Tea is a drink made from either fresh or dried leaves of Camellia sinensis, an evergreen shrub native to Asia. Because it normally requires very hot water to steep, it is a healthy way to drink water contaminated with microbes, which are killed by boiling. It also normally contains caffeine, and thus, like coffee and other caffeinated drinks, it helps keep people awake and alert. The drink has been exported to all the corners of the Earth, so that you can now have a warming cuppa in England, discuss politics in a Lebanese tea house until dawn, or experience the elaborate tea ceremonies of Japan. There are many varieties of tea which are enjoyed the world over, but also special types that are best experienced at the source—a tea itinerary would take you from a rich oolong in Tibet to the floral Darjeeling varieties, followed by strong Irish breakfast teas, a big pitcher of sweet tea in the American South, and the “national infusion” of Uruguay: yerba mate.
Tea is an aromatic beverage commonly prepared by pouring hot or boiling water over cured leaves of the Camellia sinensis, an evergreen shrub (bush) native to East Asia. After water, it is the most widely consumed drink in the world. There are many different types of tea; some, like Darjeeling and Chinese greens, have a cooling, slightly bitter, and astringent flavour, while others have vastly different profiles that include sweet, nutty, floral or grassy notes.
Tea originated in Southwest China during the Shang dynasty, where it was used as a medicinal drink. An early credible record of tea drinking dates to the 3rd century AD, in a medical text written by Hua Tuo. It was popularized as a recreational drink during the Chinese Tang dynasty, and tea drinking spread to other East Asian countries. Portuguese priests and merchants introduced it to Europe during the 16th century. During the 17th century, drinking tea became fashionable among Britons, who started large-scale production and commercialization of the plant in India. Combined, China and India supplied 62% of the world’s tea in 2016.
The term herbal tea refers to drinks not made from Camellia sinensis: infusions of fruit, leaves, or other parts of the plant, such as steeps of rosehip, chamomile, or rooibos. These are sometimes called tisanes or herbal infusions to prevent confusion with tea made from the tea plant.
Tea has its origins in China and its discovery is credited to the agricultural god Shennong, although historical evidence indicates it was grown as a medicinal herb by commoners in Southwest China. It eventually became a beverage rather than medicine due to its popularity with multiple Chinese emperors who encouraged tea drinking across China.
People, especially in East, South and Southeast Asia, have been drinking tea for thousands of years. Since there has traditionally been substantial trade between the Middle East and South and East Asia through the Silk Route, tea got to that part of the world early. Later, with increased trade between Asia and Europe and then European colonialism in Asia, tea gained popularity in many European countries, especially Great Britain, where tea is not merely a beverage or two but also a traditional snack or meal in the mid-afternoon. During this period, most of the Chinese tea exported to Europe passed through the “Tea Road”, crossing the vast expanse of Siberia, where compressed tea bricks were used as currency among locals. (The legacy of this route still lives on in the name of the “Russian Caravan” blend.) With the immigration of Asians and Europeans to other continents and the further extension of trade in the ages of oil-powered ships and airplanes, the love of tea has spread throughout the world.
In South America, a very similar culture exists about yerba mate (Ilex paraguariensis), a similar plant with a similar caffeine content. Initially confined to a fairly small region of contemporary Brazil and Paraguay, the Guaraní and Tupí peoples introduced the drink, and its cup made from a gourd, to colonizers. The Portuguese called the hot drink chimarrão and the Spaniards mate. Both called the cold version tereré, and brought it back to Europe by the 16th century. The caffeine content of yerba is generally lower than most Asian-derived teas, and it has surged in popularity as a health drink in the 2010s.
Tea exists in many colors and flavors, made from different stages of growth from the tea leaf: white teas are from young buds and have lighter flavors; fresh leaves make green teas that can be grassy or sweet but are generally not bitter; leaves left out in the sun to wither make oolong teas which can be deeply thick, aromatic, or flowery, depending on the method used to oxidize; and finally black teas are generally the strongest and bitterest types which are sometimes fermented for years. Various cultivars and brewing or roasting methods can produce virtually any type of flavor and caffeine level. Adding spices, milk, sweeteners or mint expands the possibilities even further. Lastly, parts of other plants (such as cloves, ginger, basil, sage, cinnamon, cilantro) can be infused alongside tea, or simply produced as a tea-like drink known as “herbal tea”—possibly the most famous of these is the South African rooibos (meaning “red bush”; Aspalathus linearis). These are also popular in many countries, including France, the United Kingdom, and the United States. Many Chinese people also like chrysanthemum tea, which is an herbal tea made from yellow Chrysanthemum morifolium or white Chrysanthemum indicum flowers, and has a distinct flowery taste.
The name for tea in almost every language sound like te or cha or chai, all of which originally derive from Chinese dialects. It’s tricky to group the languages geographically by their preference of either word, as it depends on how each culture first encountered tea over many centuries of trade: the languages spoken in much of East Asia, Eastern Europe, and Portuguese-speaking areas use derivatives of cha; the modified Persian form chai is used around India, Russia, and the Balkans; and in Western Europe and elsewhere in the world, variants of te are more common.
Although in English, we also speak of “herbal teas”, which are infusions of herbs and even fruits, in many languages, unless the drink uses tea leaves, it is not considered “tea” at all. For example, in French, herbal teas are called tisanes (from a Greek root meaning “to peel”, no relation to Chinese-derived te or ti). You will occasionally encounter this word even in the English-speaking world and it can be a distinction with a difference, especially if you are looking to avoid caffeine.
Tea around the world
As the originator of tea, China grows an incredible variety of teas, from the most basic (but still good) to the very expensive. Among the parts of China that are famous for tea are the provinces of Fujian and Yunnan and the area around Hangzhou in Zhejiang Province. See the discussion in the China article.
Tibet and neighboring areas influenced by Tibetan culture (much of the Himalayas) traditionally drink tea combined with yak butter. These usually have salt mixed in, creating a unique blend. This also serves a practical purpose in adding some much-needed calories and acting as a natural lip balm for those living on the highest plateau in the world.
Taiwan is a tea-growing land well-known for its oolong teas, which are often called Formosa tea after the Portuguese name for the island. Their oolong styles are green when brewed. Various sub-varieties range in taste, but it is typical of Taiwanese oolong to have a somewhat earthy perfume, with a bit of bitterness and a bit of natural sweetness. Oolong teas are also grown in Fujian and Guangdong provinces of Mainland China, and some of them are very costly.
While Hong Kong is not a major tea producer, with only a single small tea plantation on Lantau Island, the confluence of British and Chinese tea cultures has made Hong Kong’s tea culture unique. Most eateries serve Chinese teas by default to their customers, and the Cantonese custom of yum cha with dim sum is deeply ingrained in the local culture. In addition, British influences have also made milk tea relatively popular in Hong Kong-style fusion eateries known as cha chaan teng. For those who wish for an authentic British high tea experience, the Peninsula Hotel in Kowloon is one of the best places in Asia to experience that.
Special note should be given to bubble tea, which started in Taiwan and spread throughout much of the world, especially places with Chinese communities. Bubble tea usually consists of either black or green tea, to which milk is often added, along with tapioca or sago “bubbles” that are sipped through a large straw or eaten with a spoon. Other variants may use agar-agar (a natural gel with a consistency similar to commercial Jell-O but made from seaweed) instead of tapioca bubbles. Bubble tea comes in many flavors. At the low end, it can be full of unnatural-tasting, artificially colored concentrates, but when better ingredients are used, it can be refined. It can be hot or cold (iced).
Japan is another country with traditional tea cultivation, where people drink a lot of tea. The Japanese have very fine varieties of tea—especially green. In Japan, tea is not only drunk but used in all manner of delicious pastries such as cream puffs with matcha (a strong green tea flavor) and azuki bean paste as well as in ice cream.
Koreans drink a lot of tea, too, and much tea is cultivated on Korean hillsides. Another popular drink is barley tea, brewed with roasted barley and often taken cold during hot summer months. These roasted varieties are bold and taste like grains or cereal. Barley tea is also popular in Japan, where it is called mugicha, but it does not actually contain tea leaves.
Any guest to a Mongolian yurt can expect to be served suutei tsai, which is similar to the Tibetans’ butter tea but is made by adding cow milk, rather than yak butter, into the tea along with salt. Sometimes it incorporates fried millet as well. Back in the days of communism, suutei tsai was prepared from green tea bricks weighing 2 kilograms (4.4 lb), each trademarked with a hammer and sickle, which were colloquially known as the “Stalin tea”, imported from then-Soviet Georgia.
Teas in East Asia are generally drunk neat, without the addition of milk or sugar. However, Hong Kong-style milk tea and Taiwanese bubble tea are an exception to this, and have also taken much of Asia by storm.
Myanmar, along with China, may be one of the first places where tea was grown. Much tea is still grown in Myanmar, and not only do Burmese people drink tea, they also make delicious salads with tea leaves. Make sure to try some if you have the chance, but consider having it for lunch, rather than dinner, lest the amount of caffeine you’re eating may keep you up at night.
Malaysia is known for the tasty tea which is grown in the Cameron Highlands. Its flavor is well-balanced and it is relatively mild, with a pleasant degree of natural sweetness. Local demand is high, so it is uncommon for Malaysian tea to be exported and a good idea to enjoy it while you visit. In Malaysia and Singapore, two common ways to drink tea are “teh o”, to which sugar is added to the black tea and “teh susu” or “teh tarik”, to which sweetened, condensed milk is added. Chinese restaurants in these countries often serve unsweetened tea, otherwise called “teh kosong” (“empty tea”).
Indonesia is one of the world’s top 10 producers, growing tea mostly in Sumatra and Java. They are known for particularly strong and bitter varieties that are in some cases jet-black and may be unpleasant for people more used to somewhat subtler varieties. Indonesians drink a lot of tea, but there is still a sufficient supply for export, for example to the Netherlands, the former colonial overlord of the country.
Thailand is another tea-growing country, and even better known for drinking tea. Thai tea, made with condensed milk and drunk either hot or iced, is similar to Malaysian teh susu. Thai cuisine is known for its intricate balance of several flavors in a single dish and the same is true of Thai tea, mixing milk, sugar, ice, coconut, and orange flower water. This type of tea preparation is also commonly drunk in other neighboring countries, including Vietnam. As in Myanmar, tea salads also exist in Thailand.
In India, tea is commonly called chai, and masala chai (tea with a mix of spices and usually milk) is a common and much appreciated drink throughout most of the country. One special variety of Indian tea is famously grown in the hill station of Darjeeling and is sold mainly through the tea auctioning houses in Siliguri and Kolkata. This “champagne of teas” has fruity and floral notes along with a deeper spiciness known as muscatel. Munnar and Ooty are other hill stations known for their tea plantations. Dibrugarh, Assam is said to have the largest concentration of tea gardens by area in the world, and there are quite a number of other parts of India where much tea is grown.
In Pakistan, tea is usually drunk black and is often combined with milk. Other ingredients, which include a long list of spices and nuts, and the level of sweetness (or, saltiness in the north) vary across the regions. While Pakistanis are among the heaviest tea drinkers in the world, the local production is relatively unimportant and is limited to the Shinkiari area along the Karakoram Highway in Northwest Pakistan.
In the Himalayan parts of the subcontinent, such as Gilgit-Baltistan (Pakistan), Ladakh (India), and Bhutan, Tibetan-style butter tea with salt has been traditionally popular.
Sri Lanka was called Ceylon under British colonial rule, and it is one of the best-known tea-exporting countries. Sri Lankan teas are often still called “Ceylon tea” abroad. Although dwarfed by India, this island accounts for almost a fifth of the total world export. It’s so vital to their economy that this one beverage accounts for over a million jobs and 2% of the GDP. Visit the Ceylon Tea Museum 5 kilometres (3.1 mi) south of Kandy or hit the books at the Tea Research Institute in Talawakelle, about 80 kilometres (50 mi) to the south.
Bangladesh, likewise, has tea plantations on sloping terrain, such as in Sylhet Division. Tea is big business here as well: the mammoth Chittagong Tea Auction is a stock market for tea commodities that sets the national price. View these gorgeous plantations, accounting for almost 60,000 hectares (150,000 acres).
Kenya is a younger tea-producer, but their industry has exploded since the 1990s. Tea from its highlands takes up quite a significant share of the worldwide tea market, with much of it exported to Pakistan and the United Kingdom.
Turkey is one of the world’s main tea producers, but almost all its tea (çay) is drunk within the country, more often than not strong and black, just like their famous coffee. A substantial part of the social life in the country revolves around drinking tea—it is almost certain that it will be offered at some point even during a lengthened visit to a shop. Tea is usually served in small, tulip shaped glasses, and traditionally accompanied by two cubes of beet sugar, although more and more urban Turks forgo adding sugar (or anything else for that matter) to their tea nowadays. Most Turkish tea is grown in the area around Rize, on the Black Sea coast, purportedly among the very few locations in the world that the tea plantations receive snowfall regularly every winter, which is said to be one of the contributing factors to its flavor. Atatürk is credited with popularizing tea after the Ottoman Empire lost its coffee growing provinces.
In the Middle East and North Africa, it is common to add mint leaves and sugar to black tea. The world famous Arab hospitality may see you invited to a Sahrawi tea ceremony in Western Sahara that can easily last two hours. (Since it’s considered rude to decline, take this opportunity to have your fill!)
Much of Iran’s social life involves going to the chai khanehs (literally “tea houses”), where the (often male) patrons are served tea, traditionally drunk with a cube of sugar held between the teeth as the tea is sipped through, and hookah. The domestic production comes from the Caspian coast of the country, especially the area around Zahijan, which is also the site of a national tea museum.
In the Caucasus, Azerbaijan shares a similar çay xana culture with neighbouring Iran. Azerbaijani tea is served in clear glasses called armudu (“pear-like”) and is sometimes flavoured with thyme, mint or rosewater. Tea is grown in a small area around Lankaran in the south of the country, on the Caspian Sea. Georgia is the main tea producer in the region, and tea cultivation in its western regions of Adjara, Guria (the regional capital of Ozurgeti, in particular), and Mingrelia on the Black Sea dates back to a time when the czars were still in charge. Georgian tea production topped in the 1970s, when the country was under Soviet rule, and has been going downhill ever since, although a revival seems to have started lately. Most of the production is exported, and Mongolia is surprisingly the largest buyer, due to the trade links established during the Soviet era. Armenia shares little of the enthusiasm for Camellia sinensis leaves common in its neighbours, and tea is often understood to be that of wild herbs collected from the mountains there.
Although it is produced only in a very small slice of the Krasnodar Region around Sochi on the Black Sea—which also happens to be the northernmost tea-growing area in the world—чай (tchai) is drunk widely in Russia. Most Russians drink black tea with either sugar, lemon, honey or jam. An important aspect of the Russian tea culture is the ubiquitous Russian tea brewing device known as a samovar (lit. “self cooker”, a metal or porcelain container with a small built-in burner), which has become a symbol of hospitality and comfort.
In the United Kingdom, it is very common to add milk and sugar to black tea. Here, as well as in some other parts of the former British Empire, “tea” also refers to a meal in the afternoon or the evening. Tea is usually drunk hot. Plain black tea (“English Breakfast” on menus) is the most common, but often the choice available includes Earl Grey (black tea with bergamot), green tea (possibly with a fruit flavouring and drunk without milk), redbush/rooibos, and fruit infusions. One particularly posh way of having afternoon tea is known as high tea, which is most famously served in the Palm Court of The Ritz in London, and is also available in many other Grand Old Hotels and tea houses throughout the former British Empire.
It was the Portuguese who introduced tea to Britain, so it should come as no surprise that Portugal has a tea tradition of its own. The Portuguese often savour their tea with milk, lemon, cinnamon or ginger added in (sometimes all of them in the same cup). The Portuguese archipelago of the Azores, out in the Atlantic, is the home of the only tea plantation in the European Union. On São Miguel, organic Azorean tea can be enjoyed right on the spot in the premises of the century-old tea factory. Tea liquor, tea candy, and tea pudding are among the unique delicacies of the island.
Although better known for its coffee culture, France is also known for its various gourmet tea blends, with Parisian institution Mariage Frères being especially well-regarded among tea connoisseurs. The French are also one of the largest consumers of organic teas—if you’re in a cafe in Marseille, have some with a baked good or a dark chocolate and see if you can taste the difference.
Germany has little tradition of tea-drinking except in East Frisia, where an appreciation for tea is quite longstanding; East Frisia is probably the only place in Germany where tea is more popular than coffee. The East Frisian tea ceremony consists of black tea served in a flat porcelain cup with special rock sugar (Kluntje) that is put in the cup before the tea is poured, melting it into the beverage. Cream is added afterwards, but is not stirred into the tea. According to some statistics, East Frisia would be the place with the highest per capita tea consumption in the world if it were a country.
South Africa is not known for tea production, but it does produce a delicious, naturally slightly sweet herbal tea from the leaves of the rooibos (meaning “red bush” or “red herb”). Rooibos leaves do not contain caffeine, and their health benefits are said to be similar to those of proper tea, but with high amounts of Vitamin C and low levels of tannin. These “red teas” can further be infused with other herbs and flowers making virtually any flavor combination. Since this plant has thus far never been successfully cultivated outside a small area of the Western Cape area, make sure to try it at the source.
In the US South, sweetened iced tea is commonly drunk and it has become the quintessentially “Southern” beverage in the minds of many Americans. (It has become a popular bottled summer beverage in parts of Europe as well, but this usually amounts to an artificial concoction mixed with water, sweetener, tea extract, and sometimes fruit and berry flavors.) In particular, Georgia is known for a peach tea infusions that are naturally sweet. Golfer Arnold Palmer turned his personal preference for a 50–50 blend of tea and lemonade into a drink which is now named after him and which is common in the States. A small and often overlooked domestic tea production exists in the USA, with many plantations scattered around Hawaii, the Pacific Northwest, and, particularly, the South. A tea vodka, made from locally grown tea, is the firewater of choice in Charleston, South Carolina, which is near the largest tea plantation in the U.S.
In Brazil, the consumption of yerba mate, locally called “chá-mate” or simply “mate”, is much higher than proper tea. Especially at the beaches of Rio de Janeiro, where iced sweetened mate (both “plain” and “with lime”) is as common and popular as coconut water.
Australian tea culture was traditionally similar to British tea culture although recent waves of immigration from all over Asia have added a completely new dimension to how and what types of teas are drunk. The amount of tea production is quite low and confined to a few pockets in Queensland and northern New South Wales. Various kinds of herbal teas are consumed by Indigenous Australians.
Processing and classification
Tea is generally divided into categories based on how it is processed. At least six different types are produced:
White: wilted and unoxidized;
Yellow: unwilted and unoxidized but allowed to yellow;
Green: unwilted and unoxidized;
Oolong: wilted, bruised, and partially oxidized;
Black: wilted, sometimes crushed, and fully oxidized
Post-fermented: green tea that has been allowed to ferment/compost.
After picking, the leaves of C. sinensis soon begin to wilt and oxidize unless immediately dried. An enzymatic oxidation process triggered by the plant’s intracellular enzymes causes the leaves to turn progressively darker as their chlorophyll breaks down and tannins are released. This darkening is stopped at a predetermined stage by heating, which deactivates the enzymes responsible. In the production of black teas, halting by heating is carried out simultaneously with drying. Without careful moisture and temperature control during manufacture and packaging, growth of undesired molds and bacteria may make tea unfit for consumption.
Additional processing and additives
After basic processing, teas may be altered through additional processing steps before being sold, and is often consumed with additions to the basic tea leaf and water added during preparation or drinking. Examples of additional processing steps that occur before tea is sold are blending, flavouring, scenting, and decaffeination of teas. Examples of additions added at the point of consumption include milk, sugar and lemon.
Tea blending is the combination of different teas together to achieve the final product. Almost all tea in bags and most loose tea sold in the West is blended. Such teas may combine others from the same cultivation area or several different ones. The aim is to obtain consistency, better taste, higher price, or some combination of the three.
Flavoured and scented teas add new aromas and flavours to the base tea. This can be accomplished through directly adding flavouring agents, such as ginger or dried ginger, cloves, mint leaves, cardamom, bergamot (found in Earl Grey), vanilla, and spearmint. Alternatively, because tea easily retains odours, it can be placed in proximity to an aromatic ingredient to absorb its aroma, as in traditional jasmine tea.[unreliable source?]
The addition of milk to tea in Europe was first mentioned in 1680 by the epistolist Madame de Sévigné. Many teas are traditionally drunk with milk in cultures where dairy products are consumed. These include Indian masala chai and British tea blends. These teas tend to be very hearty varieties of black tea which can be tasted through the milk, such as Assams, or the East Friesian blend. Milk is thought to neutralise remaining tannins and reduce acidity. The Han Chinese do not usually drink milk with tea but the Manchus do, and the elite of the Qing Dynasty of the Chinese Empire continued to do so. Hong Kong-style milk tea is based on British colonial habits. Tibetans and other Himalayan peoples traditionally drink tea with milk or yak butter and salt. In Eastern European countries (Russia, Poland and Hungary) and in Italy, tea is commonly served with lemon juice. In Poland, tea with milk is called a bawarka (“Bavarian style”), and is often drunk by pregnant and nursing women. In Australia, tea with milk is white tea.
The order of steps in preparing a cup of tea is a much-debated topic, and can vary widely between cultures or even individuals. Some say it is preferable to add the milk before the tea, as the high temperature of freshly brewed tea can denature the proteins found in fresh milk, similar to the change in taste of UHT milk, resulting in an inferior-tasting beverage. Others insist it is better to add the milk after brewing the tea, as black tea is often brewed as close to boiling as possible. The addition of milk chills the beverage during the crucial brewing phase, if brewing in a cup rather than using a pot, meaning the delicate flavour of a good tea cannot be fully appreciated. By adding the milk afterwards, it is easier to dissolve sugar in the tea and also to ensure the desired amount of milk is added, as the colour of the tea can be observed. Historically, the order of steps was taken as an indication of class: only those wealthy enough to afford good-quality porcelain would be confident of its being able to cope with being exposed to boiling water unadulterated with milk. Higher temperature difference means faster heat transfer, so the earlier milk is added, the slower the drink cools. A 2007 study published in the European Heart Journal found certain beneficial effects of tea may be lost through the addition of milk.
Visit a tea plantation. Many plantations welcome visitors and offer guided tours. Some have websites that offer specific information about how to arrange a visit.
Partake in a tea ceremony in Japan or parts of the Middle East and North Africa.
Tea may be consumed early in the day to heighten calm alertness; it contains L-theanine, theophylline, and bound caffeine (sometimes called theine). Decaffeinated brands are also sold. While herbal teas are also referred to as tea, most of them do not contain leaves from the tea plant. While tea is the second most consumed beverage on Earth after water, in many cultures it is also consumed at elevated social events, such as the tea party.
Tea ceremonies have arisen in different cultures, such as the Chinese and Japanese traditions, each of which employs certain techniques and ritualised protocol of brewing and serving tea for enjoyment in a refined setting. One form of Chinese tea ceremony is the Gongfu tea ceremony, which typically uses small Yixing clay teapots and oolong tea.
In the United Kingdom, tea is consumed daily and is perceived as one of Britain’s cultural beverages. It is customary for a host to offer tea to guests soon after their arrival. Tea is consumed both at home and outside the home, often in cafés or tea rooms. Afternoon tea with cakes on fine porcelain is a cultural stereotype. In southwest England, many cafés serve a cream tea, consisting of scones, clotted cream, and jam alongside a pot of tea. In some parts of Britain & India ‘tea’ may also refer to the evening meal.
Ireland has long been one of the biggest per-capita consumers of tea in the world. The national average is four cups per person per day, with many people drinking six cups or more. Tea in Ireland is usually taken with milk or sugar and is slightly spicier and stronger than the traditional English blend.
Tea is prevalent in most cultures in the Middle East. In Arab culture, tea is a focal point for social gatherings.
Turkish tea is an important part of that country’s cuisine, and is the most commonly consumed hot drink, despite the country’s long history of coffee consumption. In 2004 Turkey produced 205,500 tonnes of tea (6.4% of the world’s total tea production), which made it one of the largest tea markets in the world, with 120,000 tons being consumed in Turkey, and the rest being exported. In 2010 Turkey had the highest per capita consumption in the world at 2.7 kg. As of 2013, the per-capita consumption of Turkish tea exceeds 10 cups per day and 13.8 kg per year. Tea is grown mostly in Rize Province on the Black Sea coast.
In Iranian culture, tea is so widely consumed, it is generally the first thing offered to a household guest.
Russia has a long, rich tea history dating to 1638 when tea was introduced to Tsar Michael. Social gatherings were considered incomplete without tea, which was traditionally brewed in a samovar, and today 82% of Russians consume tea daily.
In Pakistan, both black and green teas are popular and are known locally as sabz chai and kahwah, respectively. The popular green tea called kahwah is often served after every meal in the Pashtun belt of Balochistan and in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, which is where the Khyber Pass is found. In central and southern Punjab and the metropolitan Sindh region of Pakistan, tea with milk and sugar (sometimes with pistachios, cardamom, etc.), commonly referred to as chai, is widely consumed. It is the most common beverage of households in the region. In the northern Pakistani regions of Chitral and Gilgit-Baltistan, a salty, buttered Tibetan-style tea is consumed.
In the transnational Kashmir region, which straddles the border between India and Pakistan, Kashmiri chai or noon chai, a pink, creamy tea with pistachios, almonds, cardamom, and sometimes cinnamon, is consumed primarily at special occasions, weddings, and during the winter months when it is sold in many kiosks.
Indian tea culture is strong – the drink is the most popular hot beverage in the country. It is consumed daily in almost all houses, offered to guests, consumed in high amounts in domestic and official surroundings, and is made with the addition of milk with or without spices, and usually sweetened. At homes it is sometimes served with biscuits to be dipped in the tea and eaten before consuming the tea. More often than not, it is drunk in “doses” of small cups (referred to as “Cutting” chai if sold at street tea vendors) rather than one large cup. On 21 April 2012, the Deputy Chairman of Planning Commission (India), Montek Singh Ahluwalia, said tea would be declared as national drink by April 2013. The move is expected to boost the tea industry in the country. Speaking on the occasion, Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi said a special package for the tea industry would be announced in the future to ensure its development. The history of tea in India is especially rich.
In Burma (Myanmar), tea is consumed not only as hot drinks, but also as sweet tea and green tea known locally as laphet-yay and laphet-yay-gyan, respectively. Pickled tea leaves, known locally as laphet, are also a national delicacy. Pickled tea is usually eaten with roasted sesame seeds, crispy fried beans, roasted peanuts and fried garlic chips.
In Mali, gunpowder tea is served in series of three, starting with the highest oxidisation or strongest, unsweetened tea, locally referred to as “strong like death”, followed by a second serving, where the same tea leaves are boiled again with some sugar added (“pleasant as life”), and a third one, where the same tea leaves are boiled for the third time with yet more sugar added (“sweet as love”). Green tea is the central ingredient of a distinctly Malian custom, the “Grin”, an informal social gathering that cuts across social and economic lines, starting in front of family compound gates in the afternoons and extending late into the night, and is widely popular in Bamako and other large urban areas.
In the United States, 80% of tea is consumed as iced tea. Sweet tea is native to the southeastern US, and is iconic in its cuisine.
Popular varieties of black tea include Assam, Nepal, Darjeeling, Nilgiri, Rize, Keemun, and Ceylon teas.
Many of the active substances in black tea do not develop at temperatures lower than 90 °C (194 °F). As a result, black tea in the West is usually steeped in water near its boiling point, at around 99 °C (210 °F). Since boiling point drops with increasing altitude, it is difficult to brew black tea properly in mountainous areas.
Western black teas are usually brewed for about four minutes. In many regions of the world, however, actively boiling water is used and the tea is often stewed. In India, black tea is often boiled for fifteen minutes or longer to make Masala chai, as a strong brew is preferred. Tea is often strained while serving.
A food safety management group of the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) has published a standard for preparing a cup of tea (ISO 3103: Tea – Preparation of liquor for use in sensory tests), primarily intended for standardizing preparation for comparison and rating purposes.
In regions of the world that prefer mild beverages, such as the Far East, green tea is steeped in water around 80 to 85 °C (176 to 185 °F). Regions such as North Africa or Central Asia prefer a bitter tea, and hotter water is used. In Morocco, green tea is steeped in boiling water for 15 minutes.
The container in which green tea is steeped is often warmed beforehand to prevent premature cooling. High-quality green and white teas can have new water added as many as five or more times, depending on variety, at increasingly higher temperatures.
Oolong tea is brewed around 82 to 96 °C (185 to 205 °F), with the brewing vessel warmed before pouring the water. Yixing purple clay teapots are the traditional brewing-vessel for oolong tea which can be brewed multiple times from the same leaves, unlike green tea, seeming to improve with reuse. In the southern Chinese and Taiwanese Gongfu tea ceremony, the first brew is discarded, as it is considered a rinse of leaves rather than a proper brew.
Pu-erh teas require boiling water for infusion. Some prefer to quickly rinse pu-erh for several seconds with boiling water to remove tea dust which accumulates from the ageing process, then infuse it at the boiling point (100 °C or 212 °F), and allow it to steep from 30 seconds to five minutes.
Meaning “spiced tea”, masala chai tea is prepared using black or green tea with milk (in which case it may be called a “latte”), and may be spiced with ginger.
Cold brew tea
While most tea is prepared using hot water, it is also possible to brew a beverage from tea using room temperature or cooled water. This requires longer steeping time to extract the key components, and produces a different flavour profile. Cold brews use about 1.5 times the tea leaves that would be used for hot steeping, and are refrigerated for 4–10 hours. The process of making cold brew tea is much simpler than that for cold brew coffee.
Cold brewing has some disadvantages compared to hot steeping. If the leaves or source water contain unwanted bacteria, they may flourish, whereas using hot water has the benefit of killing most bacteria. This is less of a concern in modern times and developed regions. Cold brewing may also allow for less caffeine to be extracted.
Pouring from height
The flavour of tea can also be altered by pouring it from different heights, resulting in varying degrees of aeration. The art of elevated pouring is used principally to enhance the flavour of the tea, while cooling the beverage for immediate consumption.
In Southeast Asia, the practice of pouring tea from a height has been refined further using black tea to which condensed milk is added, poured from a height from one cup to another several times in alternating fashion and in quick succession, to create a tea with entrapped air bubbles, creating a frothy “head” in the cup. This beverage, teh tarik, literally, “pulled tea” (which has its origin as a hot Indian tea beverage), has a creamier taste than flat milk tea and is common in the region.
Of course the obvious thing for a tea connoisseur to buy is tea, but there are also countries with a tradition of artisanal manufacturing of teacups and other vessels used for tea-making and -drinking. Japan, for example, is well-known for its Zen aesthetic of simple and appealing teacups, saucers and other ceramic items. Morocco and Turkey have wonderful and often highly decorative ceramic teacups and teapots. When visiting Russia, smaller versions of samovars make for good souvenirs. The United Kingdom, with its long-held tradition of afternoon tea among the nobility, is also known for producing some of the finest examples of ceramic tea sets. Unsurprisingly, as the country of origin for drinking tea, China also has a long tradition of making high quality ceramic tea sets, though you will need to do your homework to ensure that you are not ripped off.
Not all countries that produce wonderful ceramics and metalware traditionally drink tea in huge quantities. Italians do drink tea, but the country is better known for its coffee. However, if you are a tea-drinker travelling through Italy, you are likely to see beautiful cups for sale, and they are equally good to use for tea, hot chocolate or coffee.
In 1907, American tea merchant Thomas Sullivan began distributing samples of his tea in small bags of Chinese silk with a drawstring. Consumers noticed they could simply leave the tea in the bag and reuse it with fresh tea. However, the potential of this distribution and packaging method would not be fully realised until later on. During World War II, tea was rationed in the United Kingdom. In 1953, after rationing in the UK ended, Tetley launched the tea bag to the UK and it was an immediate success.
The “pyramid tea bag” (or sachet), introduced by Lipton and PG Tips/Scottish Blend in 1996, attempts to address one of the connoisseurs’ arguments against paper tea bags by way of its three-dimensional tetrahedron shape, which allows more room for tea leaves to expand while steeping. However, some types of pyramid tea bags have been criticised as being environmentally unfriendly, since their synthetic material is not as biodegradable as loose tea leaves and paper tea bags.
The tea leaves are packaged loosely in a canister, paper bag, or other container such as a tea chest. Some whole teas, such as rolled gunpowder tea leaves, which resist crumbling, are sometimes vacuum-packed for freshness in aluminised packaging for storage and retail. The loose tea must be individually measured for use, allowing for flexibility and flavour control at the expense of convenience. Strainers, tea balls, tea presses, filtered teapots, and infusion bags prevent loose leaves from floating in the tea and over-brewing. A traditional method uses a three-piece lidded teacup called a gaiwan, the lid of which is tilted to decant the tea into a different cup for consumption.
Compressed tea (such as pu-erh) is produced for convenience in transport, storage, and ageing. It can usually be stored longer without spoilage than loose leaf tea.
Compressed tea is prepared by loosening leaves from the cake using a small knife, and steeping the extracted pieces in water. During the Tang dynasty, as described by Lu Yu, compressed tea was ground into a powder, combined with hot water, and ladled into bowls, resulting in a “frothy” mixture. In the Song dynasty, the tea powder would instead be whisked with hot water in the bowl. Although no longer practiced in China today, the whisking method of preparing powdered tea was transmitted to Japan by Zen Buddhist monks, and is still used to prepare matcha in the Japanese tea ceremony.
Compressed tea was the most popular form of tea in China during the Tang dynasty. By the beginning of the Ming dynasty, it had been displaced by loose-leaf tea. It remains popular, however, in the Himalayan countries and Mongolian steppes. In Mongolia, tea bricks were ubiquitous enough to be used as a form of currency. Among Himalayan peoples, compressed tea is consumed by combining it with yak butter and salt to produce butter tea.
“Instant tea”, similar to freeze-dried instant coffee and an alternative to brewed tea, can be consumed either hot or cold. Instant tea was developed in the 1930s, with Nestlé introducing the first commercial product in 1946, while Redi-Tea debuted instant iced tea in 1953.
Delicacy of flavour is sacrificed for convenience. Additives such as chai, vanilla, honey or fruit, are popular, as is powdered milk.
During the Second World War British and Canadian soldiers were issued an instant tea known as “Compo” in their Composite Ration Packs. These blocks of instant tea, powdered milk, and sugar were not always well received. As Royal Canadian Artillery Gunner, George C Blackburn observed:
But, unquestionably, the feature of Compo rations destined to be remembered beyond all others is Compo tea…Directions say to “sprinkle powder on heated water and bring to the boil, stirring well, three heaped teaspoons to one pint of water.”
Every possible variation in the preparation of this tea was tried, but…it always ended up the same way. While still too hot to drink, it is a good-looking cup of strong tea. Even when it becomes just cool enough to be sipped gingerly, it is still a good-tasting cup of tea, if you like your tea strong and sweet. But let it cool enough to be quaffed and enjoyed, and your lips will be coated with a sticky scum that forms across the surface, which if left undisturbed will become a leathery membrane that can be wound around your finger and flipped away…
Bottled and canned tea
Canned tea is sold prepared and ready to drink. It was introduced in 1981 in Japan.
The first bottled tea introduced by Indonesian tea company PT. Sinar Sosro in 1969 with brand name Teh Botol Sosro (or Sosro bottled tea).
In 1983, Swiss-based Bischofszell Food Ltd., was the first company to bottle iced tea on an industrial scale.
Caffeine is probably the safest and most widely-used recreational drug but it does present some risks—chiefly, addiction. Side effects are likely to be mild and consist of headaches from withdrawal. Make sure to monitor your caffeine intake, especially if you are also a coffee or soda drinker.
China and India have millennia of safe and natural tea production to their credit, but between aggressive demands for worldwide exportation and cost-cutting measures, toxic pesticides can be present in these drinks, nowadays. It is worth reading up on any controversial brands. Additionally, tea production in Kenya and other parts of East Africa can sometimes employ child labour. Try to be an informed consumer.
Also note that a common scam in China involves inviting unwitting tourists to a tea house where men will be duped into talking with beautiful women and then find that their tea purchases cost an extortionate amount.
Tea ceremonies can be very formal affairs that are culturally significant. Showing respect to the order and lengthiness of a tea ceremony is basic good manners. In some places, turning down tea is considered rude. For instance, if you are traveling in Tibet and wish not to partake, simply leave your butter tea in front of you without drinking it. (And if you drink a little bit just to be polite, note that the custom is to never let the cup be empty, so your host will certainly fill it up again!)
Although drinking tea is rarely regarded as a vice around the world, its consumption is religiously forbidden for Mormons, Seventh Day Adventists and Hare Krishnas due to its caffeine content.