Despite all the many and various drinks available today, tea’s second only to water in popularity. It’s almost a universal truth that no matter where one goes, a cup of tea is usually offered as refreshment. Obviously, there’s great variety in tea culture from nation to nation depending upon the local customs in place.
Oxalis is a Czech company, so it’s as good a place to start as any. Tea vendors and shops exist throughout the country, and consumers enjoy many and various types, as is proven by the variety in our assortment. However, the most interesting aspect of its culture is the “čajovna” (pronounced chai-ovna). These are tea rooms that resemble North African environments, featuring low tables, cushions, mats, hookah pipes and such paraphernalia.
In the British Isles, drinking tea’s an intrinsic part of the life. On average, Brits drink six cups a day, predominantly blends of black tea (Assam, Darjeeling, Ceylon). Here’s more on how they customarily partake of a cuppa...
Typically, the day starts with an Early Morning blend of tea. An accompaniment to breakfast may take the form of a Breakfast tea blend, often served with milk with sugar to taste. Afternoon Tea is a tradition where a pot of tea is enjoyed with sandwiches (usually cucumber) and/or scones (a kind of simple sweetbread) with jam and cream. However, habits change, meaning this and High Tea, when whole families would gather together, are becoming a thing of the past or simply a tourist attraction. High Tea still holds a place in some people’s affections though, which calls for strong tea, cold meat, scrambled eggs and ham, salads, fruits and desserts. For those wishing to splash out, the ritual of High Tea is offered at swanky hotels, such as The Ritz, Waldorf, Savoy and Brown’s Hotel in London, perhaps with a Tea Dance.
The people of these nations generally consume teas of all types – black, green, oolong, fruit and herbal.
Those who favour green and black varieties place emphasis on high quality and usually seek out expensive types, so most small towns or even villages boast either a specialist tea shop, a store selling natural products, a chemist’s or pharmacy with loose-leaf teas of a high standard. This habit’s informed by the history of Hamburg as a major port and an important crossroads, as well as one of Europe’s centres for tea. The port’s warehouses usually accommodate up to 7,000-8,000 tons of tea from various sources, hence German traders have always had very easy access to the commodity. In Germany, most tea is consumed in East Frisia, near the northern border with Holland, where consumers get through around 2.5 kg per person, about ten times more than their fellow citizens. Local rituals have evolved that utilise small cups, rock sugar and cream, which is never stirred. Coffee is preferred elsewhere, though, with eastern Germans only consuming 150g of tea per person per year.
Russia is home to the samovar, a key part of its tea culture. It comprises three elements: i. a lower section for charcoal, although modern types can use electricity as a heat source; ii. a cylindrical container that holds water; iii. a teapot at the top. The water is heated, as is the teapot, and the water makes specific sounds that signify what stage of boiling it is at: first it “sings,” then it “murmurs” and finally it “rages”. When murmuring, it’s time to make tea. After putting twice the usual amount of tea in the teapot, the tap is turned on the urn containing the boiling water and it’s poured into the teapot, which is then put back on the samovar. About 10 minutes later the very potent brew is ready. The strong tea is poured into the cup or glass and then diluted to taste with hot water. This is repeated until the contents of the teapot or the water from the samovar are exhausted. The aroma markedly varies with differences in water temperature.
Tea is commonplace in Russia and other countries in the former Soviet Union. It’s mostly sold from a samovar with metal handles and drunk from a glass. Typically, the brew’s made from strong Georgian tea and very frequently served with sugar, supplemented by a slice of lemon or even a teaspoon of jam.
The French don’t really go in for tea, but they’re very demanding if they do. The preference is for high-quality teas, such as Darjeeling or Oolong. Paris is where it’s at, with the “Salon de Thé” being the phrase to look out for. These places take the form of spacious, fancy cafes with a sense of calm. The tea is always of a high quality and is prepared and served in a refined way. Of course, there’s an option to partake of biscuits, pastries or desserts. Examples in Paris include Mariage Frerés (30-32, rue du Bourg–Tibourg),which boasts a small tea museum and restaurant; the Mariage family has been importing tea into France since the 17th century; while another pleasant stop is the salon Angélina (226, rue de Rivoli), where they still use silver tea sets; it was established in 1903 by the Austrian confectioner Anton Rumpelmeyer. A more north African experience can be found at La Moskguée (39, rue Geoffroy St. Hilaire).
Historically, in France in the 18th and 19th centuries, tea was served using silver tea sets or the finest porcelain, and drinking it was de rigueur in high society, much like the rest central and western Europe. By the end of the 19th century, tea had spread beyond the cities to spa towns, luxury hotels and other places frequented by the wealthy. Indeed, a “Salon de Thé” was one of only a few public places where a woman could go without an escort and not have to worry about blemishing her reputation.
Tea culture in India and Pakistan, probably 2,000 years younger than in China, still feels the influence of the English colonists of bygone days. India not only produces, but also consumes great amounts of tea. In the north, they prefer a strong Assam with plentiful sugar and milk. It’s possible to buy it cheaply in towns from stands situated on every corner run by “Chai Wallahs”. A popular variant comes from the Himalayas, known as “masala chai”, which is flavoured with cardamom and other types of spice. Tea can also be enjoyed on long train rides, purchased from Chai Wallahs .
Tea has become the national drink of Afghanistan. The same is true of Iran, which adopted the samovar at the same time as tea. It’s enjoyed both privately and publicly, in tea rooms, where locals sit sipping heavily sweetened green or black tea, smoking water pipes and chatting. The local people are very musical, so they often play music and sing when drinking tea.
As for Turkey, black tea consumption exceeds that of coffee, where it’s served as sweetened in small glasses.
Tea remains the most popular drink in East Asia, particularly in nations with a tradition of cultivation, such as China, Japan and Taiwan. Tea is consumed in China between meals at any hour of the day - whether at home, out on the street, during business meetings, in restaurants and tearooms, offices or on the train.
Given the chance, it’s well worth enjoying a cup of tea at one of the luxury hotels that still retain some traces of colonial times, for example, the Peninsula in Hong Kong, Raffles in Singapore and the Oriental in Bangkok.
In Tibet, an invitation to tea is a natural expression of local hospitality, although most Europeans wouldn’t be familiar with how it’s prepared. A tea brick (tea leaves compressed to form a brick) is cut into pieces, which are then boiled in a pot with water. The resulting liquid is poured into a small wooden barrel (a “gugurtchai”), salt is added, as is yak’s butter or goat’s milk, and it’s stirred with a wooden stick. Guests are ushered into a living room with a fire, where they sit on cushions at a low table, which is set with tea bowls, a container of butter and a jar of “tsampa” (a paste of roasted grain made into small cakes). Tibetan monasteries have made tea part of their religious rituals, also serving as a sacrificial offering.
This nation is famous for its tea culture and ceremony. In fact, drinking tea has become something of an art form and is part of an individual’s spiritual journey. However, most people also enjoy tea in a simpler, much more straightforward way.
The country is full of tea shops that offer quality teas and everything necessary to perform the Tea Ceremony. Although the locally grown green tea is widely consumed, black tea, oolong and aromatic teas are imported.
Drinking tea is part of normal life in Africa. Strong Assam is drunk in Egypt, as are various types of Sri Lankan tea, often sweetened with sugar but without milk. Simple tea shacks sell it in glasses, and it’s drunk while sitting on a mat, while more European-style outlets favour standard cups.
Morocco is associated with “thé a la menthe”, green tea from China mixed with mint, a beverage that’s been popular since the mid-19th century. It’s often served in ornamented glasses conveyed on copper or silver trays, even in luxurious hotels. The habit of sitting on mats also exists in some venues.
Tea in the North America has became associated with the Boston Tea Party, which effectively started the War of Independence. Since then, tea’s popularity has ebbed away. In fact, five times more coffee than tea is drunk by the populace. Nevertheless, iced tea with a lot of sugar and lemon is popular. Specialist outlets exist, though, as do tea rooms, where high quality tea can be purchased.
In South America, the most popular drink is máte by a long way, which is outlined in a separate article.