While we debate whether or not to slurp or point our pinkies, folks around the world engage is some rather unique tea customs. Several of these make the aforementioned behaviors seem quite tame. Others are rather sweet. And still others are ones that sound quite intriguing. Get ready for a Phileas Fogg style journey – from the comfort of your computer – to far off lands and even some pretty close by.

 Sharing a bowl of tea. (Screen capture from site)

Sharing a bowl of tea. (Screen capture from site)

Wuyi Women Sharing Tea

The news item that inspired this article is about how women in the Wuyi Mountains of Southeast China share tea, drinking from a big bowl together. No dainty teacups as were used in the court of Queen Victoria. No little sipping cups like those used through many Asian countries. We’re talking a big bowl – big enough to stick their whole face in. All the easier to lick up the last drop, maybe! Their tea parties are women-only, with each hostess doing her best when its her turn to outshine the hostesses before her. They toast various things with tea instead of champagne and serve local dishes that include tofu and peanuts. Quite a fun time!

Doing It the French Way

The French pastry is said to be what makes the French art of tea quite unique. The pastries are themselves so fine as to be an art form, and have been even before tea drinking came to France via the Dutch. These delectable delights are perfect complements to the many tea styles now enjoyed there. In fact, the French are said to have “a tea for every occasion, mood, event or even time of day” and are served in the thousands of tearooms spread across the country.

When Tea Isn’t Tea

Filling a teapot with other substances, usually of an alcohol nature, isn’t new. During the Prohibition Era in the U.S., it was fairly common practice and came in handy if the “gin joint” got raided. Another area, though, where this practice was common was in Soweto, South Africa, during the apartheid years. They would have parties featuring “Soweto tea” – a clear beer reserved for whites. It was bottled very distinctly and so was very apparent to police patrols (who certainly had better things to do, but that’s another story). To disguise it, the owners of the local “shabeens” (taverns or speak-easies as they were called here) would pour this beer, superior in taste and quality to the sorghum beer the locals were allowed, into teapots. Having a cuppa was a very different affair than would be expected by the unitiated.

Tea-rrific Customer Service in Japan

The Japanese are famous for their politeness, gestures of respect, and bowing. When you go shopping, these will all come into play. After you buy something, the cashier/clerk follows you outside. For us Westerners this can be a bit unnerving, leaving us thinking that we might be about to get mugged by their accomplice. But have no fear. They are just being polite and appreciating your business. Once you are outside they will bow and offer you tea and cookies, something unheard of elsewhere in the world.

Taking the Bridal Shower a Step Too Far

The Scots are a hearty breed, as anyone who has watched “Braveheart” can tell. But they also have some rather…uh, weird customs. While a bridal shower for most of us is a fun party with lots of gifts being “showered” on the bride, in Scotland things go a bit differently. The bride undergoes a somewhat distasteful type of shower, involving anything gloopy and disgusting such as custard, eggs, tar, and yes – tea! In this “attire” her family then parade her through all the local pubs. Why they do this is a bit of a mystery. And why include tea? Sigh!

Putting Up with Us Strange Yanks

British ex-pats (those who moved here from the UK) and visitors really have a time of it putting up with our cretinous ways, especially when it comes to tea. One remarked: “…tea, every time I offer, people expect herbal tea or that chai stuff, and have it either plain, with lemon and or sugar, and look aghast when it’s plain ole PG tips served with milk…..anyone else get that?” Yes, it seems to be fairly standard – at least until they meet me. I have put a smile on more than one Brit’s face when I happily accepted that PG Tips with milk and sugar.

Fattening Up Your Tibetan Tea

When you live in a climate that tends to be fairly chilly most of the year and/or where the food supply is less than overwhelming, having some extra fat in the diet is a good thing. This would likely explain why Tibetans add yak butter to their hot tea. The yak is a fairly important animal to them, supplying a lot of needed resources, and this butter is one of them. Preparation is fairly simple: brick tea (tea where the leaves have been processed and then pressed while wet usually into a brick shape) is boiled in a large pot until the desired strength is reached, the tea is strained into a wooden churn, more boiling water plus salt and yak butter are added, these are all churned to a smooth and even consistency, and then it is poured into a kettle to be reheated and then served.

Afternoon Tea Time Tipples

Something I find rather strange and a bit ironic is the increasingly common serving of alcoholic beverages (wine and champagne usually) with Afternoon Tea. I say ironic because tea rooms had replaced pubs and taverns in the UK and other parts of Europe as tea became more popular. The tea rooms were seen as more proper and alcohol-free environments for women especially to be out in public. Now, though, the teetotaler event is becoming the tippler event.

All of this sort of makes your family look normal, doesn’t it!

See more of A.C. Cargill’s articles here.

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