Tea Traditions Fact Sheet
Chinese Tea Traditions
Tea has played a major role in the history, culture and economy of China. Tea drinking was popular in ancient China and was regarded as one of the seven daily necessities. Chinese tea culture is unique in its preparation and tasting methods, and the occasions for which it is consumed. Even today, tea is often a core component of both casual and formal Chinese occasions.
In addition to regular daily use, there are several special circumstances in which tea is prepared and consumed. Tea is used as a sign of respect in Chinese society and the younger generation shows its respect to the older generation by offering a cup of tea. Drinking tea is a central element of family gatherings and tea is also often used to make apologies. People make serious apologies to others by pouring them tea, which is a sign of regret and submission.
Tea plays a role in traditional Chinese marriage ceremonies. During the ceremony, the bride and groom kneel in front of their parents, serve them tea and express their thanks to them. The parents will usually drink a small portion of the tea and then give the couple a red envelope which symbolizes good luck.
In addition to being a drink, Chinese tea is used in traditional Chinese medicines and in Chinese cuisine.
Afternoon tea as a social custom started in the early 19th century when Anna, 7th Duchess of Bedford began inviting guests to join her for a cup of tea and some sweets and savouries in the afternoon, in order to fill the long gap between breakfast and late dinners.
The ritual caught on in England and North America and soon became an afternoon tradition that remains today. Modern afternoon tea at trendy tea salons and cafés feature a wide variety of quality teas and fine finger foods.
Russian tea tradition started in the early 17th century when the Chinese embassy presented the Czar with a chest of tea. Tea became very popular in Russia. Its warm and hearty nature was a pleasant antidote for the harsh Russian climate.
A central feature in many Russian homes was a samovar, a combination hot water heater and teapot. The samovar would run all day, serving up to 40 cups of tea. Russian tea is typically brewed very strong and is then sweetened with a generous amount of sugar, honey or jam.
North American Tea
Tearooms first opened in North America in New York City in the late 17th century. Rooms were often built around hot springs where the natural supply of hot water was pumped in to make the tea. Afternoon tea service became a feature in many fine hotels by the end of the 19th century. Tearooms became the hallmark of elegance for high-end hotels in both Canada and the U.S.
Prior to the turn of the 20th century, tea served cold was typically spiked with alcohol and was referred to as tea punch. Iced tea was born at the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis, Missouri when Englishman Richard Blechynden added ice cubes to the hot tea he had been unsuccessfully promoting. The new cold refreshing brew was a huge hit in the sweltering southern heat. Iced tea has continued to grow in popularity ever since.
Japanese Tea Ceremony
The tea ceremony is a beautiful, unique Japanese ritual where macha, a powdered green tea, is ceremoniously prepared by a skilled practitioner and served to a small group of guests in a tranquil setting.
The tradition started in the late 12th century and was heavily influenced by Zen Buddhism. The Japanese Tea ceremony is about more than just drinking tea. It is an art form. Tea practitioners study for many years to be able to perform ceremonies.
Indian Chai Tea
Chai is the Hindi word for tea and is commonly used to refer to a spiced milk tea that originated in India and has become increasingly popular throughout the world. Chai is generally made up of black tea, milk, a combination of spices often including cardamom, cinnamon, ginger, cloves, and pepper and a sweetener.
In India, Chai is more popular than coffee and drinking Chai is an integral part of life. Numerous vendors sell Chai on the streets and many homes keep a pot of Chai going all day long.