Take a trip around the world at teatime to discover the cups and customs of other countries.
Ever wonder how tea drinkers abroad enjoy their steeps? If you’re intrigued, then join us for a sipping tour as we take a look at teacups, steeps, and tea customs around the world.
First destination, India!
Chai is the traditional Indian blend of tea and commonly served by street venders (otherwise known as wallahs), almost always with a heavy dose of milk and sugar.
Chai is a combination of black tea, ginger, and spices such as cinnamon, cardamon, cloves, black peppercorns and more. Many households boast their own special recipe, but most Indians believe the secret ingredient to best enjoying this creamy blend, is drinking it from a Bhar cup.
These small cups are handmade from natural clay. Formerly the standard teacup all over India, Bhar cups unfortunately became less and less common as plastic ones took their place. Not only are these natural tea cups biodegradable and eco-friendly, but their manufacturing can provide a sustainable profession for Indian families.
Once you’ve received your cup of Chai, you may like to grab a sweet snack (such as some jalebi), or something salty to balance the sweetness of the tea (like a samosa). Then following tradition, you can enjoy your tea time right in the street, and finish by breaking your little clay cup.
Traveler’s tip: Chai is the Hindu word for tea, and asking for Chai tea in India would be like asking for tea tea. So next time you find yourself on the streets of India, try asking for “Masala chai,” rather, which means spice tea.
This August we sent out our Summer Orchard Chai blend which marries this classic Indian combination of spices, with the twist of the inclusion of dried apple pieces to accent the sweet notes of a relaxing summer.
If you’d like to embark on your own monthly discovering of luxury loose leaf blends, you can sign up here!
Next stop, Russia!
Although the Russians are well known for their love of vodka, tea wins first place as their most consumed beverage (excluding water).
Tea was traditionally steeped on top of a big metal water boiler called a Samovar, now viewed more as a novelty object, that sat directly under the teapot. Once the tea was poured, you could add as much water as you wished from the Samovar to achieve your preferred strength.
Having previously used glass cups for tea drinking, the Russians invented the Podstakannik in the 1930s, to spare their hands from holding hot glasses of tea. Now an iconic symbol in Russian culture, Podstakannik is the Russian word for “thing under the glass,” and even though the translation is less than elegant, the object is an intricately welded, metal cup holder that fits perfectly around the older glass tea cups.
If you aren’t served tea in a teaglass with a metal holder, then you may like to try drinking your tea directly from the cup saucer, as this is still a commonly practiced tradition in Russia.
At teatime, it’s customary to serve cakes, cookies, and if you’re lucky, you may even get to taste a teatime specialty, homemade jam, which is frequently the product of a favourite summer pastime in Russia, berry picking.
Traveler’s tip: It’s considered impolite not to taste the cakes and cookies served with tea, so be sure to always take a nibble of at least one of the goodies.
Speaking of berries, in our August teabox, we sent out a bold black tea blend, infused with berry brightness: Raspberry Ice. It’s an ode to simple and tasty teatime in Russia. And it’s sure to quench your thirst, whether brewed hot in the cooler months, or served chilled on a hot day.
Let’s now head for a warmer climate. Direction, Argentina!
Enjoyed in every part of the country, maté (pronounced ma-tay) plays an essential role in the daily life of most Argentinians.
Even though maté is known for its extra strong caffeine levels, it’s drunk throughout the entire day, from sunup to sun down.
Usually enjoyed by a group of people who sit in a circle and share the same cup, drinking maté is one of Argentina’s most popular social activities.
Maté is made by using the whole branch of native-to-Argentina plant, rather than just the leaves (psst… It’s not the same plant that is used for green teas and black teas. To learn more about that, click here). The loose leaf and hot water are steeped together in a hollowed-out gourd, then the tea is filtered with each sip through a metal straw that was specially constructed for maté, called a bombilla. Each person takes a sip, then passes on the gourd, thus the reason for sitting in a circle. A “host” will prepare the tea, then refill the gourd with hot water whenever necessary.
Since any time of the day holds the possibility of turning into teatime in Argentina, it’s not uncommon to see people walking around with small brown sacks that hold all they need to enjoy a cup anytime, anywhere.
Traveler’s tip: Maté is regularly served until late in the evening in Argentina. But if you’re new to drinking maté, you may want to steer clear of enjoying this rich tea after dinner, since its caffeine dosage can be strong enough to keep you awake through the next morning. Unless, of course, pulling an all-nighter is your cup of tea. 😉
As September represents back-to-school time for many people (teachers, students, parents, administrators), we curated a special blend to include in September’s teabox: Study Buddy. It combines the naturally-energizing South American maté with the brain-protective antioxidants and yummy flavours of select dried fruits and herbs.
And now let’s travel to the birthplace of tea. China is our next stopping place!
Across several centuries, the Chinese have savoured the flavour, health benefits, and convenience of tea.
Throughout the years, enjoying a cup of tea has taken on many different customs and meanings in China.
One which continues to be observed today is Gongfu. Deemed a tea ceremony by some, this custom focuses on fully experiencing all that preparing a cup of tea has to offer, by taking in every sweet detail of each moment. This value is close to the heart of our founder, Alisa, as reflected in this article she wrote: A Mindful Approach to Tea.
Although all types of tea are enjoyed in China, the leaves of oolong and pu-erh steeps are particularly appreciated in a tea ceremony, for the beauty they offer as they unfold during steeping.
Adding to the experience of appreciating details, traditional Chinese tea cups are rather small, sometimes intricately decorated, and rarely higher than five centimeters.
Traveler’s tip: In a Chinese tea house you may notice customers tapping the table or countertop with their index and middle fingers after each time they’re served a cup of tea. This custom, originating in an old Chinese legend, is still accepted in China today as a polite way of saying thank you when receiving a cup of tea.
Did you know that tea can even be useful for cleaning and deodorizing? Check out this article to learn more.
Arriving at the country which claims the highest tea consumption in the world per capita, our journey brings us to Turkey
Most folks living in Turkey go through life including tea in every social event, big or small.
After WWI, Turkey’s access to coffee became limited, and as a result, tea growing and production here increased. Now Turkey is one of the highest producers of tea across the board.
Tea in Turkey is usually drunk from a small, tulip shaped glass with a particularly deep formed saucer that allows servers to easily carry several at a time. Not uncommon to see in Turkish cafés is the serving of tea from a stack of two teapots (called a çaydanlık). The top pot holds strongly brewed black tea, and the bottom one contains hot water, so that customers can add water as needed.
Turks often take their tea very sweet, but rarely ever with lemon or creamer, preferring to focus on the subtle flavours of the tea leaves.
Traveler’s tip: Since serving tea is a sign of hospitality in Turkey, you may find your teacup being filled and refilled without having asked for more. So when you want to signal that you’ve had your fill of tea, all you need to do is place your teaspoon across the top of your teacup.
As we come to our journey’s end, our last stop is Japan.
Though casually having a cup of tea is often enjoyed as a good excuse to get together with friends, or indulge in a moment of rest, traditional Japanese tea ceremonies have a reputation for being a very precise and classic cultural experience.
The Japanese boast two different customary styled tea cups.
Commonly used in everyday tea drinking is the Yunomi teacup. It’s long and narrow shape indicates a minimalist tendency, and celebrates the appreciation of simplicity.
More well known for the place it holds in time-honoured Japanese tea ceremonies is the chawan, a wide rimmed tea bowl used for mixing matcha green tea.
It is typically accompanied by a chashaku, which is a bamboo scoop for measuring out the matcha, and a chasen, which is used to whisk the matcha powder and the hot water to create a smooth consistency.
Though casually having a cup of tea is often enjoyed as a good excuse to get together with friends, or indulge a moment of rest, traditional Japanese tea ceremonies have a reputation for being a very precise and classic cultural experience. Formal versions of ceremonies are carried out by a designated host who has gone to a special school to receive training in how to properly guide the rituals, which actually come from Chinese Zen practices.
Taking tea to a whole new level, many Japanese homes are accompanied by a small added-on structure, usually near the back of the house, called a tea room, which is reserved for observing tea ceremonies, or for quietly enjoying a cup of tea in a calm and simple atmosphere
Traveler’s tip: In Japan it’s considered polite to drink your tea by holding the cup with both hands, and impolite to blow on your tea if it’s too hot. So you can think back to the words you may have heard as a child “use both hands,” and practice the virtue of quiet patience if your tea needs time to cool down.
Sencha is the most popular style of green tea in Japan. Marrying the bright and astringent qualities of a luxury Sencha with an element from home, our Niagara Peach green tea is full-bodied and blended with jasmine petals and natural flavours, reminiscent of a mindful afternoon stroll in an orchard.
Each month, subscribers to myteabox.ca receive three fresh blends of loose leaf tea. Each blend is hand-packaged with heart, right here in Canada. The selections are seasonally curated, bringing exciting discoveries of premium teas right to your mailbox (also, shipping is free!).
Thanks for being our travel buddy on this tour of international tea drinking! If you’re looking for more interesting arTEAcles 😉 like this one, you can find some here. We hope that you’ve enjoyed this trip, and we look forward to delivering you more fun reads and delicious steeps soon!