Every cup of tea has a culture, a ritual, and a story. Tea originated in China and has traveled the world over the centuries. It’s unsurprising that tea is still the most popular beverage in the world. Let me take you worldwide with eight teas from China, Japan, Taiwan, India, Sri Lanka, Kenya, the United Kingdom, and Turkey.
The secret of how to make tea began in China, where it was carefully guarded. Traitors were put to death for treason in the tea regions. Chinese Buddhist monks were the first to discover and consume tea. They found that drinking tea made them more alert, allowing them to meditate better (because caffeine eliminates sluggishness). Japanese monks are believed to have brought tea back with them from China. Even today, tea is a spiritual drink in Japan.
Jasmine tea is a symbol of China. This is not the fragrant beverage we find in supermarkets. Authentic Jasmine Tea is made at dawn by infusing the whole jasmine flower with green tea. The dried blooms are then blown out with hot air after blending. The cup is a golden color with mellow, summery notes. This is the perfect complement to a healthy Chinese meal.
Green teas from Japan have a bright, vibrant green color. This is unlike other green teas around the globe. Green teas from Japan are not roasted but steamed. The tea retains its deep green color. The most popular Japanese tea, Matcha tea, is the tea that is used in the Japanese tea ceremony known as ‘Chanoyu.’ Matcha making is a tea ceremony passed down from generation to generation. Matcha has a grassy and vegetal flavor in a bright, green cup.
Its neighbors do not influence Taiwan, and it has a unique variety of tea called Oolong. Formosa Oolong, named for Formosa (the former name of Taiwan), is the most popular tea in this region. Oolongs are semi-fermented complex teas. It has the body and taste of green tea, with the lively notes of black tea. Bubble Tea is a drink that originated in Taiwan and has become famous worldwide. The tapioca ball can be added to the hot or cold version.
We have two last stops in India and Sri Lanka on our journey around Asia. The British did start tea plantations in India using tea seeds smuggled from China. The first plantation of this kind was located in Darjeeling, West Bengal. What is often forgotten in history is that tea has consistently grown wild along the Assam border of India. We didn’t realize it was tea. The Singpho tribes who lived in this area chewed tea leaves like tobacco. Robert Bruce, the Scottish gentleman credited as the father of the Assam tea industry, accidentally made the discovery. Darjeeling tea is so different from Assam because the mother bush of Darjeeling is from China, while Assam is indigenous to India. Assam tea is robust and malty, while Darjeeling has a delicate flavor.
As a friendly neighbor, India gave Sri Lanka its mother bush, leading to a flourishing tea industry decades later. In terms of the production of black teas, the island is now a strong competitor with India. Ceylon was the name of this island nation during colonial times. This name still knows all teas produced in Ceylon. Ceylon Tea, also known as black tea, is characterized by its characteristic flavor notes: bright and medium-bodied with a delightfully tangy taste.
Tea plantations require a lot of labor. Tea arrived in Kenya thanks to British planters looking for cheap labor and large uncultivated lands. Kenya has become a major competitor in black tea production with India and Sri Lanka. Kenya is known for its tea, which is a valuable cash crop. Kenyan tea is the top earner of foreign currency for the nation. Kenyan teas are not known to be of high quality, and the majority of production is CTC. CTC teas have a uniform taste and are used in blends, such as breakfast teas.
The United Kingdom is the biggest tea consumer in the world. The UK consumes 165 million tea cups per day as a country. The UK doesn’t grow tea, but the country gave the world English Breakfast Tea. The main source was the tea produced in the British colonies of India, Sri Lanka, and Kenya. The English breakfast tea is a blend made from black teas from all three regions. The taste is full-bodied, rich, robust, and blended with milk and sugar in a style that’s traditionally associated with an English breakfast.
Many people are surprised when they hear about Turkey and tea. Turkish tea or Turkish Apple Tea is more popular than Turkish coffee. Turkey is ranked number one in terms of annual tea consumption per capita. In Turkey, tea is grown along the Black Sea coast. Turkish tea is a part of Turkish culture, and it is served traditionally without milk. Turkish tea is usually served in small, tulip-shaped glasses, which are held by the rim to prevent the fingers of the drinker from getting burned.
Every region touched by tea developed its own tea culture, including etiquette. At its core, tea culture was always about hospitality. Tea is a social fuel. It’s a symbol of warmth and friendship. We have only included eight different tea cultures. There are still many tea cultures to discover. You will have a wonderful time exploring tea.