Tea is a drink, a ritual and a ceremony that’s been uniting people around the world since the first tea bush was discovered in China about 5,000 years ago. So let’s take a quick trip around the world and see how different cultures enjoy their tea.
For many years the Chinese Empire dictated how tea crops were to be cultivated. While the Chinese Empire has relinquished its iron grip on tea production, tea is still an integral part of the country’s culture, history and cuisine.
Tibet has been drinking tea since the Chinese introduced them to it in the 9th century. In Tibet tea is made by boiling a tea leaf for thirty minutes. Then it’s strained through horsehair into a long, wooden container, and flavored with yak butter and salt and then emulsified. This robust drink was restorative and helped the Tibetans stave off the elements in their harsh climate and terrain. In Tibet, etiquette requires that a guest always be offered tea, and that their cup should never go empty.
Japan also discovered tea in the 9th century. The religious ceremony that surrounded tea evolved into the Japanese tea ceremony. Today in Japan tea is central to their lives. It is used to greet guests, found in vending machines, made into green tea flavored ice cream, and served at virtually every meal. Teas grown in Japan have been evolved to be less sweet and more potent than their Chinese counterpart.
Russia did not enjoy a cup of tea until the 17th century, and it was presented as a gift from the Chinese. Over the years black tea has been the brew of choice, but recently green tea is gaining in popularity.
Also in the 17th century the Europeans got their first taste of tea. Since tea was imported, it was considered a luxury enjoyed only by the wealthy. It became a mainstay in Britain as the afternoon tea became a commonly served afternoon snack for the wealthy and common folk alike. The British enjoy black tea with a dollop of milk.
Tea did not reach America until the 18th century, and of course it was popular among inhabitants who once lived in Britain. Americans enjoy all manner of tea, and have been credited with two innovations, the tea bag and iced tea.
The next time that you are enjoying your cup of tea take a moment to realize that this drink made from a simple shrub connects you in a very real way to the rest of the world.
Editor’s Note: This article was originally posted on our sister blog, which is being phased out. I wanted to include this comment that was on the other blog:
From Marlena on October 29th, 2009 at 12:13 pm — A small correction: Tea arrived in the New World with the Dutch in New Amsterdam, now Manhatten. They arrived here as settlers in 1624. I am descended from the first white child born in the Dutch Colonies. Which has nothing to do with tea, but I do know a little about Dutch culture and I know they were tea sippers, benefitting from the Dutch forays into Indian and China, before the Brits, who began to do so when they saw how much money could be made.