TEA CULTURE IN THE WORLD
Although it seems almost incredible, in the era of Coca Cola and a flood of other drinks of various colours and flavours, tea remains, immediately after water, the second most wide-spread drink in the world. Almost everywhere a person sits down on his travels for a rest, a cup of tea is offered to him as refreshment. The types and quality depend on the tea culture of the relevant country and local customs. Let’s take a look at the tea habits of some countries.
Great Britain and Ireland
In the British Isles drinking tea is definitely part of the lifestyle. The British drink six cups a day on average and tea time, the time it is served, actually influences their daily routine in many cases. In the vast majority of cases they use classic black tea blends and each of them is for a different occasion.
Everything It Ready - It’s Tea Time
The day starts with Early Morning tea, which is drunk immediately after waking up, most frequently in bed. Then they have breakfast, which includes porridge, scrambled eggs and ham, sometimes also a Breakfast Tea with milk and also sugar (coffee only by special request!). Afternoon or Five O’clock Tea comes with sandwiches or scones with jam and tea confectionery. Unfortunately the times when High Tea in Britain meant that the whole family gathered together are becoming a thing of the past. This tradition, when cold meat, scrambled eggs and ham, salads, fruit and desserts were served together with a cup of strong tea remains alive in a few Scottish families. You can, however, enjoy the ritual if you order High Tea at one of London’s best hotels, e.g. the Ritz, Waldorf, Savoy or Brown’s Hotel.
Germany, Austria, Switzerland
In German-speaking countries people generally consume teas of all types - from black to green and oolongs, as well as fruit and herbal teas.
For green and black teas emphasis is primarily placed on selecting high-quality and often expensive types, so in each small town or village we traditionally find either a specialised tea shop, natural products outlet, drug store or pharmacy with a well-established loose tea department where top quality teas can be bought. This tradition is very strongly influenced by the fact that Hamburg is a huge port and an important crossroads, as well as one of Europe’s tea centres. Its port warehouses contain approx. 7,000-8,000 tons of tea leaves from various cultivation areas. German traders therefore always had very easy access to the commodity. The most tea is consumed towards the eastern end of the North Sea coast near the border with Holland. Its consumption here is up to 2.5kg per person, which is about ten times more than in the other federal states. Drinking tea is a real ceremony and until recently children in this area even had a “tea break” between lessons so they could go home for a cup. The least tea, on the contrary, is drunk by the inhabitants of the eastern part of Germany, who consume only 150g of tea per person per year.
A typical Russian samovar
The samovar is a typical part of Russian tea culture. It works on a simple principle: in the lower part there is space for charcoal, on it is a cylindrical water container and at the very top is a pot for tea extract - the teapot. The heat from the coal warms the water and also the teapot. We can tell what stage of boiling it is at by the sound the water makes as it heats up. First it “sings,” then it “murmurs” and in the end it “rages”. When it is murmuring, that is the right moment to make tea. We put double the quantity of tea in the pot compared to the usual dosage, open the tap on the container with boiling water, pour it on the tea and put it back on the samovar. After about 10 minutes we can start to serve the tea – we first pour tea extract into the cup or glass and then dilute it to taste with hot water. We replace the pot and can repeat everything until the contents of the pot or water from the samovar is used up.
The procedure means that in this way we can prepare a stronger drink of tea, the aroma of which, due to the fluctuating water temperature, often suffers markedly.
In Russia, the same as the other countries in the former Soviet Union, tea is universal everywhere. Whether a person is visiting a local family or crossing the huge country on the Trans-Siberian Express, there is only very occasionally a reason to say no to tea. It is mostly sold from a samovar into a glass with metal handles – for example strong Georgian tea with sugar whose use as a sweetener is a matter of course in these countries. The taste of tea is also often supplemented by a slice of lemon or even a teaspoon of jam.
In France we can find a lot less tea lovers than in Britain or Germany, although they are always very demanding customers. That is why here they prefer high-quality tea types such as Darjeeling or Oolong. Paris is a real paradise for tea tasting. There are not many places where we encounter so many businesses called “Salon de Thé”. They are not genuine tea-shops of the sort we have in the Czech Republic, where it is possible to select a tea from an inexhaustible quantity of types and then drink it in semi-darkness and often sitting on the ground. They are spacious and posh coffee shops or confectioners’ (real salons) with a very peaceful atmosphere. The tea is always of a high quality and is prepared and served in a refined way, tea biscuits can be ordered with it as can one of many sweets or desserts displayed, guaranteeing you can spend some time pleasantly. We can cast our minds back to the golden times of the salons, the 18th and 19th centuries, when tea was served in silver tea sets or the finest porcelain and drinking it was part of the style of high society in the whole of central and western Europe. At the end of the 19th century drinking tea in public spread from the cities to spa towns, luxury hotels and other places where well-off guests met. A salon de thé was at one time one of the few public places that a woman could visit without the appropriate escort without having to worry about her reputation. Some of the leading salons de thé have remained open in Paris, while others have closed. The Mecca for Parisian tea lovers is the Mariage Frerés shop (30-32, rue du Bourg–Tibourg) with its small tea museum and adjacent restaurant. The Mariage family has been importing tea into France since the 17th century and today offers more than 200 tea types from 30 countries around the world. Another pleasant stop, for example after a visit to the Louvre, is salon Angélina (226, rue de Rivoli ), established in 1903 by the Austrian confectioner Anton Rumpelmeyer. In the stylish interior several types of tea are served in silver tea sets. Those interested in a quite different style imitating a north African tea atmosphere could take a trip to La Moskguée (39, rue Geoffroy St. Hilaire).
From India to the Bosphorus
Tea culture in India and Pakistan – probably 2,000 years younger than in China – is still partially influenced by English colonists. Tea in India is not produced, but also greatly consumed. In particular in the north they prefer a strong Assam with a large quantity of sugar and milk. In Indian towns it is possible to buy tea at stands on every corner for a couple of rupees. In the Himalayas it is prepared using a large quantity of cardamon and other types of spices. You can also encounter the hot refreshment on long train trips. Tea-sellers offer it to passersby and operate their own little businesses.
Tea has become the national drink in Afghanistan. The same as in Iran, which got the samovar at the same time as tea. And not only in their homes, but also in local tea rooms, in which locals sit with strongly sweetened green or black tea, smoking water pipes and talking. The local people are very musical, so they very often play music and sing when drinking tea.
Black tea consumption exceeds coffee consumption in Turkey. Tea is served sweetened in small glasses.
East and Southeast Asia
In East Asia, in particular in the traditional cultivation areas such as China, Japan and Taiwan, tea remains the most popular drink for the local people. Green tea is drunk in China, in particular between meals at any hour of the day - whether at home, out on the street, during business meetings, in restaurants and tearooms, offices and trains.
A special experience is sitting over a cup of tea in one of the top luxury hotels, from which the traces of colonial times have not yet disappeared. They include, for example, the Peninsula in Hong Kong, Raffles in Singapore and the Oriental in Bangkok.
In Tibet an invitation to tea is a natural expression of local hospitality. Its preparation is, however, unusual for Europeans. A tea brick (tea leaves pressed into the shape of a brick) is cut into pieces, which are boiled in a pot with water. This solution is then poured into a small wooden barrel (gugurtchai), salt and yak butter is added, or goat’s milk is used, and it is stirred with a wooden stick. The guest sits down in a living room with a fire on a cushion at a low table, where a tea bowl, butter container and a jar of tsampa (a paste of roasted grain made into small cakes) are prepared. In Tibetan monasteries tea is part of religious rituals and also serves as a sacrificial offering.
Tea culture has developed into the form of a ceremony in Japan. Drinking tea has become an art and also a spiritual journey. In addition to the precise practicing of the ceremony, most people also enjoy simpler forms.
The country contains a lot of specialised tea shops that, in addition to quality teas, offer all aids to perform a ceremony. In addition to traditionally prepared local green teas, a person can buy imported black teas, oolongs and even aromatic teas, which have nothing in common with the ceremonial culture.
Drinking tea is also very widespread in Africa. Strong Assam is drunk a lot in Egypt, as are various types of Sri Lankan tea, often sweetened with sugar, but without milk. Drinking tea is popular at home, the same as in restaurants and coffee shops. In shacks tea is usually drunk from glasses sitting on a mat. In European coffee shops preference is given to standard cups.
Morocco is well-known for its “thé a la menthe” – green tea from China mixed with mint. It has been drunk like this since the middle of the 19th century. It is often served in glasses decorated with ornaments, which are placed on copper or even silver trays. The same applies to luxury hotels. Otherwise it is drunk sitting on a mat – the same as in Egypt.
Tea in the Americas became famous primarily in connection with the Boston Tea Party, which started the War of Independence. Since then, tea unfortunately has not found a fixed place. Today five times more coffee than tea is drunk in the USA. Ice tea with a lot of sugar and lemon is popular. Tea powder, which is prepared fast by dissolving it in water, has also been successful in the plastic and instant culture. Compared to this, high-quality teas are not that sought-after in the USA and other American countries.
In South America the clearly most popular drink is mate, which we describe in a separate article.
As you can see, tea-drinking culture has not yet been hit by the flattening waves of globalisation. To a marked extent the various corners of the world have retained their traditional tea customs. Tea is becoming a multicultural drink, but the forms of its preparation, flavouring and the ways it is drunk in individual countries sometimes differ markedly. This is due to traditions lasting many hundreds of years for its preparation, which, in contrast to fashionable drinks of recent decades, have fixed roots in various civilisations.
The first tea leaves were used to prepare the delicious drink 5,000 years ago. Provided life on earth goes on, then tea will accompany it in various forms for thousands more years.