The Chinese drink green tea as their national everyday beverage, just as they did centuries ago, and offer a bowlful to all guests upon arrival in the home. In some houses, the traditional ‘gongfu’ ceremony is performed using a set of delicate tea bowls, straight-sided smelling cups, a small earthenware teapot and the traditional method of making several infusions from the same measure of leaves, each with its own individual aroma and flavour. The same carefully choreographed preparation and serving of tea is also part of life in Chinese retail stores and tea rooms and groups of customers sometimes sit for an hour or more trying different teas brewed carefully by the shop owner before deciding which to buy. Chinese social life still centres around the tea house, where people of all types and ages mingle, drink tea, and catch up with the latest gossip. The different teas are brewed in glasses, guywans or teapots, with additional water often poured onto the same leaves to give several infusions. While groups of friends chat, watch a performance of Beijing Opera, a group of acrobats or musicians, a waiter moves around the room, dispensing more water from a kettle with a long spout.
Learning to perform the tea ceremony in Korea.
In Korea, the brewing and serving of tea has close connections with Buddhist monasteries and each element of the ceremony has a spiritual significance and purpose. The ritual prepares and encourages those taking part to enter the quiet ceremony with their senses and spirit open to an enjoyment of all the details of each action and an appreciation of the connections between the physical objects – the water, the fire, the teapot and bowls – and his or her place in the world and relationship with other people and the wider universe. The tea master prepares the tea in a small pot and serves it in tiny bowls to the guests who bow to each other before admiring the visual beauty of the liquor, enjoying the aroma and savouring the tea’s flavour. Several infusions are made from one measure of leaf and when all the tea has been drunk, the guests again bow to each other and to their host and take their leave.
In China, tea is often drunk from guywans, as in this tea house.
In Mongolia, ‘brick’ tea is crushed and brewed with water and yak buttermilk, the liquor is then strained and mixed with milk, salt, butter and roasted grain. In Tibet, brick tea is crushed and soaked in water overnight and the infusion is then churned with salt, goat’s milk and yak butter to produce a thick buttery drink. Sometimes a handful or two of grain is added to make a nourishing, soup-like food known as ‘tsampa’. Both Mongolian and Tibetan tea are drunk from a bowl rather than a cup.
The Russians have always traditionally brewed their tea with a samovar – an urn that developed from the Mongolian cooking stove and that consists of a pot set on top of a tall chimney sitting over a fire (as in Japan and Europe, the local tea-drinkers adapted the method of brewing that they learnt from the Chinese to suit their own cooking methods and equipment). A little pot of black tea is brewed very strong and then placed, to keep warm, on the top of the samovar. When tea is served, a cup is half filled with the strong tea, watered down with hot water drawn from the tap in the side of the samovar, and drunk with sugar or jam.
In Turkey, a strong black brew is prepared and strained into tulipshaped glasses and served with little sweetmeats. In the eastern part of the country, a cube of sugar is placed under the tongue before the tea is sipped from the glass. Some Turks drink so much tea that they carry a ‘semover’, like a Russian samovar, in the back of their car so as to always be able to boil water for tea. In domestic life, tea has great importance; mothers always ensure their daughters know how to brew tea correctly.
In Iran and Afghanistan, tea is the national beverage. Both green and black are used – green as a refreshing thirst quencher and black as a warming, comforting brew, and both types are taken with sugar. At home and in the popular tea houses, drinkers sit cross-legged on floormats and sip their tea from glasses or elegant porcelain bowls.
Moroccans have also drunk tea for centuries, having learnt the custom from early Arab traders, and consider it an important part of any social or business occasion. At a Moroccan tea-drinking ceremony incense is lit, and all those taking part wash their hands in orange blossom water and watch while the host prepares the tea. Green tea, fresh mint and sugar are measured into a tall silver pot and hot water is then poured in. Little glasses are set ready on a tray and when the tea has brewed, the golden liquor is poured from a height so that it froths into the glasses and settles with a layer of tiny bubbles on the surface. Accompanying nibbles include dried apricots, figs and nuts.
In Egypt, the Bedouin version of the drink is made by boiling tea leaves and sweetening the infusion with plenty of sugar. Tea is also flavoured with dried mint leaves and served with sugar in glasses.
Tea Salon Bara-no-ki (Japanese for Rose Tea), an English-style tea room in Tokyo.
In Japan, the traditional Green Tea Ceremony (see pages 10 and 86) is still an important social ritual and the ability to perform it is considered an essential skill for well-educated young ladies. Although the most popular tea is still green, many Japanese today also enjoy black tea drunk in the British way with milk. Since the 1980s, many British-style tea rooms have opened in which traditional afternoon tea is served with sandwiches, scones and clotted cream, and little cakes and pastries. In some metropolitan areas, there are also some very stylish green tea ‘cafes’ that serve unusual flavoured and blended green teas.
Street sellers of tea in India.
In India, black tea is drunk with milk and sugar. Young boys (‘chai wallahs’) brew tea on street corners using kettles and brass pots and mix It with buffalo milk and sugar. They sell it to passers-by who drink it from little earthenware cups that are thrown away after use. Spiced tea, known as ‘chai’ or ‘marsala chai’ and made with pepper, cinnamon, cardamom, cloves and sugar, is also very popular. ‘Afternoon tea’, with savoury and sweet snacks, is served in the tea rooms of India’s smart hotels throughout the afternoon.
In Sri Lanka, lunchtime tea with ‘hoppers’ is a traditional institution. Hoppers are a type of pancake made with rice flour, coconut milk, sugar, salt and yeast and cooked in a special pan to give a bowl shape. They are served with a variety of curries and spicy sauces. In hotels, as in India, ‘afternoon tea’ is offered throughout the afternoon.
In Malaysia, tea is brewed very strong and then mixed with thick condensed milk and plenty of sugar. Sometimes the tea and condensed milk are mixed together and then poured several times between two jugs so that the liquid becomes deliciously frothy. The Malaysians also like iced tea, made by pouring strong hot tea and condensed milk over crushed ice.
Afternoon tea at the Hyatt Regency Churchill, London.
In the UK, black tea is still the preferred brew for most people but consumption of green and flavoured teas is on the increase. Many people start the day with a cup of tea in bed, more tea at breakfast and lunch and, increasingly, tea after the main meal in the evening. Afternoon tea at 4pm or 5pm is still a very important institution, with many families serving it at home at the weekend, and all the major hotels around the country offering pots of tea served with neat little sandwichcs, scones with jam and cream and a selection of elegant pastries and cakes.
31 Jan 2014