them tea as a way of expressing gratitude. And then they usually say something like this: “Thank you for bringing us up. Now we are getting married. We owe it all to you.” Even though what I’m pretty sure is going through their mind is this: “Okay, we’re doing this because we have to…you really had nothing to do with this marriage…you just met the person I’m marrying two days ago…so drink your tea and let’s get on with it.”
*Side note: Finger tapping on the table is the customary way of thanking the tea master for your tea. I’m totally going to try this the next time I’m at Starbucks.
Japanese Tea Ceremony
Green tea is the most popular tea served in Japan. It’s served in companies during afternoon breaks, and it also served when guests visit Japanese homes. At restaurants, cups of green tea are served – no charge – with unlimited refills.
Many Japanese are still taught the art of the Japanese Tea Ceremony, or chanoyu. There are two versions – we’ll just call them the short version and the long version, with the long version lasting up to four hours. The ceremony is performed in tea rooms covered in tatami mats, and different equipment is used depending on the season: the chakin (a small cloth), a tea bowl, a tea caddy, a tea scoop, and a tea whisk. And then once your guests arrive, this is what you do (in layman’s terms)
– Put on socks
– Wash hands
– Rinse mouth
– Enter tea room through small crawl space
– Sake shots
– Break time
– Wash hands (again)
– Rinse mouth (again)
– Bow (again)
– Pass the tea bowl to the left-hand side
– Admire all the nifty utensils being used
– Bow (last time, I swear)
-Put your shoes back on
-Please return your socks upon exit.
Taiwanese Bubble Tea
Okay, so this isn’t really a “ritual” of sorts, but I’m sort of weirded out by bubble tea, so I have to include it. The whole bubble tea craze came about in Taiwan in the 1980s, and eventually made its way over to the States, especially where I live in SoCal. What is bubble tea? It’s a combination of a tea base (black or green) with fruit syrup and milk. Also called “pearl milk tea”, some varieties contain small chewy made with tapioca starch (those would be the “pearls”).
*Side note: Want a blended iced bubble tea? Just order a Snow Bubble.
A WARNING: Boba pearls, milk powder, and juice syrups may contain banned chemical additives in order to reduce costs. In May of 2011 they discovered in Taiwan that a chemical plasticizer and potential carcinogen used to make plastic was found in some bubble teas. And some of these products were shipped to the U.S.
*Another side note: Bubble tea may kill you.
British Tea Culture
In Britain, black tea is usually served with milk (never cream!!!) and sometimes with sugar. And while there’s no formal ceremony done in this part of the world, the Brits love their tea – consuming as much as 15-20 cups a day – and tea breaks are an essential part of every day. The Brits also like their cups and saucers, as opposed to mugs, and the way they do “tea” is done to a science:
– Boil water in kettle
– Pour in pot
– Add loose tea leaves or tea bags – One per person and one for the pot
– Add freshly boiled water to pot and brew for a few minutes
– Please tea cosy on pot to keep warm
– Add milk
– Pour tea through strainer to catch leaves
– Give tea to guests, let them sugar to taste
– Replace tea cosy
Sounds awfully refined, yeah? But did you know that when to add the milk is actually a matter of debate? Back in the day, milk would be poured into the cup first to avoid the thermal shock of hot tea cracking the delicate porcelain. If you add it in after the tea is poured, you may scald the milk. In other words, pouring milk after tea produces abrupt milk heating, while pouring tea after milk produces more gradual milk heating. So pick your side.
*Side note: Adding milk – whether it’s before or after – is gross.
So there you have it. If you want to know more about how tea is consumed in other countries, for example, Russia (uber strong, no milk), then you need not look further than Wikipedia or Google. Until then…