My first experience with tea came at a young age, and what a glorious experience it was! Growing up in the South I had one of those Grandmothers that knew how to make Sweet Tea right and that was the only type of tea I drank for years. In fact, it was my childhood memories of her Sweet Tea that years later developed such a passion in me for good tea that I decided to transition Sweet Tea Junkie from a “tea shirt” company into a “Tea Company.”
To this day in the South when someone asks if you want tea, they literally mean Sweet Iced Tea and nothing else. Then again, there are no other types of tea right?! Chances are if you go into a non-chain restaurant in the South and ask for tea you’re going to get Sweet Tea, also known as “Regular Tea” around here because everyone knows un-sweet is just well… irregular.
Tea Traditions and culture worldwide
Just as we in the South love our Sweet Tea, and for good reason.. it gets hot around here! Every region of the world seems to have adopted tea to their lifestyle, passing down their way of drinking it from generation to generation until it literally becomes tradition and part of the culture.
Let’s jump into the Tea Traditions and culture worldwide, and see how people in other parts of the world drink this amazing beverage. Remember though, even as Sweet Tea is king in the South not everyone in the South drinks Sweet Tea (shocking I know!). The same is true for the regions we will discuss, enjoy!
United States of America
Tea drinking has always been popular in the USA with a number of the founding fathers being big tea drinkers. Although a little thing called the Boston Tea Party slowed its popularity for at least a few years tea would soon catch back on.
The first recipe for Sweet Tea was published in 1879 by Marion Cabell Tyree in her book Housekeeping in Old Virginia, although it was definitely consumed much before this date. Iced tea became popular after the 1904 Worlds Fair when a tea merchant who had trouble selling his hot tea due to the extreme heat began pouring it over ice and handing out to fair goers.
Iced tea accounts for 85% of all tea consumption in the United States, there is however a growing trend in favor of drinking hot and specialty or grand cru teas. Teas infused with fruit and fruit flavors are a popular choice, and can be found on most restaurant menus and store shelves. Interest in tea has been skyrocketing in the United States for the past few years as the health benefits of this beverage are uncovered.
In the South East Sweet Tea which is a mix of Tea, Water and sugar reigns supreme. Hot Tea is popular in the Northeast, and parts out west.
Southern Style Sweet Tea Recipe
8 Cups Fresh Filtered Water
4 Tablespoons Sweet Tea Junkie Handcrafted Black Tea
1 Cup of Pure Cane Sugar.
Bring water to a boil, then pour over tea. Cover and let steep for 5 minutes. After 5 minutes remove tea from the water, then add sugar and shake/stir till dissolved.
Pour Tea into a gallon sized pitcher or jug, and fill the remainder with cold filtered water. Shake or stir to mix well. Allow to cool for 15 minutes, then pour over a tall glass full of ice. Enjoy!
Tea drinking in China goes back almost 5,000 years, the Camellia Sinensis is said to have originated in the South. The first tea plantations were in China and it was only in recent history (mid 1800’s) that the secrets of growing and producing tea were unveiled to the rest of the world. Tea was once used as currency and was traded for much-needed military horses with the Tibetans. China and The British Empire went to war twice (The Opium Wars) over Opium which the Brits were pouring into China to help offset the costs of their massive tea purchases which the Chinese only accepted silver as payment for.
In a nation as vast as China and with such a storied tea history it is difficult to point to one main tea tradition. The Chinese produce all six families of tea (White, Yellow, Green, Oolong, Black, Pu Er) so as you can imagine there are many ways tea is consumed, and a lot depends on the region of the country you are in. In Yunnan tea is often fermented and added to vegetables. According to the book Tea: History, Terroirs, Varieties the Muslim population of Xinjang, which is in Northwestern China infuse their tea with sugar and walnuts.
The most popular type of Tea in China is Green Tea, and many Chinese carry with them a tea bottle that includes their chosen green tea leaves. The design of this bottle allows them to pour in water throughout the day and re-steep the same leaves multiple times.
A new trend over the past few years in China has begun taking place where the tea leaves and how they appear in the glass has taken on a great deal of importance. This Aesthetic appeal can be seen as a type of art form. In these tea circles, the cost of the tea is related more on how the leaves visually appear in the glass than the taste or quality of the tea.
In the summer of 804 the Buddhist monk Saichō traveled to China to learn more about the Buddhists texts. Upon his departure from China in the spring of 805 tea was served at his farewell party instead of the traditional rice beer. When Saichō returned to Japan he planted tea seeds he brought from China at the Hiei Shrine which is at the base of the Hiei Mountain near Kyoto. This is the first recorded tea cultivation in Japan.
Over the next 400 years not much is heard or known of any tea culture in Japan. in 1191 the Buddhist monk Myōan Eisai brought tea seeds back with him to Japan from a recent trip to China and planted them on the islands of Hirado and Kyushu. He sent tea seeds to other parts of Japan as well. Eisai taught that tea used as a medicine would bring health to the people of Japan. This was the beginning of a true tea culture in Japan.
Today, nearly all tea grown in Japan is consumed by the people of Japan. Some of the most recent numbers show that Japan only exports about 3% of the tea it produces annually. Green Tea is the king of teas in Japan and is thus what you will find almost any tea drinker consuming. While bottled green teas are popular due to their convenience you will find many Japanese taking part in Senchado (Way of Sencha) or Chanoyu (Water for Tea), which are both traditional ceremonial methods of preparing green tea.
Matcha, which is green tea that has been finely ground into a powder is a popular choice as well. If you are familiar with tea, you have likely heard of Matcha as it has even begun gaining popularity in the United States and has great culinary uses as well.
India is home to some of the best tea plantations on earth, many planted in the mid 1800’s by the East India Company, after it sent Robert Fortune into China to pose as a Chinese Tea buyer to gain the secrets of tea. Mr. Fortune came back with a treasure trove of information and enough seeds and plant samples to start a new industry in British controlled India.
In India tea is called Chai which is not to be confused with the cinnamon spice flavored Chai Tea that we know. They call that Masala Chai which translated to “mixed-spice tea”, and it is this Masala Chai that is the favored way of drinking tea in India.
Masala Chai is a drink that has slight variations from person to person, vendor to vendor but is in general a mixture of Black Tea, Buffalo Milk , Mixed-Spices (usually ginger, cardamom, star anise, cinnamon, nutmeg, peppercorn and cloves) and a Sweetener.
Chai Wallahs (Tea Vendors) abound in India and you’d be hard pressed to find one that doesn’t serve Masala Chai. If a trip to India isn’t in your future plans you can still try Masala Chai at home with this recipe.
Masala Chai Recipe
- 1/2 teaspoon cardamom seeds or ground cardamom
- 1 (1 1/2-inch) piece cinnamon stick
- 4 peppercorns (preferably white)
- 1/4 teaspoon fennel seeds
- 2 cups whole milk
- 3 1/2 tablespoons packed light brown sugar, or to taste
- 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
- 2 cups water
- 5 teaspoons Sweet Tea Junkie Handcrafted Black Tea
Grind together cardamom, cinnamon stick, peppercorns, and fennel seeds with mortar and pestle or coffee/spice grinder. Bring milk just to a simmer in a 2-quart heavy saucepan. Stir or whisk in brown sugar, ground spice mixture, ginger, and 1/8 teaspoon salt, or to taste. Reduce heat to low and simmer gently, stirring occasionally, 3 minutes to infuse flavors.
Meanwhile, bring water to a boil in a 1-quart saucepan, add tea, and boil 1 minute. Pour tea through a fine-mesh sieve into hot milk mixture (discard tea leaves) and cook over low heat 1 minute. Stir before serving.
Morocco, a country of 33 million people sits on the westernmost tip of the African Continent and carries with it a distinct tea culture. Moroccan’s enjoy a potent mixture of Green Tea, Mint and Sugar. When served the mixture is poured into ornate glasses (do a search for Moroccan tea set and you will see that the glassware is very fancy) from a foot or more height to create a froth on the top of the tea.
Moroccan Mint Green Tea Recipe
- 1 tablespoon loose Chinese gunpowder green tea
- 5 cups boiling water
- 3 to 4 tablespoons sugar, or to taste
- 1 large bunch fresh mint (1 ounce)
Put tea in teapot and pour in 1 cup boiling water, then swirl gently to warm pot and rinse tea. Strain out and discard water, reserving tea leaves in pot. Add remaining 4 cups boiling water to tea and let steep 2 minutes. Stir in sugar (to taste) and mint sprigs and steep 3 to 4 minutes more. Serve in small heat proof glasses.
Tea makes its first appearance in Russian history in 1616 when Vasili Tumenets and Ivan Petrov are sent by the Tsar to seek an alliance with the Mongol prince Altin Khan. Upon meeting the Khan they were given a great meal of “ducks and black game, hares and mutton and beef; ten kinds in all…. For drink they brought to table cow’s milk parboiled with butter, and in it unknown leaves of some sort.”
From the initial note of tea in Russian history it took nearly a hundred years for the drink to make its way into Russia on any sort of scale. The journey along the Great Tea Road was a difficult and time-consuming one. Once it did however the Russian people developed something uniquely theirs, the “Samovar,” which roughly translates to mean “self boiling.” It is a device that holds water and a tea concentrate.
By all accounts the Samovar is rarely used in Russia today, more modern tea kettles are the norm. Russians drink their tea hot and have an overwhelming preference toward strong black teas. As a matter of convenience you will often find tea bags being used to brew a quick cup of tea. However, when tea is consumed in groups loose black tea is often used to create a very strong заварка/zavarka or tea concentrate. The zavarka is poured into cups and near boiling water is then poured in to dilute the concentrate to the desired strength.
A 2008 study states that 84% of the Russian population drink black tea every day. It is this devotion to tea that has solidified tea as a staple beverage for the Russian people along with Vodka.
Tibet and China both had items the other wanted. For China, horses were desperately needed for their military defense. For the Tibetans, who just so happened to have lots of horses tea was in great demand. Naturally, a deal was made! The Chinese traded their tea to the Tibetans for their horses. The trade route between China and Tibet was one of the hardest in the world to travel, it became known as the Tea Horse road.
The Tibetans adopted tea perhaps more uniquely to their culture than any of the others we have seen so far. The favored way of consumption is a mixture of pu’er, yak butter and salt. I’ve never tried this combination but it sounds like “an acquired taste.”
If you know of any Tea Traditions and culture worldwide that I have missed in this post, feel free to send them in. I’d love to keep this post updated with as many traditions and cultures as possible to give us an idea of the vastness of the drink we all love, tea.
The True History of Tea
Tea: History, Terroirs, Varieties