From tea’s origin in ancient China to the historical Silk Road and the foreign tea trade establishment in Canton, the plant Camellia sinensis has traveled around the world. This cup of beloved drink has become an integral part of everyday life in every corner of the globe. There’s no doubt that tea has shaped our taste, culture, art, and even changed the course of history.
Today, tea is the most popular drink after water globally. As different countries adopt tea, this gives rise of unique tea culture, along with innovation in how tea is consumed. Here is a look at 15 fabulous traditions of tea around the world.
Explore Culture Through Tea Around the World
Tea is China’s national drink. A Chinese cultural symbol, tea was discovered by the divine farmer named Shennong about five thousands ago, according to ancient legend. The Chinese people originated tea cultivation, innovated various curing methods, harvesting and processing techniques, to produce tea. Traditionally, China produces six types of tea:
- White tea
- Yellow tea (aka Flowered Scented tea)
- Green tea
- Oolong tea (semi-fermented tea)
- Black tea (aka Red tea in China)
- Dark tea (aka Hei Cha in China)
Each tea type requires a specific method of preparation from harvesting to processing loose tea leaves and how tea is prepared for drinking. In tradition tea-making, common processing techniques include kneading, rolling, stir-frying, and fermentation. White tea is an exception in that the leaves are simply dried in the sun or lightly fried to bring out the delicate flavor.
Chinese culture invented many tea traditions, including Cha Dao, Gong Fu Cha (or Zen tea), Dim Sum tea, and the wedding tea ceremony. Chinese drink tea by steeping loose leaf in a tea pot, employing elaborate tea ware. And tea is consumed pure, without any additives such as milk or sugar.
Do you know that China was the only country on earth that knew the secret of tea-making up until the mid 19th century?
Cha Dao aka Gong Fu Cha or Zen Tea
“Cha Dao” roughly translates to “the way of tea,” though an understanding of Chinese characters reveals a much deeper and poetic meaning. In the words of Wu De, “The way of tea is the inherent essence of doing things as tea; it is about creating the way of life around tea because of love for the tea.”
Zen Tea Ceremonies were created during the Tang Dynasty, more than 1,200 years ago.
Wedding Tea Ceremony
During wedding tea ceremonies, the bride and groom serve tea to the groom’s family as a way of honoring them and showing respect. Traditionally, the bride’s family was served separately in the morning, before the wedding took place.
Modern wedding tea ceremonies are usually practiced differently than the traditional way, with both families being honored during the wedding ceremony. However, some conservative families do uphold the original practice.
Ever since the gift of tea was brought to Japan by Buddhist monks, the beverage has been held with special reverence. Although the ways in which Japanese culture revolves around the partaking of tea could fill several books, it can be argued that two traditions are especially notable: chanoyu and Teaism.
Chanoyu (aka Cha Dao) translates to “the way of tea.” You might have noticed that the word sounds similar to the word that describes a Chinese tea tradition we just covered, Cha Dao. This is because Chinese monks first brought tea to Japan during the Tang Dynasty. Eight hundred years later, in early 1500s, the Japanese adopted Cha Dao, teaism created by the Great Chinese Tea Sage Lu Yu of the Tang Dynasty, using ground-up Green tea (called Matcha in Japanese). Discover the fascinating origin of Japanese Tea Ceremony and how it preserves an ancient Chinese tea tradition that was fashionable five hundred years earlier.
Although many aspects of Chanoyu and Cha Dao are similar in terms of philosophy, chanoyu is different in practice. It focuses on the art form of preparing and presenting otemae, a powdered matcha green tea, during chaji (formal gatherings) and chakai (informal gatherings).
Teaism is a philosophical set of practices associated with the aesthetics of drinking tea. It largely focuses on the simplicity and beauty of the beverage, and the ways in which the qualities of tea can be reflected in everyday life.
There is extensive work done on the subject and many different resources that can be studied, but one of the most well-known to the Western world is “The Book of Tea” written by Okakura Kakuzō.
Oolong is revered in Thailand as a special delicacy. The credit for the influence of oolong tea in Thailand’s culture is largely attributed to King Rama the 9th.
It is said that he encouraged the import of the tea plant and the production of teas (especially oolong) to replace opium poppy. This started in the early 1990s and has led to a widely held appreciation of Oolong tea in Thailand today.
There are, of course, many other tea traditions in Thailand. One of the more notable traditions internationally is the development of what is known as Thai tea. Commercial production of the brew is usually artificially flavored, but the origins are said to be from crushed tamarind seeds and orange blossoms, which are responsible for its beautiful orange hue.
Tea production in Malaysia is centered in the Cameron Highlands, often referred to as “the Green Bowl.” The country has enjoyed tea for hundreds of years since it was first introduced to them by Chinese traders. Though there are many traditions, Malaysia is best known for its Teh Tarik.
Teh tarik (also known as pulled tea) is brewed by combining a strong-bodied black tea with condensed milk and sugar. The combination is then quickly poured (pulled) between two containers held far apart from each other. In some cases, they can be nearly three feet apart!
Supposedly, the speed with which the tea is poured and the distance between the cups is what gives the tarik its famous taste.
Indian tea culture was largely influenced by the British Raj (a period of colonization) and English efforts to increase the production of tea in their colonies to compete with China in the tea market. After the period of colonization ended, the black teas that were harvested were eventually seasoned with rich spices and created several famous styles of tea worldwide, most notably Chai tea.
Another popular way to enjoy tea in India is Kashmiri Kahwa. This tea starts with a base of green tea leaves and then builds the flavor profile by adding almonds, spices like cloves and cinnamon, and flower petals.
The Persian Empire (known as Iran in Western cultures) is known for its Persian Chai tea, which is favored for its strong flavor. Although the empire was first introduced to tea in the late 1400s/early 1500s, the cultivation of Persian Chai didn’t occur until 1889 when Mohammed Milza brought back tea plants from his travels in India.
Persian Chai is brewed by taking a few pinches of tea leaves and rose petals and pouring boiling water over the mixture. After letting it steep for 5 to 10 minutes, the tea is ready to enjoy! A common practice to enjoy this tea is to hold a sugar cube between the teeth and let it melt while sipping on the tea.
The Dutch were the first Europeans to encounter and imported tea from China. They were largely responsible for introducing it to the rest of Europe through the first corporation in the world, the Dutch East India Company.
Unlike many European countries, Dutch tradition prefers to avoid adding milk to tea. Instead, they opt to add flavorings with fruits like black currant or spices.
Holland is also responsible for the Orange Pekoe grading system, a common form of determining tea quality still used today.
Russian tea is a time-honored tradition that flavors strong Black teas. In Russian culture, the beverage was often central to important conversations.
As such, it was expected that any time tea was enjoyed, there would be ample time set aside for the enjoyment of pastries, conversations, and reflection. In fact, even today it’s common for tea ceremonies in the home to last for at least three hours.
Russia is also known for the creation of samovar (an ornate teapot) and the podstakannik (an intricate metal cup holder).
9. United Kingdom
After being introduced to tea by Chinese and Dutch traders, Britain quickly became enamored with the tea tradition. It became popular in the 1660s after King Charles and his wife started indulging in the drink. However, the tradition of afternoon tea that is commonly associated with Britain didn’t begin until the 1840s.
The tradition began when the Duchess of Bedford decided that she needed something to help sate her hunger until her fashionably late dinner was served at 8:00 p.m. She asked that tea be served with a variety of small sandwiches and pastries. Eventually, she began to invite friends over for the tradition and it caught on quickly.
The tea tradition in Turkey is so deeply ingrained in their culture that it is required by law to have time for at least two tea breaks during the workday. There are a number of different tea breaks throughout the day, but the most common tea hours are between 3:00 p.m. and 5:00 p.m.
There are many tea blends enjoyed in Tibetan culture, but the most popular is yak butter tea. This tea has a salty underlying flavor and provides a lot of energy. It also has the added benefit of helping to prevent chapped lips in the frigid climate.
The tea is prepared by taking the oil from yak’s milk and mixing it with tea and salt. It is customary to drink several cups in the morning and many throughout the day as well. Some groups, like Tibetan Nomads, drink up to 40 cups of yak milk tea daily.
When the beverage is enjoyed among a group, the host refills guests’ cups after each sip.
The most common tea tradition in Morocco is the serving of Moroccan Mint tea at the end of each mealtime and throughout the day to guests. The traditional method is for the host to serve guests using two teapots to simultaneously pour drinks as part of a show after a thorough cleaning process.
However, in the modern day, it is more common for tea to be prepared in the kitchen and then brought out to the guests.
The most common herb used to flavor the tea is spearmint, although other types of mint are used from time to time. Typically, there are at least three servings of tea prepared in both teapots. Tea time is meant to be enjoyed slowly, and commonly lasts several hours.
The tea culture in Taiwan is rich and cherished by all. The country is one of the biggest producers of Oolong teas, including Alishan tea (commonly referred to as the champagne of teas). There are many fragrant varieties of Oolong available in different regions of Taiwan, each with its own distinct flavor profile.
However, the most popular tea tradition Taiwan has created is Boba tea (also known as bubble tea). This delicacy is created by mixing Black tea, condensed milk, and a sweetener with pearls of tapioca. It is not known when this drink was originally created, though many people believe it was made in the late 1980s.
Regardless, the practice has caught on quickly. You can now find many types of boba tea worldwide.
One of the most integral parts of Argentinian culture is the sharing of Yerba mate. This herbal tea is often used to start the day because of its high levels of caffeine. However, it is also a tea that is designed to be shared with others as a sign of goodwill and hospitality.
Yerba mate is enjoyed in a gourd (called a mate) with tea leaves added to the bottom. Then, hot water is poured over the top of the leaves, and after steeping for several minutes the beverage can be enjoyed through the metal straw (Bombilla). The Bombilla has a filter at the bottom to ensure that no tea leaves are digested.
The drink is refilled and passed around, though it is important to note that the straw should never be moved.
15. Sri Lanka
Also known as Ceylon, Sri Lanka is one of the top five producers of tea in the world, most famous for its Ceylon tea. This Black tea is grown on high-altitude mountain slopes. The higher the elevation, the better the flavor profile of the tea.
The tea industry in Sri Lanka is expansive, with nearly 5% of the population working in the industry. The tea buds are harvested every 7 to 14 days, a practice that helps to prevent the leaves from getting too tough.
Explore More Tea Around The World
We hope you’ve enjoyed learning more about the best types of tea to drink from around the world! With so many different flavor profiles and brewing methods to explore, we’re sure you will enjoy trying some of these tea traditions yourself.
Want to learn more about the history of tea, or its unique health benefits? Check out more posts on our blog to explore more tea around the world today!