Tuesday, July 30, 2013

It’s Tea Time – Exploring Six Tea Rituals from Around the World

Today, The Everyday Tea Blog brings you a guest post by Brenna Ciummo, a writer for Seattle Coffee Gear. Turns out she knows a thing or two about tea traditions. 

Tea has been around for thousands of years, and for many, there is more to drinking tea than simply combining tea leaves with water. There is a relationship between the tea and the server, the tea ware, the guest and between the tea and oneself. As a result, many tea drinkers have developed daily rituals around tea, which are often designed to be a cozy or peaceful time that allows the individual to relax or spend time with friends and family. These rituals have become an integral part of tea culture, enticing people from around the world to create their own unique tea recipes and traditions.

Chinese Gong Fu Tea Ceremony

Also known as the Chinese tea ceremony, the original term for the ceremony, “gongfu cha” means, “making tea with effort.” The idea behind the ceremony is to focus on making quality tea; and that time, dedication and effort will create the ultimate experience. Generally oolong teas are used for the ceremony, and are steeped at least two times so that guests can appreciate the tea’s full flavor. The tea is served in small Yixing teapots and cups, which are designed to emphasize the beauty of the tea. In fact, when the tea is served, the guests are supposed to examine the brew’s color and fragrance before tasting.

Japanese Tea Ceremony

Like the Chinese tea ceremony, the Japanese tea ceremony requires putting great thought into your actions, especially your movements, when preparing the tea. However, the ceremony is not just about drinking the tea but also appreciating the aesthetic, ultimately providing a place to relax in peace with friends. The guests invited also play an important role, since the ceremony’s host is supposed to keep the guests in mind when preparing the tea and the tea utensils are placed from the guests’ point of view. The tea that is served is matcha (powered green tea), which is usually frothed with a whisk. Since the tea ceremony requires extensive preparation and knowledge, many people enroll in specialized classes or schools to learn how to master hosting the ceremony.

Indian Masala Chai

Drinking chai, which means “tea” in Hindi, is a way of life in India. However there is nothing commonplace about the way it is made. Recipes for making chai tea vary, and they are often passed down from one generation in a family to the next. Generally chai is brewed with an Indian black tea, water, milk, sweeteners and spices such as cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, cardamom and pepper. The drink is so popular in India that is usually the first thing served to guests and you can find Chaiwallahs (baristas who serve the drink) on nearly every street corner.  Visiting the stands of these vendors is a daily ritual for many people in India, since they are a source for town news and gossip.

British Afternoon Tea and High Tea

According to most histories it appears that Anna (the 7th Duchess of Bedford) started the first afternoon teatime in the early 1800s so she could indulge in a snack and appease her hunger pains that developed between lunch and the often late-evening dinner. The concept took off with England’s upper class, and became a fashionable social event that took place daily from 3:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. Meanwhile the working class adopted the tea as their main evening meal (which was served around 5:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m.) and termed the break “high tea” in reference to the high tables at which they ate. As afternoon tea become more established, various snacks, cakes, tea accouterments (tea caddies, tea balls, tea cozies, etc.) as well as rules for etiquette were created to bring out the best in tea.

Moroccan Mint Tea

Moroccan mint tea is an important cultural tradition in Morocco. Not only is the tea served multiple times a day as a part of meals, but it is also served as a form of hospitality and used to greet guests. The tea is usually made from strong gun power green tea (the tea is rolled into small round pellets that look like grains of black power), hot water, spearmint leaves and sugar. Once the tea has been steeped, it is served in an ornate teapot and glasses (not cups as in other parts of the world). The tea is poured from several feet in the air so foam forms on the top of the tea. Tradition states the tea should be served three times, so the drinker can detect the changes in the tea’s flavor over time as it steeps in the pot.

Russian Tea Ceremony

The Russian tea ceremony has a unique take on brewing tea. Instead of heating up the water for tea in a teapot, it is boiled in a samovar (a large heated metal container) while a smaller pot, placed on top of the samovar, is used to make a dark concentrated black tea called “zavarka.” Next the tea is poured into a cup and diluted with hot water from the samovar. Finally, a lemon slice is usually added to the tea. Many people consider this to be a Russian invention, and often call tea with lemon “Russian tea.” As with the other tea ceremonies, Russian tea ceremonies provide family and friends with a place to gather and socialize.

These traditions are nowhere near comprehensive. As tea continues to be one of the most popular beverages in the world -- it is only second to water -- people will keep creating tea rituals of their own. What’s your tea ritual? Do you take your tea hot or cold? Do you start the day with spot of tea, take a midday tea break or have a cuppa to relax at the end of the day? The options are endless.

Brenna Ciummo is a writer for Seattle Coffee Gear enjoys sharing her knowledge of all things coffee and tea. An avid tea drinker, she is always on the hunt for new teas and tea rituals to explore. 

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