Almost everyone loves a hot cup of tea but not many know the history behind it. Sunny Rodricks & Aakriti Patni tell you about teas from across the globe and why a cup of ‘chai’ is so special every morning
A day dedicated to celebrate the beauty of tea, International Tea Day honours this special beverage in its purest form. Conceptualised in 2005, the day is celebrated mainly in tea-producing countries such as Vietnam, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Kenya, Malawi, Malaysia and India. It aims to draw global attention of governments and their citizens to the impact of the global tea trade on workers and growers, and to spread awareness about the tea trade. While tea is loved and drunk by almost everyone, we rarely bother to look into its rich history, the benefits and the growth of this refreshing drink. But, in lieu of International Tea Day, which is celebrated on December 15th each year, we explore global teas in their entirety and even take a look at some tea traditions from across the globe that have been infused into the heritage of countries.
TYPES OF TEAS
Little Buddha tea, China
The Little Buddha tea traces its origins to China and is believed to instil a sense of calmness and serenity with its spicy and aromatic flavours. It is a green tea mixed with the richness of fiery spices and fruits and its ingredients include sencha, pineapple, papaya, liquorice, sandalwood, red peppercorns, flavouring and Roman chamomile. It is believed to benefit digestion and blood sugar levels and boost metabolism. The antioxidants in the tea help fight free radicals that accelerate ageing, and this tea should be consumed after meals.
Orange and Mango Oolong tea, Taiwan
The orange and mango flavoured oolong tea traces its roots back to Taiwan. The semi-fermented Formosa Oolong tea is a light, refreshing tea with playful citrusy notes of mango and orange. The tea aids in digestion and helps boost metabolism. Primarily grown and fermented in China and Taiwan, what separates it from other teas is its distinct taste. Having combined qualities of green and black tea, it is believed to reduce cholesterol levels, control obesity and help develop healthy bones.
Sinharaja tea, Sri Lanka
The Sinharaja is a rich and smooth strong black tea that is grown in the Sinharaja Forest Reserve on the island nation of Sri Lanka. It comprises of rich, dark tea leaves that are nourished by the fertile rainforest streams in the hills of Ceylon. This type of tea is believed to aid in weight loss and keep your skin healthy.
Genmaicha tea, Japan
Genmaicha tea was created in Japan so that the working class could have the privilege of drinking tea. This tea is a combination of first flush sencha, toasted brown rice and stone ground matcha powder. It is dubbed the ‘converter’ because it turns those who don’t drink green tea into green tea lovers. While the popped rice adds a nutty flavour, the matcha adds creaminess and body to the tea. It is believed to boost the immune system and reduce the risk of heart disease.
Maghrebi mint tea from Africa
A green tea that is prepared with spearmint leaves and sugar, this mint tea gets its name from its place of origin: the Maghreb region of Northern Africa, which consists of five countries — Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya and Mauritania. A customary blend in these countries, it is prepared using fresh local mint leaves, green tea and sugar. It is served to guests and generally prepared by the male head of the family. Being served this tea is a sign of hospitality and it is considered impolite to refuse. Typically three glasses are served to guests, and each serving holds a meaning. The Maghrebi proverb translates as, “The first glass is as gentle as life, the second is as strong as love, the third is as bitter as death.”
Butter tea from Tibet
Tracing tea-drinking in Tibet back to the 7th century, during the Tang dynasty, butter tea, traditionally known as ‘po cha’, gained commercial popularity with people in the Himalayan regions around the 13th century. Brewing the highest quality tea in water, it is added to fresh butter made from yak milk, along with a pinch of salt, and is churned or shaken before being served in clay tea pots. A regular part of Tibetan life, butter tea is always served to guests and is usually drunk slowly, with the host refilling the cup after each sip, never allowing guests to completely drain the cup.
Zavarka from Russia
While it may seem as though Russia is typically known for vodka, tea is culturally relevant in Russia and drunk by practically everyone. Zavarka, a strong tea-based concentrate that traces its origin to the Russian Civil War in 1917, became increasingly common in the country in the 1920s. Traditionally brewed using a samovar, a metal heating container, which is a mark of royalty and prestige in Russian families, Zavarka is a strong tea and uses very little water in the brewing process. The tea ceremony has all guests pouring themselves a small amount of the strong tea, to which they add boiling hot water from the samovar, according to their preference. Serving tea with a meal or to guests is an integral part of Russian culture, with the traditional Russians always saying “sit by the samovar” when they want to sip on some tea. Zavarka is always served with snacks, as serving ‘naked’ tea is considered disrespectful.
Afternoon tea from Britain
Perhaps one of the most popular and well-known tea traditions, Afternoon tea evolved in Britain in the early 1840s. Anna Russell, the seventh Duchess of Bedford, is behind the invention of this meal. In early Victorian times, people ate two main meals a day (breakfast and dinner) and a light luncheon meal at midday, creating a long gap in the afternoon. So, the duchess decided to have a light, refreshing meal in the afternoons to combat hunger, and created a small meal consisting of tea, finger sandwiches and cakes (the famous scones were not introduced till the 20th century!), and she would often invite her friends over for the meal. That’s how the tradition of Afternoon tea was born! The tradition is popular even today, and England is littered with tea rooms. Even tourists love to join in on this historic tradition.
Teh Tarik from Malaysia
Literally hailed as ‘pulled tea’, this hot milk tea originating in Malaysia is commonly found at restaurants, street stalls and traditional coffee shops in Southeast Asian countries, also known as kopi tiams. Tracing its origins to the Indian-Muslim immigrants who settled in the Malay Peninsula and set up drink stalls for the labourers and workers, Teh Tarik has become an integral part of Malaysian-Indian cuisine. Served traditionally with the dish Roti canai, Teh Tarik has become a breakfast staple in Malaysia. But, its claim to fame lies in the way it is prepared, rather than how it is served. Made from brewed black tea and condensed milk, it is poured back and forth repeatedly between two vessels from a height, giving it a thick frothy top, which it is known for. In fact, the ability to juggle a long stream of tea above the heads of the customers, without showering them with the milky tea, has become standard practice, with tourists flocking to tea stalls just for this display.
International Tea Day
Most of us like to begin our day with a steaming cup of chai. Our day is simply incomplete without that milky sweet concoction. So, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that International Tea Day (ITD) was proposed by India back in 2004 at the World Social Forum, and the first International Tea Day was celebrated in New Delhi in 2005. In 2015, the Indian Government proposed expanding the observance of International Tea Day through the UN Food and Agriculture Organization. The aim behind this is to generate more interest in different aspects of tea among the youth and to boost consumption of the brew the world over. To celebrate ITD on December 15th every year, a conference is hosted by different tea-producing countries.
Around the world in a teacup
Here are some of the oldest tea rooms that exist today
Mariage Frères, Paris
This is a tea company and tea room born out of the love that two brothers, Nicolas and Pierre Mariage, had for tea. They travelled to India and Persia in the 1660s on official royal business, but wound up enchanted by the tea. And just like that, a few decades down the line, they started the Mariage Frères tea company (in 1864) followed by the Mariage Tea Salon. More than 130 years later, the gourmet tea company survives and serves more than 600 different tea varieties and has tea rooms in many countries around the world.
The English Tea Room, Brown’s Hotel, London
Opening its doors to the public in 1837, Brown’s Hotel had one of the first glamorous luxury tea rooms in the heart of England. A typical British Afternoon tea parlour, it is said that novelist Rudyard Kipling penned many of his novels sitting in The English Tea Room. It also served as the inspiration for crime writer Agatha Christie’s novel ‘At Bertram’s Hotel’.
The Tsûen Teashop, Uji
The oldest tea house in the world hails from the land known for its ancient teas and tea ceremonies: Japan. The Tsûen Teashop was established in 1160, by Furukawa Unai, a retired martial arts master. The teashop still survives today and now the 24th generation of the Tsûen family looks after it, with tourists from all over the world visiting the tea room, not just for the tea, but for a sense of history as well.