Tea-drinking Around The World

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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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

Other Tea-producing Countries

Tea harvesters in Misiones, Argentina.
Tea harvesters in Misiones, Argentina.

Argentina

Argentina has been producing tea since the 1950s, mainly in the Misiones region in the north-east of the country and today exports approximately 50 million kg each year. Because of a shortage of labour, all the harvesting is carried out by large tractor-like machines which trundle between the rows of tea bushes. The teas give a dark liquor that has a plain, somewhat earthy taste and medium body and the majority of exports go to the US for the manufacture of iced tea.

Australia

First attempts at tea-growing were in the late 1800s but plants were washed away by a cyclone and tidal wave and no further attempts were made to grow tea commercially until 1959. In 1978, a new company, Madura Tea Estates, was established to grow tea in New South Wales. A mixture of both the Assam and Chinese variety of the tea plant is cultivated and the organically grown teas are generally blended with quality organic Ceylons and Assams to create a range of black, green and flavoured teas. The Nerada Tea Company markets tea grown on smallholder farms in the Nerada Valley of northern Queensland. After a major expansion programme into the Cairns Highlands in the 1980s, the company now produces 6 million kg of fresh leaf from 405 hectares (1000 acres) of land and the leaf is processed at the company’s factory at Glen Allyn and packed in Brisbane.

Azerbaijan

The total area under tea in the Lankaran-Astara and Zagatala regions of the country has decreased from 13,000 hectares (32,124 acres) in 1999 to approximately 7000 hectares (17,297 acres) today but in 2002, Azerbaijani tea won a gold prize at an international competition held in Madrid. Lankaran region has five tea factories and one packing factory. Domestic consumption is high and most of the tea drunk is imported.

Azores

Although there are no records to prove it, tea is believed to have been introduced to the Azores in 1750. Initial trials for commercial production started in the 1820s when seed from Brazil was planted at Calhetas, Santo Antonio and Calepas. The industry grew very slowly until the 1960s when tea production had risen to 300 tonnes (295 tons) cultivated on 300 hectares (741 acres). In 1984, the government brought in an expert from Mozambique to the island of San Miguel in order to oversee the establishment of new plantations, the introduction of new plants, and new cultivation and manufacturing processes. About 60 factories gradually closed down and today, the industry is very small with only two factories left in operation – Gorreana, founded in 1883, and Porto Formosa which was reopened in 2001. Most of the tea is sold locally to residents and tourists with a small percentage going to the USA, Canada, Germany and Austria. The teas produced include black (a Pekoe, a broken Orange Pekoe, a broken leaf and ‘Moinha’), a strong-flavoured tea made from the parts of the leaf that are most fully oxidized) and a steamed green Hyson.

Burundi

Commercial cultivation of tea started in Burundi in the early 1970s. Initially, production increased at a steady pace but, as in other African states, a history of political instability in the past had a negative impact on the industry. Today, tea is the country’s second export, accounting for 4-5 per cent of export earnings, production is increasing and efforts are being made to improve quality. Although privatisation has been discussed, the industry is still totally under state control and the Office de The du Burundi (OTB) holds the monopoly on manufacture in five factories.

Cameroon

The Germans took the first tea plants to Cameroon in 1914 and planted them at Tole on the fertile slopes Mount Cameroon. Tole is situated at a height of 600m (2,000ft) above sea level. Conditions here are ideal but recent unrest at the estate means that what were once excellent quality orthodox black teas are now less readily available.

Democratic Republic of Congo

Black tea is produced in the northeastern highland region, with an annual production of around just 3,000 tonnes (2,953 tons). Although the government has made attempts to increase production,annual output remains low and has in fact dropped since 1978.

Ecuador

Annually, 1,000 tonnes (984 tons)of tea a year are made on the Te Sangay Tea Estate on the ‘wrong’ side of a 200m- (650ft-) wide river, 915m (3,000ft) up in a stretch of land between the Andes and the Amazon jungle. After manufacture, the tea has to be transported across the river on trolleys that run along a cable to the road, where lorries load it and take it down to the port of Guayaquil.

Ethiopia

Ethiopia is relatively new to tea-growing. First experiments were carried out in the 1930s and since 1978, 2,200 hectares (5,435 acres) have been planted on two state-owned plantations at Wush Wush and Gumero, with further plantings and new factories planned. Until 1989, teas from elsewhere in Africa and China were imported to meet the domestic need but the government established national plantations to help reduce imports. The teas are now beginning to find customers in the European marketplace.

Iran

Since the early 1900s, Iran has been producing tea in the northern provinces of Gilan and Mazandaran. There are 57,000 local households now growing tea and selling their green leaf to 134 processing plants that manufacture black teas. The teas give a reddish, light, smooth liquor.

Italy

For hundreds of years, the Cattolica family of Sant-Andrea di Compito has been growing Camellias and in the 1980s, botanist Guido Cattolica started working with the Lucca (Tuscany) Botanical Garden to produce tea in a new experimental tea garden on the family property. Green teas are produced by the Japanese method of steaming, drying and rolling and Cattolica is now experimenting with oolongs.

Madagascar

The island’s clonal teas are grown at a height of 1,675m (5,500ft) on the Sahambavy tea plantation. The manufactured black teas give a bright coloured tea similar to the best East African teas. Production is seasonal, Mth growth slowing during the dry season of May to September.

Mauritius

Tea was first introduced to the island of Mauritius in the late 1760s by Frenchman Pierre Poivre. Since commercial production started in the 1960s, the Mauritius Tea Factories Company has been established to manage four factories owned by the Tea Development Authority. Economic pressures, high costs and high world tea prices have created problems for the industry. However, cultivation is continuing on small plots of land, leaves are plucked by hand early in the morning and processed by orthodox manufacturing methods. The black teas have a full flavour comparable to English Breakfast type liquors and combine strength with delicacy and an attractive fragrance.

Mozambique

Tea is grown in the agricultural Zambezi region of the country but production has declined over the past 30 years due to political unrest. The strong black teas are generally used in blends for teabags.

Papua New Guinea

Conditions of both climate and soil in Papua New Guinea are ideal for tea and the plant has been grown in the Western Highlands here since the 1800s. The mostly black teas are sold abroad for use in blends.

Russia

Cultivation goes back to 1833 when tea seeds were planted at Nikity Botanical Garden in the Crimea. After World War II, the industry expanded rapidly. The growing area is in Krasnodar province in the southwest of the country but production is low and quality poor.

South Africa

The first tea plants, brought from Kew Gardens in London, were planted in 1850 in Durban Botanical Gardens, Natal. Commercial cultivation started in 1877 using seeds from Assam and estates were then planted out in Kwa-Zulu-Natal (1959), in the Drakensberg Mountains in Eastern Transvaal, in other parts of Natal, in Transkei (1960s), in the Levubu area, in Venda and in central Zululand near Ntingwe (from 1973). However, the high costs of labour in recent times has led to the closure of all but the Kwa-Zulu-Natal plantations. Leaf is harvested during the short rainy season from November to March and most is processed into black tea by a modified CTC method. South Africa is also now famous for the production of Rooibos (also known as Rositea or Red Tea), which is processed from the leaf of Aspalathus linearis, not from Camellia sinensis.

Tanzania

German settlers were the first to grow tea at Amari and Rungwa in the early 1900s. Commercial production started in 1926 and the industry expanded steadily in the Southern Highlands and the Usambaras. The industry operates on two levels -private estates that grow and manufacture their own tea and smallholder farmers who sell their leaf to state-owned factories run by the Tanzania Tea Authority. Production varies from year to year depending on labour shortages, transportation problems, weather patterns, etc, and quality varies according to altitude and plucking standards. The black teas produced are all good-quality CTC and fetch average prices on world markets.

Tibet

Tibet has grown tea since the days of China’s Tang Dynasty (AD 618-906) and today the AU-The-Tea Company produces organic green tea at the Yigong Tea Plantation in Linzhi Prefecture. The plantation lies at an altitude of 3,650m (11,975ft) amongst high mountain peaks where the cool misty conditions are excellent for the tea bushes. Because of the high elevation, the tea is only harvested during one season each year.

Turkey

Since 1938, Turkey has been growing tea in the Rize district close to the Black Sea. The 60,000 farming families and local factories produce medium-grade tea that gives a dark liquor and a gende, almost sweet flavour. Turkish tea is mostly consumed domestically.

Uganda

Tea was introduced into the Botanic Gardens at Entebbe, Uganda, in 1909 but there was no commercial cultivation until the late 1920s when Brooke Bond began extensive planting. From the mid-1950s there was rapid expansion and by the early 1970s tea had become the country’s most important export. Political instability in the 1970s and ’80s brought a major decline but since 1989 a major rehabilitation of the plantations and factories has brought increased output. Ugandan teas are all black and most are exported for use in teabag blends.

Zimbabwe

Tea cultivation started here in the 1960s and there are now two main tea-growing areas – in Chipinge and Honde Valley in the south-east of the country. Rainfall is low, at only about 66cm (26in) a year, whereas 127cm (50in) is required. An efficient irrigation system is essential and the cold winter season means that the bush only grows from spring through to autumn. All the tea produced is black and is mostly exported for blending. Tea quality has gradually been diminishing over the past few years due to the country’s unstable financial and political situation under President Mugabe.

Tea plantation in Zimbabwe.
Tea plantation in Zimbabwe.

30 Jan 2014

Vietnamese Marble Mountain

The tea is named after the five mountains to the south of Da Nang. An ancient Vietnamese legend tells how, thousands of years ago, a dragon emerged from the sea and laid an egg on Non Nuoc beach. After 1000 days and nights, the shell began to crack open and a beautiful girl stepped out. Fragments of the shell were transformed into five marble mountains that were named by the king of the Nguyen Dynasty after the five elements.

Character

High grown and full of golden tips, this black Vietnamese tea gives a rich, coppery infusion that has a sweet, slightly spicy aroma and a smooth, sweet, slightly woody, earthy character that is somewhat similar to that of black teas from China.

Brewing Tips

Brew 2.5-3g (0.09-0.10oz) in 200ml (7fl oz) of boiling water for 3-4 minutes in Zen Classic Heat Resistant Glass Tea Set.

29 Jan 2014

Lotus Blossom

The ancient traditional way of scenting teas inside lotus blossoms is gradually dying out and more modern methods are being used that layer the stamens of the flower heads with the green tea so that the perfume is gradually absorbed.

Character

The neat twists of dark green leaves yield a crystal clear, golden liquor that has a clean, slightly aniseedy flavour and a hint of bitterness in the lingering aftertaste.

Brewing Tips

Brew 2.5-3g (0.09-0.10oz) in 200ml (7fl oz) water at 65-75°C (149-167°F) for 2-3 minutes in Thermotolerant Glass Tea Set. Strain and add more water for a further one or two infusions.

29 Jan 2014

Ancient Lotus

The lotus is a symbol of eternity and good fortune, beauty and purity and the flower has long been used to scent high-grade green tea. Originally created for King Tu Due during the days of the Nguyen Dynasty, his servants would row across a lake to the place in the water where the lotus grew. They carefully peeled back the fragile petals of the blossoms and placed a small handful of green tea leaves inside. Then they closed the petals tightly around the tea and bound each bloom so that it kept the tea safe and dry overnight while absorbing the flower’s scent. The next morning, the servants rowed back out to the lotus, opened the flowers and gathered up the tea ready for the king’s breakfast refreshment.

This grade of Lotus tea is perfumed using this traditional method of wrapping small quantities of green tea inside lotus blossoms. The flowers are picked just as they have bloomed, the petals are very carefully peeled back so that a small opening is made through which about 2g (0.07oz) of fresh green tea is placed. The petals are then closed around the tea and bound lightly with threads to hold them in place. The buds are left for 24 hours and then the blossoms are once again opened and the tea extracted. To make lkg (2.21b) of tea, 500 lotus flowers are required.

Character

Tightly twisted, wiry, jade green leaves give a pale amber liquor that has a crisp clean flavour and the heady vanilla-sweet perfume of the lotus flower.

Brewing Tips

Brew 2.5-3g (0.09-0.l0oz) in 200ml (7fl oz) water at 75-80°C (167-176°F) for 3 minutes in Jingdezhen Thermotolerant Glass Gongfu Tea Set. Strain and add more water for two more infusions.

29 Jan 2014

Thai Nguyen Green

Thai Nguyen Green
Character

A traditional green tea from the mountains of Thai Nguyen are made by skilful pan-frying to de-enzyme the leaf, rolling and oven roasting. The resulting slender, elegantly twisted, jade leaf yields a silky, fragrant golden liquor with subtle hints of fennel and toasted wheat with a slightly bittersweet aftertaste.

Brewing Tips

Brew 2.5-3g (0.09-0.l0oz) in 200ml (7fl oz) water at 75°C (167°F) for 3 minutes. Strain and add more water for a second infusion in Jingdezhen Heat Resistant Glass Tea Set.

29 Jan 2014

Vietnam Tea

Tea has been grown in Vietnam for more than 3,000 years, and, as in China, ancient trees that stand several metres high can still be found. The Vietnamese people have a tea-drinking culture that is as colourful and fascinating as that of the Chinese and the serving and sharing of tea is an important part of family, social and business life.

Removing the stamens from the lotus flowers for the modern method of flavouring green tea.
Removing the stamens from the lotus flowers for the modern method of flavouring green tea.

Commercial production started in the 1820s when the French established the first major plantations and in the past few years, the areas under tea have expanded rapidly from 5,400 hectares (13,344 acres) in 1975 to over 80,000 hectares (1,976,800 acres) today. After the disruption of the Vietnam war, foreign investment helped to rehabilitate the plantations and refurbish the factories and output has gone up from 40,000 tonnes (39,368 tons) in 1995 to the current figure of more than 80,000 tonnes (78,737 tons). The major growing regions are in the centre and the north of the country in provinces such as Tuyen Quang, Yen Bai, PhuTho, Son La, Ha Giang and Thai Nguyen and the industry is split into a growing number of private companies and joint ventures and a decreasing number of state-owned plantations and factories. Producers have been working steadily to modernize factories and increase capacity in order to meet growing domestic and export demands and Vietnam is today the world’s ninth largest tea exporter. The industry plans to triple tea exports by 2010.

Gathering lotus flowers.
Gathering lotus flowers.

The season begins in April each year and the plucked leaf is turned into approximately 80,000 tonnes (78,737 tons) of tea including orthodox and CTC black, steamed and pan-fried greens, flavoured jasmine teas, oolongs and puerhs. The bulk of the green teas are consumed domestically and black varieties are mostly exported. The most special of the Vietnamese teas are the lotus-flavoured teas made traditionally by enclosing small quantities of tea inside the blossoms of lotus flowers overnight so that the tea absorbs the gentle sweet flavour of the flowers’ perfume.

29 Jan 2014

Charleston First Flush

Character

The choppy, quite fibrous leaf brews to give a rich red liquor, which has a sweet biscuity aroma and is sweet and light.

Brewing Tips

Brew 2.5g (0.09oz) in 200ml (7fl oz) of boiling water for 3 minutes.

29 Jan 2014

United States of America Tea

Kauai Island in Hawaii where tea was planted for the first time in 2007.
Kauai Island in Hawaii where tea was planted for the first time in 2007.

The Americans first tried to grow tea in the nineteenth century on Wadmalaw Island off the coast of South Carolina. After a brief ownership, in 1987 Lipton sold its Charleston Tea Plantation to a private company that produced ‘American Classic Tea’. In 2003, the American tea company, Bigelow, purchased the estate and has renamed it Charleston Tea Gardens. Today, visitors can take a trolley ride through 16.2 hectares (40 acres) or so of the plantation to see the bushes growing and then, in the state-of-the-art tea factory, they can watch tea being manufactured from the green leaf stage through to the packaging of the dried black tea. There is also a shop selling the various grades of teas made at different times during the season at the plantation, Bigelow Teas, books, tea wares, tea accessories and skin care products (Glycerine Hand Therapy – Body Silk and Hand 8c Shower Cleansing Gel) whose ingredients include Charleston tea.

The mechanical harvester at Charleston Tea Plantation in South Carolina.
The mechanical harvester at Charleston Tea Plantation in South Carolina.

In May 2007, planting of tea seedlings also began on 818 hectares (2,021 acres) on the island of Kauai in Hawaii where private housing and tea, cocoa and taro crops have been established side by side. The tea bushes are growing at 130m (425ft) above sea level and will be ready for harvesting in 2009. At full capacity, the total crop is expected to reach approximately 300 tonnes (295 tons). Types of tea to be manufactured here will include speciality green, oolong, white and black and there will be a visitor centre where tourists and local residents will be able to learn more about tea manufacture and shop for the local tea and tea-related items.

29 Jan 2014

Tregothnan Green

Character

A lightly curled blend of China green with Tregothnan leaf gives a liquor that is apricot gold, a sweet floral aroma and a lightly herbal taste with buttery, slightly grassy undertones.

Brewing Tips

Brew 2.5g (0.09oz) in 200ml (7fl oz) water at 85°C (185°F) for 3 minutes in Heat Retaining Herbal Glass Tea Set.

28 Jan 2014