Tea is enjoyed around the world and every country has their own traditions. From Russia to Asia to Europe, many countries have tea traditions that can teach us something new. I thought it might be fun to learn more about these traditions so today I’m sharing with you what I’ve learned.
Tea was first introduced in England in the mid-1600’s, but it wasn’t widely enjoyed because the cost was high and it was served in coffee houses where only men were allowed. Once it became a popular beverage in the coffee houses, tea houses began to open throughout the country where both men and women could enjoy it and even purchase some to take home.
Afternoon Tea didn’t become a tradition until almost 200 years later when Ann, Duchess of Bedford started requested a snack and a pot of tea be delivered to her room in the mid-afternoon. As the tradition of afternoon tea began to grow, so did the creation of tea gardens where ladies could enjoy their tea among beautiful flowers and herbs.
Afternoon Tea is widely enjoyed throughout England now from upscale hotels to small neighborhood tea houses. They serve a variety of options from a cup of tea and a cookie to a full afternoon tea with sandwiches and scones. In fact, this love of tea is not solely in England, but throughout the British Commonwealth including the U.K., Canada, Australia, and South Africa.
France’s history of tea is very similar to that of England’s, with tea being introduced around the same time period and enjoyed only by the wealthy, upper class. But in France, tea was first introduced as medicine. Many doctors criticized it though, believing that the caffeine was a potential health risk. To this day, many parents don’t allow their children to drink tea because of the caffeine content. Most adults drink caffeine-free blends like chamomile, hibiscus, and verbena.
However, many still enjoy tea and have tea houses around the country known as Salon de Thé, which is a quiet, serene setting for enjoying tea. It’s more formal than an English tea room and they serve only the highest quality teas.
Tea has always been a medicinal beverage in China, thought of a general health tonic for many illnesses. Even today, green teas and pu-erhs are prescribed by healers for a variety of ailments. Tea is often part of a meditation ritual and can be consumed at any time of day. While they do have many tea houses, the Chinese enjoy tea with every meal, whether at home or in a restaurant.
The Chinese also practice a tea ceremony called Gong Fu, where the tea master prepares tea for a group and he or she is considered an artist. The ceremony includes many styles of pouring tea and arranging cups.
Tea took its time migrating from China to Japan, but Japan has their own tea ceremonies now and schools that specifically teach these ceremonies to a variety of people from monks to samurai warriors.
In their traditional tea ceremony, humility and respect are expected for all who attend. The door to the sukiya, the tea house, is a small crawl space that requires you to bow, humbling yourself before entering the sacred space. These tea ceremonies are cherished because although you may enjoy several of them throughout your lifetime, you will never enjoy them in the same place with the same people and enjoy the same experience.
The tea ceremonies take a lifetime to learn and perfect and several hours to enjoy each time.
Tea first became available in Russia in the 17th century and was brought by traders on camels making the cross-continent journey from China, taking almost a year to arrive. This made the tea very expensive so it was only enjoyed by the upper class for many years. All that changed when the Siberian Railroad opened in 1880 and the trip took only two months, making tea more widely available to everyone.
During this time, the samovar (a large decorative urn that could keep water hot using coals) became a staple of the Russian household. Tea could be easily prepared using a tea concentrate and mixing it with the hot water. Tea and samovar became symbols of Russian hospitality and unexpected guests were always welcomed with a cup of tea.
Russian teas are quite different than other countries as they mostly drink strong black teas from India or Sri Lanka that have been smoked to varying degrees. Many tea companies now offer a variety called “Russian Caravan Tea” that is reminiscent of this smoky flavor. Tea is part of almost every Russian household and can be found at all times of the day.
No matter where you travel around the world, you’re sure to find a cup of tea waiting for you. You may experience different flavors, different ways of preparing it, and a variety of ways to serve it, but tea is universal worldwide. These tea traditions are what unite us while making us different.