Tea culture is defined by the way tea is made and consumed, by the way the people interact with tea, and by the aesthetics surrounding tea drinking. It includes aspects of tea production, tea brewing, tea arts and ceremony, society, history, health, ethics, education, and communication and media issues. Tea plays an important role in some countries. It is commonly consumed at social events, and many cultures have created intricate formal ceremonies for these events.
Let’s have a look at the types of cultures around the world, shall we?
The Chinese practice a form of tea ceremony called Gong Fu, which has some similarities and many more differences to the possibly more well-known Japanese tea ceremony. In a Gong Fu style tea ceremony, the tea master preparing the tea for the group is considered an artist in his or her own right. Styles for pouring the water and tea vary individually, and many devote a lot of time practicing difficult and artistic maneuvers. Usually the equipage for this tea ceremony would be a clay Yi-Xing pot and several small teacups, a tea sink or shallow bowl for draining water into, and a few bamboo tools for handling the hot objects. Every infusion in Gong Fu ceremony is very quick, about 30 seconds, though the method for timing is never exactly precise. In one tradition hot water is poured over the outside of the teapot, and when the water is seen to be fully evaporated, the tea is ready to be poured. Another tradition to mention is the curious yak butter tea from the mountains of Tibet. Strong black tea leaves, or often Pu-erh, are simmered overnight to create a very strong concentrate of tea. This concentrate is churned in a special vessel with yak or goat’s milk butter and salt for a thick and frothy concoction. This tea is drunk every day by most people and, because of its high caloric count, is an important nutrition source for the Tibetan people.
Although tea took some time to spread from China to Japan, many believe that Japan was where tea met perfection in the art of Cha-no-yu, or the Japanese tea ceremony. In the tea ceremony, humility and respect are expected of the guests and the host. The door to the sukiya, or tea house, is a low crawl space that requires all who enter to bow and humble themselves before entering the precious space. Once inside, the first thing he or she will see is a simple flower arrangement, and a scroll of artwork or poetic calligraphy. very detail is to be savored, because it cannot ever be the same. There is special emphasis placed on the seasons, which decides the type of food prepared for the ceremony, the type of utensils especially the chawan, or tea bowl, the flowers and artwork present, as well as the clothing of the tea master and guests.With regards to simplicity and balance, every aspect of the tea ceremony supports these ideals. Nothing in the tea room should be superfluous, loud or garish, in order to not distract from the moment. Simple colors and design in clothing, art and floral arrangements is ideal. Every movement in the tea ceremony, whether performed by the host or the guests, is perfected to the most simple and minimal act possible. The tea used for the ceremony is matcha, made from ground green tea leaves, and whisked with hot water to create the purest form of tea: nothing is added, nothing is changed. The ceremony itself can take hours to complete, and a lifetime to learn, so it would be best to discuss just the preparation of the matcha and the utensils used, as this can apply to every day enjoyment of the tea.
Tea in India only gained popularity as a national beverage in the 19th century after the British began to create large scale tea plantations in order to ensure adequate supplies for their country’s growing thirst. India is one of the world’s largest suppliers of tea, and yet because of this very recent history, tea has not had time to appropriate any elaborate tea rituals like in Japan or China. Although not ritualized, tea is more a part of everyday life at home, work, on the streets and while traveling. Chai is the preferred style of tea sold on the streets, in train stations and in restaurants. Chao is strong black tea, spiced with cardamom, fennel, cloves or other spices, sweetened with sugar and mixed with milk for a sweet and creamy beverage, that many Westerners would know as Chai tea. This tea can be drunk alone, but is often enjoyed with a savory snack like samosas. Usually street vendors or train stations will sell this tea in small clay cups that are only used once, and then smashed after use. Whether enjoyed on the street or at home, Chai provides respite from the heat or weariness from travel or work.
Tea became available in Russia in the 17th century, brought by the caravans of traders on camels who would make the cross-continent journey from China. Around this same time, the samovar was introduced in Russia, and became the centerpiece of any Russian household, rich or poor. The samovar was a large decorative urn made from copper or silver, that could hold a large quantity of water. An inside chamber was heated with coals and kept the water hot and bubbling all day long, so that tea could be prepared on a moment’s notice. On top of the samovar, a small teapot rested and was kept warm, containing a very strongly brewed concentrate of tea called zavarka. When one desired a cup of tea, they could immediately prepare it to their liking by pouring out a small amount of the zavarka, and diluting it with hot water from a spigot on the samovar. This invention, of Chinese origin, soon came to be recognized as the symbol of Russian hospitality. If unexpected guests were to arrive in a Russian home, they could count on being served tea quickly thereafter. Even in the great expanse of Russian literature, from Tolstoy to Dostoyevsky, the samovar is consistently mentioned in scenes taking place in the Russian home.Russians will often use a blend of teas which has been smoked to varying degrees as well.
These three countries have quite a few similarities with regards to their tea drinking habits, though also many unique differences. Egypt is one of the world’s largest importers of tea, and most people drink several cups of black tea every day. Usually strongly brewed black tea is served in small glasses and is heavily sweetened.
In Morocco mint tea is drunk throughout the day, though especially during and following meals, because of the mint’s naturally ability to aid in digestion. Preparing tea is a masculine role in Moroccan culture, and because of the high honor of this role is usually performed by the head of the household. Regional variations exist, however the basic recipe for mint tea is as follows: Chinese green tea is mixed with fresh or dried mint leaves and a large lump of sugar in a tall silver or stainless steel teapot. Hot water is poured into the vessel and allowed to steep for a few minutes. The tea is then poured from an almost standing height in a thin stream into the small glasses arranged below. This extravagant pouring gesture aerates the mint tea into the room and fills the space with its refreshing aroma.
When tea was first introduced in England in the mid 1600’s, the consumption was limited by the high cost and also because of the segregation of tea being served in coffee houses that catered solely to men.Afternoon tea, a tradition that is thought of being almost synonymous with the word “British,” did not become established until almost 200 years later. Anna, Duchess of Bedford, can be credited for creating the tradition of afternoon tea. She would become hungry during the afternoon, amd began asking her servants to bring her some sweets and a cup of tea to ward away her hunger. Eventually she began sharing this custom with her friends, and afternoon tea soon became popular among the aristocratic class. The working class caught on quickly. Afternoon tea also gave way to another favorite tradition: the creation of tea gardens. Tea gardens were quiet places, created specially for taking in afternoon tea, with beautiful flowers, herbs and quaint outdoor furniture. Today tea gardens are not as popular as they once were, but one can still stumble across many throughout the countryside. Whether it is a short break for a cup of tea and a small cookie, or a 3 course event of cakes, scones with jam and Devonshire cream, sandwiches and other treats, afternoon tea will continue to be a true English tradition. And tea itself will have a lasting place in English culture.
France has a very similar history and affection for tea as England. Tea was introduced around the same time and was indulged in primarily by the aristocratic class, before eventually being taken up by the rest of the population. Tea was first introduced as a medicine, although French doctors were quick to denounce it as having any medical worth, even citing the amount of caffeine as a potential health threat. To this day many French families do not allow their children to drink tea, and many adults even prefer naturally caffeine-free herbal tisanes like chamomile and verbena. However, true tea from the Camellia sinensis plant has taken a strong foothold, and many salons de thé can be found, not just in Paris, but in cities throughout the country. A salon de thé is a slightly more quiet and serene place for relaxation in the busy cities; certainly more so than the crowded cafes. The atmosphere in a French salon de thé is slightly more formal than the English tea room. The porcelain teapots are sophisticated and the place settings elegant, while attention to the highest quality of tea is of the utmost importance.
Well that was sure an insightful trip around the world! We hope you enjoyed that as much as we did. Do visit our store for a variety of teas from around the world.
Yours, one cup at at time,
The Karma Kettle Team.