Six wonderful tea traditions from around the world!

koli majumdar

Ever since the 1800’s and the end of China’s monopoly over tea, tea has become a part of many cultures around the world and some wonderful traditions have developed around tea. Tea is the second most popular beverage in the world and comes behind only to water. Not only does this speak volumes about the popularity of tea, but it also gives us an insight into its versatility. Tea changes from region to region and from country to country. Let us take a journey to six different places all over the world and read about their unique and wonderful tea traditions!

1. English afternoon tea

English breakfast tea tray

Afternoon tea was introduced in England by Anna, the seventh Duchess of Bedford, in the year 1840. The story goes that the Duchess would become hungry around four 'o’clock in the afternoon and the evening meal in her household was served comparatively late at eight o’clock which left a long period of time between lunch and dinner. The afternoon tea tradition arose when Duchess started asking that a tray of tea, bread and butter and cake be brought to her room during the late afternoon. This slowly became a habit of hers and she began inviting friends to join her. Once Queen Victoria started participating in these tea parties, this meal between lunch and dinner became fashionable in the upper-class society of late 1800’s England. Woman used to dress up and hosting a ‘tea party’ was of extreme prestige. These events were usually held in drawing rooms between four and five 'o' clock and were a social gathering over tea and savory or sweet accompaniments. Traditional afternoon tea consists of dainty sandwiches, cakes, pastries and scones served with clotted cream or jam and the star of the show is usually beautifully brewed Indian or Ceylon tea. The décor is traditionally delicate China and this tradition has carried on over the centuries and the afternoon tea is a staple in many British diets.

2. Russian samovars

Russian Samovars tea set

In Russia, tea is a staple and is part and parcel of daily life however, just like the
English, the Russians also enjoy their tea parties. These tea parties are similar to English ones in the sense that guests are offered tea which is accompanied with sweet and savory delicacies, but that is where the similarities end. Russian tea tradition is distinctly different because a vessel called the ‘samovar’ is used which literally translates to ‘self-brewer’. The samovar is a two-part vessel consisting of a large metal container for water crowned with a teapot. In the past, samovars had a little stove at the bottom for burning coal to heat up and boil the water. Today, though, samovars rely solely on electric heaters. Another distinct tradition of the Russian samovar tea ceremony is that tea is consumed from the saucer and not the cup! The Russians like their tea strong, unsweetened and piping hot and thus, saucers make for easy sipping and allow the tea to cool down just enough. This ceremony often includes people biting into lumps of sugar and sipping their tea instead of sweetening their tea. In Russia, the samovar is seen as a symbol of a warm home and family ties as well as fondness and good hospitality.

3. Tibetan butter tea

Tibet tea

Tibetan butter tea is a traditional drink in Tibet and is made out of Yak butter, tea
leaves, water and salt. The combination might sound a little off putting but this drink is a favorite in Tibet and Tibetan communities in Nepal and India. To tourists and foreigners, this usually presents itself as an acquired taste but it is a step into understanding Tibet’s rich culture and traditions. Out of all the types of tea consumed in Tibet namely, Pu-erh tea, Plain tea, Butter tea and Sweet tea, Butter tea is most popular and is commonly consumed with all meals and is a symbol of Tibetan tradition and folk culture.

There are four steps to make authentic butter tea:

Step 1: Have 2 cups of water to a boil
Step 2: Add tea to the pot and bring down to a simmer (3-5 mins)
Step 3: Traditionally this step is needed to last for hours
Step 4: Add salt and cream and stir and bring back to simmer
Step 5: Add butter and churn it with a Chandong which is a churning machine (or churn by hand for 3-5 mins)

4. Indian chai

Indian chai

Indian chai is a staple in the diet of most Indians all across the country. A cup of
steaming hot tea, usually served in small clay pots, known as kulhar in Hindi or bhar in Bengali. is a fan favorite in India. The tradition of drinking ‘chai’ tea in India transcends all boundaries with chai shopping dotting the roadsides. This tea is usually prepared with milk and spices along with sugar and you are bound to find people in groups sharing their evening tea accompanied with laughter, discussions and of course, biscuits. The main spices used often are ginger, cardamom and cloves and is commonly known as masala chai. Many Indians will tell you how ‘chai’ is an emotion and this shows how deeply ingrained tea is in the Indian culture.


5. Japanese matcha green tea ceremony

Japanese Matcha green tea


Just like the tea culture in India, the Japanese culture surrounding the matcha
ceremony is one of peace, tranquility, focus and respect. The matcha green tea is much more than just a drink for the Japanese people. Matcha tea powder is used for this ceremony and the matcha powder contains a lot of nutrients and vitamins. Ceremonial grade matcha is specifically distinct from its color to how it feels. It should have a vibrantly green color and smell light, fresh, and slightly grass like. It should also be extremely fine to the touch and feel silky and smooth like eye shadow. The ceremony requires poise and graceful hand movements and the ceremonial ritual is usually taught to students in tea clubs or in the homes as passing down of ancestral knowledge. A traditional bamboo whisk is used to mix the matcha powder with hot water to form a green paste and after the paste reaches the right consistency, more hot water is added to make a rich tea.

6. Latin American yerba mate

Latin American yerba mate tea

Yerba mate is a tea drink consumed all through out Latin America, especially in
countries like Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay. In fact, it is so popular and steeped in tradition that it is the national drink of Uruguay! The origin of this tea beverage can be traced back to the Guaranis who were a group of indigenous people living in South West of Brazil, North East of Argentina, as well as some areas of Bolivia and Uruguay. It was used during mystical rituals or as a welcome drink and for its energizing properties. The tradition of this drink is mainly based around community and sharing. The ceremonial ritual of drinking Yerba mate is done in such a way that the drinkers sit down in a circle and pass the ‘mate’ around which is served in the shell of a gourd and a metal straw is used to sip it. This is done so that everyone can sip the drink one after the other which creates a strong group and community bond. Yerba mate has a strong, pungent, earthy and bitter taste with hints of herbal and tobacco flavors, due to its tannin content. It is made from the leaves of Ilex paraguariensis, an evergreen tree of the holly family with white flowers and little
very dark red berry fruits.

Are there any interesting tea traditions around the world that you would like us to
write about?

Did we miss any?
Tell us in the comments below!

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