Cultural Tea Traditions
In China, long before tea became the beverage of choice and a way of life, it was considered a medicinal staple. Tea was not only a treatment for individual illnesses, but was also a general health tonic, said to promote long life and vitality. Even today, in traditional Chinese medicine, green teas and pu-erhs are prescribed for a variety of complaints, especially as modern research has come to support many of these claims. Tea was also used by those wishing to achieve better results while meditating, and became popular with Buddhist priests who later introduced it to the aristocratic circles. For some time, only people of high standing in the imperial courts and these select priests were able to drink tea on a regular basis. But later on, tea became more widely available to all people, and the lower classes were finally able to enjoy tea more frequently. Please download our PDF to learn more.
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. After arriving in Japan many schools of the tea ceremony began, with influences ranging from monks to samurai warriors. These separate schools existed until the 16th century, when Sen Rikyu, considered the highest tea master, brought together these differing principles and set forth the practice that is still followed many years later. Today the tea ceremony is still practiced by many in Japan and abroad, and survives as an honored and thriving tradition, rather than an antiquated relic. The essence of the tea ceremony has made it a poignant reflection on life, even in today’s world. Cha-no-yu’s fundamentals lie in the humility of the guests, appreciating the moment’s uniqueness in terms of time and place, season and those present, and the art of simplicity and balance in form, movement and objects. These three fundamentals have found their way outside of the tea room and into many aspects of Japanese life. Please download our PDF to learn more.
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. Once tea became popular enough in the coffee houses, more specific tea houses began to be opened in London and elsewhere in the country. Here, men and women could both enjoy a cup of tea or buy some for home.
Afternoon tea, a tradition that is thought of being almost synonymous with the word “British,” did not become established until almost 200 years later. In those days, most people only ate two meals: a large breakfast late in the morning and a late dinner around 8 or 9 o’clock in the evening. Anna, Duchess of Bedford, can be credited for creating the tradition of afternoon tea. She would become hungry during the afternoon, in the long hours between breakfast and dinner. She 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, especially as the afternoon meal was a good opportunity take a much needed break and spend time with friends. Please download our PDF to learn more.
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. Please download our PDF to learn more.
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. This journey took almost an entire year to complete, resulting in tea being quite expensive and only available to the aristocratic class for many years. Everything changed in 1880 when the Siberian Railroad was opened, and the trip could now be done in just two short months. Tea became widely available, and was embraced by all social classes. Please download our PDF to learn more.
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. Please download our PDF to learn more.
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, because of its caffeine content. And many adults even prefer naturally caffeine-free herbal tisanes like chamomile and verbena, or verveine. Please download our PDF to learn more.