East Frisian Tea Culture

If you’re like me, you probably don’t know much about East Frisia. No disrespect to the good people who live there but, if it weren’t for tea, I probably wouldn’t know anything either. Even as I began to write this article, I realized that my knowledge of the region was hazy, to say the least. A coastal region in northwestern Germany that borders on the North Sea, East Frisia is most notable for purposes of this article because it has a thriving tea culture in a nation that’s otherwise not known for its tea consumption.

Mist over East Frisia (Photo source: Wikipedia)
Mist over East Frisia (Photo source: Wikipedia)

Though they drink more tea than we do here in the United States, Germans are not nearly in the running when it comes to being the world’s top tea consumers. They rank rather low on the list of top tea drinkers, with about a pound and a half consumed per person per capita. That’s a number that would be even lower if you factored out the East Frisians, who by some accounts drink about ten times as much tea as their countrymen. As the story goes, if East Frisia were a country, they would be at the very top of that list of the world’s tea consumers.

Henry Ford is supposed to have once said – about the model T – that you could have it in any color you wanted, as long as it was black. Which applies perfectly to drinking tea in East Frisia. If you want to drink tea there, you can have any kind you want as long as it’s…that’s right. While I’m sure there might be radical East Frisian types who dabble in such forbidden fruits as oolong or green tea, the preference there leans strongly toward Assam-heavy blends of the black stuff.

But not so fast. This is not just any type of Assam-heavy blended black tea, mind you, or should I say that the means of consuming it is rather distinctive. The process goes something like this: First, a piece of crystallized rock sugar is placed in the bottom of the cup, which is then filled part of the way with that strong black tea. But it’s not over yet, as a special type of heavy cream is next added to the mix. If all of my research counts for anything, the cardinal rule in all this is “thou shalt not stir.”

For an overview of tea drinking in East Frisia, check out this BBC article or this recent travelogue type piece in the New York Times.

See more of William I. Lengeman’s articles here.

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