Join now

What’s Your Cup of Tea? — Tea Cultures around the World

In many countries, tea is much more than just a beverage. It’s often deeply connected with the culture and the people. The Japanese tea ceremony is about connecting on a spiritual level while in Morocco tea is served as a sign of hospitality. Discover the different traditions around this hot beverage.

The Famous Chinese Tea Culture

Tea has its origins in China and it therefore comes as no surprise that the Chinese tea culture is one of the most famous in the world. While tea was originally only cultivated and drunk as a herbal medicine, the monks soon started to drink it for its calming effects and peace. The Chinese tea ceremony is a blend of different philosophies: Confucianism, Taoism, and Buddhism. It is the result of respect of nature and search for peace. Over the time, Chinese tea ceremonies went from being strictly religious activities to social and cultural activities.

One of the most famous tea ceremonies in China is the Gongfu tea ceremony. Its name — Gongfu cha — translates into “making tea with skills” and stands for the ceremonial preparation of oolong tea and serving it to guests as a sign of respect. The whole ceremony usually lasts 20–25 minutes with the last step being the actual drinking of the tea. For that, the guests hold the cup with both hands and drink it in three sips.

Great Britain — The British and Their Afternoon Tea

It is no secret that the British love a nice cup of tea and the British afternoon tea is one of the country’s most quintessential traditions. The typical tea time is a light meal in the afternoon. Originally, only the wealthy classes took afternoon tea, but later the middle class took up the tradition as well. It consists of delicate finger sandwiches, followed by scones with jam and cream, then finally small cakes. The tea is drunk with the above, usually an unflavored black tea with milk. Nowadays, Afternoon Tea is more of a treat for a special occasion and is often taken in a smart hotel.

Tea has always been very popular in Britain and many people have several cups a day. Workers have one, two or more tea-breaks a day. People drink tea to warm up in winter, to cool down in summer, to revive energy levels and to calm down. As you can see, tea in the UK is the beverage for any emotional situation.

India — It’s All about Chai

Tea is very popular in India and almost 70% of the tea produced in the country is consumed by its own people. India cultivates huge amounts of black tea such as Darjeeling and Assam but the most popular among the Indians is undoubtedly chai. Chai derives from “cha” — the Chinese word for tea — and stands for a mix of different spices steeped into what is usually black tea. The spices include cinnamon, cardamom, ginger, cloves, and black pepper. Chai is an important part of Indian tea culture and whenever guests come over, chai will be served. The tea leaves are brewed first with spices and then again with milk and sugar.

Chai wallahs sell the Indian’s national drink at every street corner of the country and the most famous former chai wallah is none other than Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Chai wallahs are not only a place to buy chai tea but a place for socializing, discussing, and debating. So next time when you’re in India don’t forget to buy your chai from a chai wallah and experience India’s tea culture!

The Way of Tea in Japan

The Japanese tea ceremony chanoyu (“hot water for tea”) is a very important cultural ritual and activity around the preparation and presentation of matcha — a powdered green tea. It is much more than just a tea party — it’s about aesthetics and connecting with the guests on a spiritual level. The Japanese tea ceremony, also often referred to as “way of tea”, is very complex with the many utensils involved and its specific vocabulary.

The Japanese host usually spends weeks going over every detail to ensure the ceremony will be perfect. Every step and every movement of the ceremony is practiced during weeks. But at the most basic level, the tea ceremony in Japan is about spending time with friends. It is held in traditional tea rooms or private homes and a formal tea ceremony lasts for up to four hours.

Tea for Every Occasion in Russia

Tea was brought to Russia by a Mongolian ruler in the 17th century. It was traditionally drunk in the afternoon but nowadays, tea is an all-day drink. Black tea is the most common and Russian Caravan with its distinctive smoky flavor is particularly popular. Originally the tea developed its smoky flavor during the 18-month camel caravan journey from China but nowadays it is usually given its smoky flavor through fermentation.

The brewing process is an important part of Russia’s tea culture: first of all, a quantity of tea is brewed in a small ceramic pot — a samovar — and then, each person pours some of this concentrate into their cup and mixes it with hot water. Over the years, drinking tea has evolved into a social ceremony. Tea is drunk at every family celebration or get-togethers of old friends. People also sort out family issues or complete a business deal over tea. It is therefore no surprise that a Russian tea party can last for hours.

Morocco — Of Hospitality and Friendship

Tea is very important in North African culture. And in Morocco, it is a fundamental part of hospitality to offer guests tea. Moroccan tea is usually a mixture of green tea (“gunpowder”) and mint leaves sweetened with quite a generous amount of sugar. The preparation of the tea, called atai and often done in front of the guests, is a ritual itself: prepared with patience, the tea is then ceremoniously poured from high above into colorful patterned glasses, causing foam to form on the surface. The tea then is drunk without any hurry. In Morocco, offering tea is a way to make guests feel welcome and refusing it when offered is a sign of extreme rudeness.

Sharing is Caring in Argentina

If you see people in a park in Argentina passing around a weird-looking bottle and drinking from a metal straw, don’t be alarmed. They are not consuming something illegal drugs but are just enjoying the Argentinian national drink mate, which is traditionally shared in a group of friends. Mate tea has a very bitter taste and is made from yerba mate — a plant growing in the subtropical jungles of Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay, and Bolivia. It is drunk from a gourd, also called mate, using a bombilla — a straw made from metal or bamboo.

Drinking mate is an integral part of the South American culture and a social experience. Hot water is poured into the gourd filled with some yerba mate leaves and the person in charge of serving — the cebador — first drinks one or two gourds to ensure the quality of the mate. After, the gourd is refilled and passed around counter-clockwise . Each person drinks the entire gourd and refills it with water. This is repeated until the mate is flat. It is said that drinking mate assures a long and healthy life, so make sure to share some mate with your friends the next time you’re in Argentina!



Article Topics

Marleen Jansen

"I'd never have discovered my favourite museum without the Edinburgh Expat Guide! "

Ruben Barbosa

"Whether it's the Edinburgh Fringe Festival or the Highlands -- such great opportunities to explore Scotland with my fellow expats."

Expat Guides around the World

Ready to Join?