Useful Notes / Tea And Tea Culture

This is the biggest, most important thing to know: For a black tea, you pour boiling water on tea leaves. That's ninety percent of the art of making a decent cup of tea. (...) It's the final ten percent of the cup of tea that you'll get people calling each other heretics for adding the milk (not cream) first, or whether to use teabags or loose tea and whether burning in effigy or a nice box of chocolates was the correct reward for whoever decided adding bergamot oil to tea was a good thing, or all the other tea things that people like to argue about.

Camellia sinensis - the tea plant. According to legend, discovered in China by the first Emperor who was boiling water in his garden and had some of the leaves fall into it. Or, according to another legend, the first tea plant sprang from the eyelids of Bodhidharma, the monk who brought Buddhism from India to China, who cut them off to prevent himself from falling asleep during a long meditation.

Whatever the true origin, tea came from China and has risen to the status of the second most popular drink in the world. The first is water.

No wonder then, that tea has inspired centuries of myth, legend, folklore, colonization, war, and Internet debates. Whole subcultures around the world have been formed around the "proper" way of preparing and drinking tea. It's very Serious Business.

For all the variety in tea and the ways of serving it, curiously enough, a common theme in many tea cultures is serving tea as a show of hospitality, up to and including Sacred Hospitality. Whether it's iced sweet tea on a porch in Sweet Home Alabama, the complimentary tea served in better Chinese restaurants, the formal structure of a tea ceremony in Japan, the glass of tea that always comes with a friendly visit or business meeting in Turkey and the Arab world, or hot cups passed around to those weathering a disaster in London, the acts of pouring and serving tea take on special meanings in the interaction between host and guest.

But first some definitions...

For simplicity's sake, these Useful Notes will limit themselves to dealing with real tea - liquid brewed from the plant Camellia sinensis. Any other brewed drinks that go under the name of "tea", such as herbal tea, are more properly called "infusions" or "tisanes". This includes the likes of popular "red tea" (made from the South African herb called Rooibos and first used as a tea substitute by Dutch colonists there, now famous as the redbush tea favoured by Precious Ramotswe), yerba mate, honeybush, bissap and so on.

Once you've made that distinction, all varieties of tea come from the same leaf and the difference is in how they are processed.

  • Green tea is minimally heat-treated with steam or hot air to prevent oxidation, then dried, retaining the green color of the leaf. White tea and yellow tea can be considered special subsets of green tea - white is even less processed and uses only the unopened buds and young leaves, yellow is dried more slowly.
  • Black tea is also called "red tea" in Chinese and languages with strong Chinese influences, not to be confused with the herbal "red tea". Its color comes from a process where the tea leaves are bruised and allowed to fully oxidize before drying, resulting in the dark color, stronger flavor and higher caffeine content; the "black" terminology comes from the color of the leaves (really more of a very dark brown bordering on black) after oxidation, while the East Asian "red tea" terminology comes from the color of the resultant brew. Before modern transport and preservation this was the only way tea could be shipped long-distance, and it remains the most popular style outside of China and Japan. Former colonies India and Sri Lanka (Ceylon), the other most famous tea producers, mainly produce black tea.
  • Oolong tea, spelled "wūlóng" in Pinyin, is more oxidized than green but less than black, and can occupy any point along that spectrum. It remains the most popular drinking tea in Taiwan and China. A shipment of it was dumped into Boston Harbour in a(n in)famous incident and was the type most-consumed in Britain before the flowering of Indian tea plantations in the late 19th century.
  • Post-fermented tea such as pu-erh teas are made from green or oolong tea leaves aged to allow fermentation and additional oxidation, producing a dark brown tea. This is what is called "black tea" in China, though "dark tea" is an equally valid translation. It is usually sold in compressed form as bricks, discs, or even more distinctive shapes like bowls and mushrooms. The ideal duration of the aging process is widely disputed.
  • Scented tea is tea that has been infused with the scent of aromatics such as jasmine, rose petals or other flowers, in a complex process that results in the leaves naturally infused with the scent, without actually having the flowers left in the cup. Flavored tea is tea blended with any form of flavoring, such as herbs, spices, oils and extracts. Scented tea might be called flavored but never vice versa. Blended tea is any combination of different (usually regional) tea varietals which may or may not be flavored/scented afterward.
    • A peculiar variety of flavored tea would be a smoked tea such as Lapsang Suchong (or Zheng Shan Xiao Zhong, its correct Chinese name), that is, a tea infused with wood smoke, giving it a characteristic "campfire" aroma. There are two conflicting theories of its origin. One said that during a particularly difficult voyage some tea caravan drowned a part of its cargo in some creek, and a merchant, keen on saving his profits, tried to dry it up on the campfires. Another one is that, during a collection season, some Chinese tea factory couldn't meet the deadline, and tried to speed up the process by drying the half-ready tea by the open fires. In any case, despite such tea being an acquired taste, there turned out enough aficionados—particularly in East Asia and Russia—for the technology to be reproduced and refined, and to remain in production up to this day.
  • Chai is simply the Hindi word for tea. Masala chai is the proper name for the popular tea drink flavored with spices (and, conversely, chai masala is the blend of spices used to make it).
  • Matcha is high quality, powdered green tea best known for its use in the Japanese tea ceremony, but lately popular mixed into a variety of other drinks and even desserts.
  • Tea bags are an affront to most serious tea drinkers, because they contain lower-quality tea, processed smaller so the air exposure leads to deterioration of the flavor, crammed into a space too small for the water to diffuse through properly. Nonetheless in several parts of the world their popularity far outstrips "loose leaf" tea. Larger "pyramid bags" and "tea sachets" with better tea in larger pieces aren't perfect but fare somewhat better. Tea aficionados in America consider them a necessary evil, as loose-leaf tea is relatively hard to come by there. And by "relatively," we mean "almost impossible to find outside of mail order, specialty tea shops, and Asian and Middle Eastern ethnic grocery stores." The higher-end tea bags mitigate some of their disadvantages.
  • Instant tea, resembling instant coffee, exists. Tea does not lend itself to the process of dehydration and reconstitution, and the results range from utterly undrinkable to 'merely' poor. On the other hand, instant green tea is becoming popular in Japan, where tea (like everything else) is Serious Business.

Tea, like wine, also varies greatly in taste and quality depending on where and in what conditions it was grown. Serious and aspiring tea nerds are encouraged to look elsewhere for distinctions beyond those given here. We could fill untold pages if we tried to cover anything but the most common terms.

As for preparing tea, we leave that discussion to others. However it's worth saying this about what you put in tea: ignoring the bizarreness that is the green tea latte, generally only black tea is suited for drinking with milk, although you could make a case for the darker oolongs being acceptable as well. Sweetener is a matter of regional and personal preference, but really good tea doesn't need sugar to be drinkable—but this isn't to say that putting a little bit of sugar in your good tea is an abomination, as long as you're respectful to the drink. Hey, some people just have a sweet tooth.

A popular trivia question concerns the relative caffeine content of tea and coffee. It's true that most varieties of dry tea contain more caffeine by weight than dry coffee, but a typical cup of tea still contains less caffeine than a typical cup of coffee. The polyphenols in tea also moderate and slow down the effect of the caffeine, so drinking lots of tea is much more relaxing than drinking lots of coffee.

Great Britain and Ireland (And miscellaneous former colonies)

There's a reason the poster children for the Spot of Tea trope are the British. The British demand for tea drove, among other things, the monopoly of the uber-powerful Dutch-style British East India Company, and the 1840-42 and 1856-60 Opium Wars. The media portrayal of the Brits as tea crazy pales next to many of the real life accounts. No shortage of British writers, including George Orwell [1], Douglas Adams [2], Neil Gaiman and a panel of British scientists [3]note , have written essays on the subject of proper tea prep.

Less Laconically: In 1660, King Charles II of England, Scotland and Ireland married princess Catarina de Bragança of Portugal. Part of her dowry was the Portuguese outpost at Bombay, which was sold in turn to the English East India Company. Consequently, ever greater quantities of tea and textiles were imported directly to Britain from India and China. By 1750 the British had fallen in love with it.

As a late-comer to the transcontinental trade, the East India Company had to make do with the proverbial scraps left over from the Portuguese, and then the Dutch (the world's great merchant-shipping power in the 17th century). However, Dutch supremacy could not last forever, and it was in the field of textiles and tea in particular that their early advantage counted against them. The Dutch had moved, ruthlessly, to monopolise the supply and transportation of spices, which were quite easily the most valuable goods to be found out east. However, the demand for spices proved limited; people can only eat so much of them, and their value eventually went down as the European market became saturated. On the other hand the British, having invited a Dutchman over to... kind of... be King in 1688, and having borrowed the modern Dutch financial system lock, stock, and barrel, and having made a few small but significant improvements on it (particularly, the invention of modern shipping insurance), and having gotten over their political troubles, managed to get enough money to exploit an unnoticed niche in the market: they would realise and capitalise upon the elasticity of demand for cotton and silk clothing (leading directly to the catastrophic collapse of the British wool-textile industry). And—of course—tea.

By elasticity of demand, we mean to point out that people are more willing to buy more of certain things than others. You can only buy and maintain so many cars, for instance. But there really is no upper limit, comparatively, to the number of music-recordings you might amass (especially these days). What this means in economic terms is that a small change in the price of a product with a high elasticity of demand will change the amount demanded a lot—reduce the price a bit, and a lot more people will start buying it (and/or people already buying the product will start buying more), but if you raise prices, the reduction in quantity demanded by consumers will be just as drastic. Because small reductions in price lead to large increases in quantity sold, a producer of a product with a high elasticity of demand will tend to try to maximise profits by selling more stuff at a lower price (if you can sell 10000 pounds of tea for 3 shillings per pound, or 30000 pounds of tea for 1 shilling sixpence per pound—which is three times the quantity at half the price—which would you prefer?note ). That is what the East India Company did with tea. What happened as the supply of Tea increased and the prices of it dropped is that it appealed to an ever broader (and relatively poorer) base of people. Consequently, the East India Company tentatively tried to see just how much Wulong tea they could flood Britain with before it became unprofitable. They were not disappointed. In Britain at least, by the 1750s it was already a recognized national drink. Interestingly, a significant upswing in health followed as people began boiling their water before drinking it. However, it was not until the latter half of the 19th century that people commonly took their tea with milk. This is because Wulong tea was cheaper, more widely available and highly regarded until about this time - when British investment in Indian plantations (which produced darker and more astringent teas) began to pay off. The transport and investment networks (i.e. railways and banks with the money and willingness to invest in pithy local business ventures) required to transport fresh milk to the Metropolises simply didn't exist before then anyway.

How they drink it: Black, hot and in large quantities (typically using teabagsnote ). Adding milk is common, and there is an ongoing holy war as to whether the milk or the tea goes into the cup first. Some people avoid the debate altogether by squeezing lemon into it insteadnote . It is entirely possible to divine a Briton's class, upbringing, and even politics, based on the way they drink tea. The mid-afternoon light meal called "afternoon tea", with sandwiches and scones and its precise etiquette, is a product of the upper-middle classnote  (not to be confused with the evening meal, which working to lower-middle class people call "tea" rather than "dinner" or "supper"—even more confusingly, this working-class "tea" is what upper class Brits call "high tea"; high just meaning later in the day/eaten off physically "higher" dinner tables as opposed to the "low" tea tables to distinguish it from afternoon tea), while lower classes stick with a cup of tea and a snack. "Builder's tea", the staple of the working classes, is cheap tea brewed extra strong with a generous amount of milk and sugar (jokingly, an amount sufficient for the spoon to stand upright in the mug). Earl Grey, invented in China, named after The Earl Grey, who received a shipment of it as a gift, is tea flavoured with oil of bergamot, a bitter citrus fruit, and in some varieties with added orange or lemon peel, or with various flowers such as lavender, verbena or rose petals. "English Breakfast" and "Irish Breakfast" are both popular named tea blends, but the actual teas included in them vary; what matters is that they're strong, hearty concoctions that can stand up to the English/Irish full breakfast of eggs and fatty cured meats.

Also: as you might have understood from the above, British patterns of tea consumption are largely replicated in Ireland, with some minor differences. Indeed, the Irish are, if anything, even more tea-crazy than the British, consistently consuming more tea—by weight—per capita than the British do.

  • During WWI the British used water cooled machine guns. British soldiers would sometimes fire off hundreds of rounds just to heat up the the water inside the cooling jacket of their machine guns so they could make tea.
  • During World War II, Britain shipped, by weight, more tea to her troops than anything save bullets. Small arms ammunition, that is: the British army got through more tea than artillery shells. By weight. Contemporary soldier Spike Milligan observed that they were damn lucky that Rommel never tried baiting minefields with tea.
    • Arthur C. Clarke recounted in his autobiography that during WWII, one of his jobs in the civil service was to coordinate the dispersal of tea stockpiles throughout the country, as the government feared civil disorder if the main warehouses were taken out by a chance bombing.
    • In 1942 the Luftwaffe decided that, deprived of tea, the British Empire would pretty much grind to a halt. They therefore decided to bomb Mincing Lane - center of all British and Imperial tea trading - flat. It worked too. The tea industry was sent into chaos and on account of the confusion, tea was rationed to two ounces a week - which is very very little.note  From a morale point of view it was one of the most successful bombing strategies of the war.
    • In response to shortage fears, in 1942 the British decided to buy the tea. As in all of it. In the world. That's right: in 1942, to fuel her soldiers, sailors, and airmen, Britannia bought the entire world crop of tea (except for the part of it under Japanese control, of coursenote ) - and it was as vital to her armies as bullets and tanks.
    • On D-Day, the British troops started to make tea on Sword Beach almost as soon as they landed, even though they were still under fire. Later, after the beaches were taken and troops started to move inland, the Americans got upset over reports that the British stopped advancing to make tea, as the plan called for soldiers to advance until nightfall in order to capture as much ground before the expected German counter attack.
      • These reports weren't strictly accurate; a few companies of infantry were ordered to hold position for a short period because they were getting too far ahead of their tank support. Brewing tea happened because it's standard practice in the British Army to grab any opportunity for a hot drink and preferably some food; it's good for morale, helps stave off the effects of British weather, and you never know how long it'll be before the next chance comes up.
    • Spike Milligan's mate Harry Edgington showed bravery under fire in North Africa. A German aircraft strafed their artillery position while Edgington was making a brew. Rather than duck for cover, Edgington took off his steel helmet and used it to protect the precious brewing tea, lest it get shot up...
    • One of the small, metal blast shelters on Normandy's Pointe du Hoc has the back completely blown out. While it may be an urban legend, the explanation some tour guides give holds that, after the area was captured, two British soldiers decided to make tea. For some reason, whatever they lit to heat the water caused a massive explosion. Their bodies were never recovered, and they were listed as missing in action.
    • During the German occupation of the Netherlands, the British dropped tea bags over Amsterdam. That's right, we gave them TEA TO FIGHT THE NAZIS.
      • Alternately, this can be interpreted hilariously as an effort to encourage the troops to fight harder.
  • The Other Wiki notes that British Tanks contain "a boiling vessel (BV) also known as a kettle or "bivvie" for water which can be used to brew tea, produce other hot beverages and heat "boil-in-the-bag" meals contained in ration packs." Once unique to British armoured vehicles (The Americans working with the Brits in Afghanistan and Iraq are jealous; they appreciate being allowed to use them and the Brits were only too glad to let them.), it is starting to be adopted by other nations in helping extending amount of time crew can spend inside vehicles.
  • During half-time during the FA Cup Final, extra power generation capability is online to cope with all the kettles being boiled. The Brits love plug-in, fast-heating electric kettles (probably precisely because they facilitate making tea) over stovetops or microwaves, a trend that didn't much catch on in the States except for college dorms (and more for ramen than tea).
    • Electric kettles sold in the British Isles are generally rated at 3 kW - it's generally not possible (ignoring the voltage differences) to use an appliance that uses so much power in North American households without getting your kitchen re-wired. A NEMA 5-20R (T-slot) outlet typically found in modern kitchens in the US will only deliver a maximum of around 2.4 kW. There are lower power kettles (cheap junk sold in the UK can be anything from 1.5-2 kW) but they're slow as hell in comparison.
    • This is the reason why rapid-response power stations such as Dinorwig were built, which can from idling to full power within seconds to accommodate sudden surges in demand. That's right: in the UK they've built specialist power stations inside mountains just so the entire nation can use their high-powered kettles at the same time.
    • The same effect also apparently happens far more regularly at the end of soap operas: Britain from Above featured a segment showing a National Grid employee watching TV waiting for the end of EastEnders in order to bring online the extra generators needed to cope with the power surge.
    • Domestic power consumption can double in a few seconds with the load from kettles. This is why we have the fastest responding pumped storage power station in the world. Dinorwig in Wales can bring 1320MW of capacity on line in 12 seconds. All to make tea.
    • Immediately after the recent televised wedding of Prince William and now-Duchess Kate ended, British utilities reported a surge of electricity consumption approximating 2,400 megawatts, or about 1 million households boiling kettles. (This was not the all-time record; that'd be 2,800 MW consumed right after the 1990 World Cup England-Germany semifinal game ended, after which England needed a freakin' Spot of Tea.)
    • In fact, British commercial breaks are designed to accommodate the making of tea. It takes roughly three minutes to boil the kettle and make 1-3 cups of tea. Commercial breaks are roughly just over 3 minutes long and the volume is increased substantially over main programmes so that Brits in the kitchen can hear them.
  • In the 90's a team from the UK retraced Robert Scott's attempt to reach the South Pole on foot, to prove that it could be done. Now they had some advantages in that they had modern equipment and knowledge such as taking chocolate rather than tea because chocolate has a higher calorie content. When they got to the Pole one member of the team revealed that he had brought a small supply of tea along in order to have a brew-up at the Pole because as he said "This wouldn't have been a British expedition without at least one cup of tea at the Pole!"
  • When the SAS patrol Bravo Two Zero were on the run though some of the coldest recorded weather ever in Iraq, they stopped and put a nice hot brew on to stop themselves freezing, despite the risk of fire giving away their position.
  • After the July 7th attacks on the London transport system, a meme swiftly flew around the net to the effect that the only appropriate response was a cup of tea. And passing out tea was indeed one of the tasks of rescue volunteers.
  • Operation Cup of Tea. The British response to riots in the center of London? Drink tea (and donate the proceeds).
    • During the London riots in August 2011, some people made tea for the police officers protecting their streets.
    • In the UK it is a matter of politeness to offer tea to tradesmen (plumbers, carpenters etc.), firemen and policemen, if they are staying for more than an hour. This has caused some confusion with immigrant tradesmen who are initially unfamiliar with the custom.
  • In Australia, tea is also very popular, much in the British vein. There's a fairly strong surge of Taiwanese style bubble tea, but general iced tea is more of a pre-bottled thing that is nowhere near as popular as the hot variety.


All things tea can be traced back to China. The tea leaf, the tea pot, the teahouse and tea garden, even the tea ceremony - not one like in Japan, but its own tradition called gongfu, where oolong or black tea is brewed several times over the course of several minutes, with short brew times and small cups to experience every nuance of flavor the tea has to offer.

How They Drink It: The choice of white, green, oolong or black tea as a favorite varies regionally; however, it is almost invariably drunk straight and hot. Chinese tea is weaker than the Indian black tea common in Britain, and most Chinese are lactose intolerant. However, the strong and astringent teas common to central China are also drunk straight, but they are served in small shotglasses. The variances from this are foreign customs: bottled cold tea has a respectable showing; the Mongol Empire of the Yuan (whose Central Asian masters were among the few lactose-tolerant peoples in Asia) is probably responsible for the milk-in-tea custom traveling west; and Tibet has the (in)famous yak butter tea which is as much a food as it is drink. Pu erh tea, of the formerly-Muslim south-western provinces (Sichuan, Yunnan), is pressed into bricks and aged in caves like cheese - this is a rather specialist taste (the fermentation/aging process gives it a unique mushroomy/umami flavour).

  • As in many other places, it's honorable and a sign of hospitality to pour tea for another - brides and grooms pour it for their parents, juniors for their elders, and so on. Legend has it that Qing dynasty emperor Qian Long would often travel through the land incognito and his servants were forbidden from letting the secret slip. One day as they were all seated for tea, the Emperor took his turn pouring tea for his servants. This was an immense honor that in any other situation would have called for the servants to kowtow; since they could not do that without giving the emperor away, they tapped the table with three fingers bent as if in a kowtow pose. To this day is continues as a gesture of thanks for being served tea.
  • Like Britain, where tea drinking improved the health and productivity of the population, so it also was in Tang Dynasty China, where it allowed the population to greatly increase and greased the gears of poets, songwriters, and painters. In a place where your other option for safe drinking was rice-wine, tea was very popular (not that some poets didn't thrive on wine, though, Li Po/Li Bai being the most famous).
  • The name for the dim sum-like tradition of yum cha literally means 'drink tea' - the little buns and fried snacks were a later addition.
  • Though we might imagine the tea-drinking habits of ancient Buddhist monks to be mired in ritual and spirituality, it was actually incorporated for a much more mundane reason: to keep them from falling asleep while meditating for long periods at a time. This is why Bhodidharma's eyelids figure into the tea origin myth.
  • In Hong Kong, which was formerly British-ruled, "milk tea" is hot tea with evaporated milk, usually of the "Black & White" brand. Other variants include mixing milk tea and coffee, which sort-of ends the tea vs coffee debate.


Japanese green tea gets the honorific 'O' prefix to its name: Ocha. This is the clearest indicator of Japanese reverence; any other kind of tea is simply 'cha'. In fact, the hot water required to brew tea (and make baths) gets the 'O' — "oyu" — but any other temperature is just 'mizu'.

Tea in Japan has always been deeply intertwined with Buddhism and Shintoism. And the rituals that have developed around the serving of tea has become a deep and exacting discipline over the centuries. In the Japanese tea ceremony (or chado, literally "the Way of Tea"), the preparation and drinking of tea is treated as a quasi-religious ritual and the prescribed movements is as exacting as a dance. The study of the ceremony can literally take a lifetime.

How they drink it: Green tea is, of course, king, though oolong is also popular and black tea, usually served as "milk tea"note , is sometimes drunk in cafes and in bottled form. Tea ceremony aside, the most common form of tea served in Japan is brewed loose-leaf sencha, though tea bags and instant tea are also increasingly popular for their convenience and cheapness after the economic bubble burst. Even though Japan is famous for its tea ceremony, as with the Brits, everyday tea drinking is a much humbler affair there, with loose-leaf sencha or tea bags served in mugs, Western-style. Having been isolationist for the greater part of its history and having limited space for farmland, the Japanese came up with a variety of inventive ways to stretch the green tea supply, including genmaicha (tea mixed with toasted rice), kukicha (a nutty-tasting tea that includes the stems and twigs from the leftovers of matcha and sencha production) and hojicha (lower grade tea than sencha, called bancha, that has been roasted over charcoal for flavor). Nowadays, Japan supplements their local supply with Chinese imports as well.

Because tea is so popular, hot water boilers and the electric kettles that the Brits are so fond of are ubiquitous in Japanese kitchens and offices. They're also handy for making instant ramen.

India and Neighbors

For years, the Indians knew about tea and had access to tea plants, but thought of tea mostly as a medicinal herb. For better or worse, it was the British who were responsible for turning India into the tea-growing juggernaut it is today, smuggling techniques and plant cuttings out of China (under pain of death if they got caught) and learning to cultivate the Indian tea varietal as well. British colonial rule ended in the 1940s but chai remains a big deal, especially in the famous Assam and Darjeeling growing regions.

How They Drink It: British-style with milk (although unlike the UK and rather like Hong Kong, the milk is often evaporated milk) and sugar, and in a variety of Indian preperations involving various combinations of spices and herbs. Of those, masala chai is the best known, including black tea and a variety of spices among which cardamom, ginger and sometimes black pepper feature prominantly, but there's also kahwah, green tea with almonds and spices originating in the Kashmir region, and noon chai, also from Kashmir, featuring cardamom, pistachio, a pinch of salt and a pink color produced by adding baking soda. However it's mixed, the Indian customs differ from the British in that they make tea by boiling everything - milk, tea and sugar - in the same pot. (An exception: Darjeeling tea, though sold as black, actually tends to be less oxidized and technically an oolong. This "champagne of teas" in its pure form needs no adulterations; do note however that a lot of what is sold as "Darjeeling tea", especially cheap stuff, is either not actually from Darjeeling or blended with a lot of cheaper tea.)

  • Roadside tea vendors called chai wallahs line many Indian streets. Since roadside tea stalls are limited in the number of utensils they can use, the vendor usually uses just one pot to make lots of cups. He starts a pot, and starts vending the tea. When the supply becomes low, he simply adds more water, sugar, tea and milk into the pot. He keeps on adjusting the ingredients as he goes along while using the color of the tea as a guide to tell him when the tea is "done". This has an added advantage for the chai wallah because the batches after the first one require less tea. This style of tea is called Kadak (literally "hard") because the end result is generally stronger. A lot of people who are used to drinking Kadak chai mimic this by slow boiling the tea after adding the milk.
  • Most of India's neighbor countries including Pakistan and Bangladesh, also enjoy the various chai styles. The Kashmiri-origin teas in particular are also popular in Pakistan (which claims all of Kashmir and has de facto control over a substantial chunk of it).

USA and The Americas

It used to be the case that finding a good cup of tea in the USA was an uncertain proposition. Despite being ex-British citizens their fondness for French and other continental European cultures after their break-up and access to relatively cheap coffee in Central and South America eventually cemented the USA's status as a coffee culture. (The upper class still drank British-style black tea, though, especially in the Northeast and New York.) The accidental invention of the tea bag by a New Yorker in 1907 didn't help any, ensuring this was the only form of tea most Americans would ever see on grocery store shelves.

But while the US is a coffee culture, the South is a tea culture, very fond of iced sweet tea — a very sweet preparation, brewed with sugar added to the pot, which is borderline undrinkable if you weren't born to it (and sometimes even if you were; it can have twice as much sugar as Coca-Cola). Southern sweet tea was originally made with green tea, but supplies of green tea were cut off in the 1930s and '40s due to Japan's war in China. Black tea from India, Tanganyika, and the Caribbean remained available, so the South switched to that, and has never switched back; perhaps sweet green tea was a little too sweet.

Fortunately for tea lovers, the US is coming back around to tea. Since 1990, both the North and the South have seen green and oolong teas becoming much more widely available. Coffee shops have started serving full-leaf tea, and some experimental brands of premium tea have been introduced — especially Tazo. Specialty tea retail is a growing business, especially in newly-gentrified parts of major cities. British tourists remain unimpressed, but it's better than the previous situation; they might be well advised to visit Chinese and Japanese restaurants, which have long been good places for oolong and green tea respectively.

How They Drink It: Iced tea is infinitely more common than hot; this is as true of the North as it is of the South. Lemon is quite commonly added (iced tea will often be served with a wedge of lemon put in, and most restaurants will provide more lemon for the asking), but you can live your whole life in the US without seeing someone add milk or cream to iced tea — even though many Northerners will readily drink iced coffee with milk. Many restaurants offer fruit syrups as additives to tea; a few regions mix fresh or frozen fruit pulp with iced tea. Lately, a drink called the Arnold Palmer (named for the golfer; also called Half and Half), half iced tea and half lemonade, has been coming to prominence in parts of the country; it's rare in the South, though.

Where hot tea is drunk, it's normally sweetened to taste; this is true even in the North. Milk and cream are rare even in hot tea, perhaps for fear of kidney stones; lemon is as common with hot tea as with iced.

Boston, which has long preserved a tea culture even though it's also the cradle of Dunkin' Doughnuts (which is better known in Boston for its coffee), has a very interesting custom: old Boston families sometimes brew tea with saltwater, preferably from Boston Harbor.

  • The American Revolution was set off, in large part, by tea. After spending a vast amount of money to conquer the rest of eastern North America in the Seven Years' War (French and Indian War in the United States), thereby securing the borders of the Thirteen Colonies, Parliament started taxing the colonies to recoup the costs of the war — without the colonies' approval. The colonists had long had a great deal of autonomy, including the rights to set their own taxes and pass their own laws; and besides, they saw themselves as Englishmen. (This is because they mostly were Englishmen; Albion's Seed describes how the Northeast is essentially Essex, Virginia and the Deep South are basically the West Riding, Pennsylvania is Yorkshire — especially the Quakers of that region — and Appalachia is the Scots Border, which also gave The Troubles to the world.)
    • The last straw for Massachusetts, where the American Revolution began, wasn't the imposition of a new tax but the lowering of an existing one. The British East India Company was given monopoly rights to import tea to Boston, basically duty-free; this meant that the EIC could sell legal tea cheaper than Boston's merchant-smuggler families could sell the illegal kind. But most Americans bought tea from the smugglers, and didn't know what the real price of tea was (before surcharges for smuggling or tax); so the smugglers dressed up as very unconvincing American Indians, threw the legal tea into the harbor, and told everyone else that they were protesting a tax increase. The British followed with the Intolerable Acts; the rest of the country rallied to Massachusetts' cause, knowing that if they lost their privileges the other colonies would be next; and then the British decided to seize the arsenal at Concord, Massachusetts, and at this point the American Revolution was on.
    • During the Revolution, it became common (only in the North?) to give up tea in favor of coffee, as a sign of defiance towards the British government; after the War of 1812 — two wars with Britain in two generations — this habit stuck. This must have been frustrating for the tea smugglers who started the whole thing; but then, there were many other businesses that they could go into now that the British had previously monopolized.
  • Several towns in New England used to use to choose their new ministers by looking at how they drank their tea; a candidate was too passionate for the job if he took his tea with both milk and sugar.
  • Foreign countries (including the North) are hell for a Southerner used to drinking iced sweet tea. On the other hand, Northerners are often put off by the amount of sugar in Southern sweet tea (one recipe that makes a sweet tea that is in the mid-range of sweetness calls for a 1:8 ratio of sugar to water), and usually prefer their iced tea to be unsweetened or fruit-sweetened.
    • In the South sweet tea is very Serious Business. The Georgia House of Representatives put forward a bill making it a misdemeanor to sell tea without the option of sweet tea in restaurants. This was an April Fools joke, but they fooled quite a few people.
    • Sweet tea is a point of contention between the South and New Orleans, a Southern city with French (Cajun) and generally cosmopolitan culture. New Orleans brews its tea like the North — brewing unsweetened and perhaps adding sweeteners to taste — but traditional Southern drinkers insist that sugar must be brewed with the tea. Since it's Serious Business as noted, dining venues along major tourist routes come under a lot of pressure to provide tea brewed sweet. (When Southerner Alton Brown rode through New Orleans for his Feasting On Asphalt docu-series, this was a source of considerable astonishment.)
    • Serious business indeed: this space used to contain the accounts of Southern Tropers arguing over how to add the sugar to sweet tea - whether to add it while the tea was hot (claiming it added flavor from the sugar slightly caramelizing), or as sugar syrup when cold.
    • Tea and sugar brewed together can be made sweeter than tea with sugar added later, due to supersaturation. Sugar doesn't dissolve well in tea after it's been iced, either—there's nothing quite like the shock of having wet sugar granules slide in your mouth as you take your final swig.
    • Sweet tea has gone mainstream in recent years, appearing on restaurant menus and in grocery stores. Both the North and the South do like a lot of sugar in most foods...
  • Masala chai is increasingly popular in urban areas, as a comfort-drink alternative to hot chocolate and caffe latte. It's usually made with a concentrated tea-and-spice syrup (or sometimes a powder, like hot chocolate), and so tends to be sweeter and a bit heavier than the Indian original.
  • British and Irish-style teas are readily available in many parts of the country, but often at a jaw-dropping premium (especially for Irish brands like Barrys). Twinings and Tetley's are two brands that are widely available without being extortionately priced, although Tetley's "British blend" (their flagship product) is a little harder to find; their American blend is lighter, more ice-friendly.
  • You might expect that Canada, being where all the Loyalists went after 1776 and priding itself on its continued loyalty to the Crown to this day, would be emphatically British-style tea country, but you'd be wrong; social identity is one thing, cheap American coffee is something else, and so Canada is at least as coffee crazy as its southern neighbour. Still, while coffee is king in Canada to the point of being Serious Business, First Nations tend to serve and drink (hot) tea much more than the rest of Canada. This is probably due to the fact that in earlier generations the main supplier of goods to most Reserves was the (then-)British owned and operated Hudson's Bay Company.note 
    • You'd be surprised how, much like the United States (above), tea is becoming increasingly popular in many parts of Canada. This is helped by the fact that, thanks to Tim Hortons (a famous chain of coffee shops and Canada's cultural equivalent to America's McDonald's), you can now get almost any kind of coffee, latte, cappuccino, and... yes... tea under the sun. This includes an entire assortment of bagged teas (such as Black Tea, Green Tea, and any flavour from Earl Grey to English Breakfast to Chai), as well as Steeped Tea. Much like Australians and upper-class Americans, there are a great many "English" Canadians who enjoy their tea almost as much as the First Nations or South Asian immigrants. Coffee, however, is still the single most-bought hot beverage, although Hot Chocolate is somewhat popular (especially in mid-winter).
      • Iced Tea is also present in Canada, although almost exclusively from Nestle and Brisk. It's almost always sweetened; it's almost never sweetened as much as it is in the American South. Diet Iced Tea — an idea unknown in the South — is also available.
    • McDonald's McCafe is also in on the tea business in Canada, serving a full array of hot teas (Orange Pekoe black tea, Earl Grey, Peppermint, and Green tea) - which generally isn't the case in the US.
    • It must also be noted that Canadians drink significantly more coffee than Americans (6.5 kg/person/year vs. 4.2), but also drink more tea (0.4 kg/person/year vs. 0.3 in the US, Britain is 2.7, Ireland is 3.2, and Morocco is 4.3). It gets really cold in Canada.
  • People who bother to drink tea in North America at all will most likely make it from tea bags, as that's all that's available on most grocery store shelves. There are a number of small companies selling loose-leaf tea by mail order for serious tea aficionados. That said, specialty tea stores, such as David's Tea and Teavana are expanding now so that in any major urban area of Canada and the U.S. you are guaranteed to find around half a dozen stores. There is even one in Toronto's international airport. You can also find loose leaf tea in the better grocery stores with a bulk natural foods section.
  • Owing to the growing popularity of tea stateside, electric kettles are now easily available at "big box" stores in the U.S.; but, as previously mentioned, they're not nearly as powerful as their British counterparts. They're still handy, as they don't tie up the stove and they shut off automatically when they're done boiling for safety.
  • Green tea is becoming popular in the U.S. as a health food, particularly among women. Coffee shops also have green tea lattes available. Matcha is also popular among urban hipsters.


The Mongols' conquest of the Kievan Rus and annexation of its former territories in the middle ages brought Steppe and, by extension, other Asian cultures to Ukraine and Russia in a very direct and incredibly bloody way. However, tea was not part of this, since the Mongols themselves had no regard for it at the time. (Recall how Marco Polo spent ten years as a governor for the Mongols in China and never laid eyes on a pot of tea.) The Yuan Dynasty (the Mongol khanate in China) did come to favour tea, as the Yuan Mongols adopted Chinese culture; but Russia had no contact with the Yuan, and the other Mongols, who weren't ruling over Chinese subjects, didn't become Sinified.

From early on, but particularly after Russia defeated the Golden Horde in the 16th century, Russian trappers and traders, sort of supported by the state (think of the Wild West in American history), expanded into Siberia with forts and trade outposts; they were looking for many things in Siberia, but mostly for fur. (In an age when cloth was hard to produce and not particularly warm, fur was very big business: not much more expensive than the alternative, and much more practical. Recall the similar importance of fur traders in British and French expansion in North America.)

In the 17th century, fur-trapping in Siberia led to Russian contact with China: specifically with the Manchus of the Qing Dynasty, who had overthrown the native Ming, who had overthrown the Yuan Mongols. This was initially hostile but low-key, as both countries' fur-trapping desperados skirmished along the frontier; pitched battles between Russian and Chinese troops over control of the northern part of the Amur River basin led to the Treaty of Nerchinsk in 1689, written in Latin because it was the only language that members of both courts spoke. (Latin was the language of learning in all of Europe at the time; and the Qing had Jesuit missionaries who knew Latin and had learned Manchurian and Chinese.)

With peace came trade, and therefore tea. By the early 1800s, tea was an institution in Russia; by 1915, Russia was buying 65% of China's tea culture; today, tea can be fairly called Russia's national beverage, even more than vodka. Russia today consumes the third most tea per capita in Europe (the most heavily tea-drinking country being Ireland, then the United Kingdom); but it consumes it in a very distinctive way, and the path to tea adoption was a rocky one.

Tea first appeared in Russia in the early 17th century, given as a gift to the embassy of the Tsar Mikhail I. The ambassador didn't like it, and actually didn't even present it to the Tsar for fear of angering him. The second attempt, now by the Qing embassy to Mikhail's son Alexei I, was more successful, and the court loved the drink; but for most of the 17th century it was an expensive import, available only to the nobility. (The typical tea caravan required three years to make the round trip from Moscow to Peking, trading Russian furs for Chinese tea.) It didn't help that Peter the Great, Alexei's son, didn't care for the drink (associating it with Moscow, which he hated) and was an avid coffee fan (coffee was all the rage in 17th-century Western Europe, and Peter wanted Russia to be more Western); nor did competition from Russia's traditional warm drink — sbiten', a hot herbal brew sweetened with honey and/or jam.note 

But tea consumption never quite went away; with increasing trade with the Qing, it became steadily more affordable — at first because more tea caravans were being sent to China; then, much later, because of the construction of the Trans-Siberian Railroad. (But railroad-hauled tea wasn't quite as flavorful as camel-hauled, and attempts started to be made to reproduce the old-fashioned tea's flavor. Today, Twining's makes "Russian Caravan" tea out of a mix of dried and smoked tea leaves.) Urban merchants and artisans appreciated tea's stimulating properties, and soon started drinking it instead of sbiten'; but they developed a unique way of drinking tea, heavily based on sbiten'-drinking. Russian tea is brewed very strong in a small pot; drinkers dilute the tea concentrate to taste with hot water (traditionally from a large samovar), and add lemon and/or sweeteners to taste — typically jam or honey instead of sugar.

By the 19th century, tea was the drink of Russia's urban classes — even of soldiers. (Russian soldiers even took samovars into the Caucasus Mountains on donkey-back during the war with Imam Shamyl.) Coffee was a drink of the rich, more expensive than tea and more time-consuming to prepare.

In the Russian Civil War, tea contributed to the Red (Communist) victory: the Red Army captured the tsars' enormous tea stockpiles, started issuing the tea to their soldiers, and banned alcohol. Tea-drinking gave the Red Army better discipline and better health, and protected them from typhoid fever (which was a plague throughout Russia during the Civil War). The decision was easier to make because most of the distilleries for vodka — and most of Russia's surplus grain and potatoes, needed for distilling it — were in the areas controlled by the Whites (semi-traditionalist authoritarians, comparable to Chiang Kai-Shek or maybe Franco on one of Franco's better days); and the presence of vodka in White territory did nothing to help the White military cause.

During World War II, the Soviets regarded tea almost as highly as the British did; they classed it as a strategic material, on the level of vodka and diesel.

The Sino-Soviet split shifted the focus of Russian tea imports from China, with which relations had soured, to India, which became a strategic Russian ally, but it didn't change the nation's obsession with the drink. Nowadays Chinese imports have resumed, and appreciation of tea's finer points soared to unseen heights. It is therefore safe to say that it will continue to be a staple drink in the years to come.

How They Drink It: Hot and and often sweet, usually black but sometimes oolong. Old Russian teas often had a smoky taste because the teas exported to the central Asian 'barbarian' countries were invariably of very low quality (because such uncivilized louts couldn't appreciate 'proper tea'), making 'smoking' it a necessary expedient to increase its drinkability. The quality of tea exported to central Asia improved over time but the great bulk of it was still smoked because that's what they were used to and preferred (or because it blended with a smoked tea such as lapsang souchong). But perhaps thanks to the disruption caused by the Sino-Soviet split such blends are now rare, with most modern Russian teas coming from Assam, Darjeeling or Ceylon. There is small local production in the south parts of the country, and Krasnodar's tea plantations are the northernmost in the world.

The most common time of the day for tea is either morning or the late afternoon; but people drink it whenever they fancy, and a teapot is a hallowed accessory in any Soviet or Russian office, to be used during even the smallest break and vigilantly protected against fire inspectors. Tea follows every meal in copious quantities, and the type of tea drunk carries strong social connotations. In the 19th century, even the Tsar and the upper class drank sweet tea; but today, the working class takes its tea dark, strong, and sweet (for its supportive properties, like British builder's tea), while the sophisticated opt for more delicate blends, usually unsweetened.

Green tea is drunk by Central Asian migrant laborers, who drink cheap pressed "brick tea", and by refined intellectuals who import Chinese or Japanese luxury blends. Milk tea is known, but not nearly as popular as in Britain; and there's even alcoholic tea, "Admiral's Tea", which is technically a type of grog: strong, sweet tea, lemon, and rum, gin, or vodka.

Guests are served tea, no matter how uninvited or unwelcome they might be. To serve weak tea to a guest is an insult to the host: a sign of poor hospitality.

Unless it's being taken with a meal, tea is accompanied by "tea stuff": cake, pastries, biscuits, and other baked goods and confectionery, which serve as a light meal like British high tea.

Traditional Russian black tea is brewed in advance, as a tea concentrate called "zavarka"; this is allowed to sit on the leaves indefinitely, and is poured and diluted by each drinker to taste. This makes for a lot of very strong tea from a small amount of tea leaves, but adds bitterness which honey or jam can offset; it also gives drinkers a lot of freedom to match their tea to their preferences.

Traditional Russian tea culture centered around the Samovar: a communal hot-water urn, often lavishly decorated and frequently made of silver; a pot of zavarka sat on top of the samovar to keep warm, and drinkers took zavarka from the pot, then hot water from the samovar. Today, urban households use a teapot for zavarka and a tea-kettle for hot water, but the rest of traditional tea-drinking persists, and automated hot-water dispensers, imported from Japan and often seen in eastern Russia, suggest that the samovar is making a comeback.

The old-fashioned way of sweetening tea was to add raspberry or blackcurrant jam; today, sugar or honey is more common. One can also combine bitter tea with cakes or cookies, or hold a nut of candy or sugar in the mouth. (This practice, which can also be found in China, probably started out as a Persian custom; to compensate, the Persians like strong, smokey tea in the traditional Russian style.) Traditional Russian lemon tea contains much more lemon juice than Western types, and is often made with candied lemons or lemon jam.

  • In Russian prisons, incredibly strong tea, called Chifir, is used as a substitute for alcohol and drugs. Solzhenitsyn gives a recipe of one matchbox full of powdered tea per drinker. This is a really good way to destroy your kidneys, or to die outright; chifir is often strong enough to cause caffeine poisoning.
  • During the Russian Civil War, the Reds started out with the cold and unproductive northwestern parts of the Russian Empire, while the Whites had the Ukraine, the Caucasus, and other warm, fertile agricultural regions. But this meant that the Reds controlled much of the country's heavy industry... and all of its tea supplies. The Reds distributed the tea generously, and instituted a strict dry law, which was easy to enforce since they were pretty short on food. The Whites, meanwhile, had a huge surplus of grain and virtually no tea, and were plagued by MilitaryMoonshiners from the beginning of the war to the end.
  • More than you could possibly ever want to know about the Serious Business of Russian tea can be found in the Russian Tea HOWTO, which not only describes the perfect cup of Russian tea in excruciating detail, but (as might be expected from a document written for Linux geeks) goes so far as to suggest sweetening your tea with glucose because it's better brain food than regular sucrose.

The Middle East and Africa

Tea is grown in parts of Africa such as Kenya, but it's mostly a cash crop for export; locals will drink a few cheaper blends, but it's not very culturally important. But tea matters intensely in the Islamic world, where it's as popular as coffee — and where consuming alcohol is very strongly socially discouraged. (Alcohol is forbidden to all Muslims, as a matter of religious obligation. Historically, Muslim rulers permitted their Christian subjects to make wine for their own use, and tolerated rich Muslims buying wine covertly in Christian districts; today, alcohol is often legal but socially unwelcome, and sometimes outright illegal.)

How They Drink It: Can be divided into three camps: Eastern, Western, and Southern.

  • Eastern Camp: This includes Turkey, Lower (i.e. northern) Egypt, Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, the Palestinian territories, Iraq, Iran and the Gulf states minus Yemen (if you consider it Gulf) and parts of Saudi Arabia. Tea here is black; green tea arrived in the area only recently and is seen as a novelty or an aberration, depending on who's talking. Tea is prepared by pouring the boiling water over the tea leaves or powdered tea (depending on location, preference, and budget); mint or other herbs may be added. Sugar is added to taste after brewing; Middle Eastern tastes in tea run to the sweet, often as sweet as in the American South. Milk is not unknown, but also not common. In Iran and Turkey, tea is often left on a low fire or on top of a larger teapot or kettle to strengthen; this may be the result of Russian influence. Tea in this region is particularly important to Sacred Hospitality; as in Russia, it's always offered to anyone considered a guest. This rule includes the workplace; if you're in an office or shop, and have to sit down and talk for more than a few minutes to conduct your business, you can expect to be offered a cup.note  This makes tea bags a bit more common; they're quick and low-mess for workplace kitchens.
    • The electric kettles of which the British are so fond are also ubiquitous in Egypt (apart from the many parts of the countryside that don't get reliable electricity). Fortunately for Egypt, televisions aren't nearly as common, so Egypt doesn't suffer from Britan's post-football-match electricity spikes; many if not most Egyptians watch football matches and other TV events in cafés — which are a predominantly male domain and serve a social role equivalent to the British pub — rather than in their own homes.
    • The Egyptian government considers tea a strategic resource, and owns tea plantations in Sri Lanka and Kenya to ensure a steady supply. Serving tea to a visitor (at home and at work) is considered an almost-sacred duty (they even call it wagib, meaning..."duty").
      • Note that you can decline the offer and no-one will be offended. They may be a bit bewildered, but they won't be offended. Also, today they'll often also ask if you'd prefer instant coffee (inevitably called "Nescafe"), bottled water, or "something cold", i.e. a soft drink; but the default is tea, and if they don't have the other things they will have tea.
    • Turkey: Tea there - çay, pronounced like "chai" - is almost always a black tea called Rize tea (named after Rize, the northeastern province of Turkey where the tea is grown), which is drunk whenever the mood strikes. Almost all restaurants, cafes and coffee places (except at Stabucks and Kahve Dünyası, Istanbul's answer to Starbucks) will serve it in small tulip shaped glasses, and you can drink it straight up or with a sugar or two. It's not uncommon to see men with trays running around the streets and bazaars in the busier parts of town delivering tea to the shopkeepers, and chances are if you sit long enough in any shop someone's going to offer you a glass.
    • The Russian "tea served with with sugar candy to bite on" is also very popular in Iran; Iranians tend to put a lump or cube of sugar in the mouth and drink unsweetened tea over it, leading to a distinct experience. Since Iran has had (cane) sugar for longer than anyone else but the Indians, the custom likely originated there and thence spread to Russia thanks to all manner of cultural contact from centuries of trade and wars in the Caucasus and Central Asia, to say nothing of the Russo-British competition for influence over the 19th-century Iranian court. The exchange was completed by the partial Iranian adoption of the aforementioned samovar for boiling water for tea. Iranian tea culture also involves something like Russian zavarka making, but not exactly; the brewed tea is left on the fire for a bit, but not nearly as long as in Russia or in even the Southern Camp.
  • Southern Camp: Consisting of Upper (southern) Egypt, Sudan, and Yemen. Tea here is also black; instead of pouring boiling water over tea leaves, large quantities of leaves, and larger quantities of sugar, are put into the pot, and the mixture is boiled over a strong flame for at least five minutes (making this kind of tea a decoction rather than an infusion — even the Iranian and Turkish practice of leaving the tea heated doesn't do that). Foreigners — probably even American Southerners who have served time in Russian prisons — know the result as "suicide tea". Milk is a common addition here, because sometimes even the locals have to dilute the tea in order to not die of it. This recipe is best known for being drunk in Upper Egypt (thus the name "Saidi Tea"), but it was probably originally Bedouin; it's also found in Bedouin-influenced parts of the Maghreb.
  • Western Camp: Libya, Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco, and Mauritania. Here, green tea is preferred over black. According to one theory, some Barbary corsairs captured some Europeans en route from China, discovered green tea in the hold of their ship, and liked it so much that the preference stuck; another theory is that neither the Bedouin nor any other traders exported black tea into the Maghreb; but the probable reason for green tea's popularity here is the Crimean War. Tea was unknown in the Maghreb until that conflict, when the British found themselves in possession of huge quantities of green tea that they could no longer export to the Russians. So, they tried selling it to the Moroccans, and the Moroccans loved it; they traditionally drank a mint tisane, and found that preparing this drink with a mix of mint and green tea leaves produced heavenly results: sweet, light on the tongue, and cool-tasting even when served hot, it pairs excellently with the heavy foods traditional in the Maghreb.
    • Maghrebi tea is prepared in the same way as Bedouin-style suicide tea, but the result is far less dangerous: green tea has less caffeine than black, and fewer tea leaves are used to begin with (since the tea's a mix of tea and mint). Wormwood or lemon verbena is sometimes used instead of mint, or as an addition to it; but Maghrebi tea is always a mix of tea and one or more herbs.
    • The Maghreb also has a variety of tea with milk: instead of brewing black tea with water and adding milk to it, they heat up milk, add black tea leaves to it, and add sugar to taste — producing unique and very interesting results.
    • The Moroccans are particularly devoted to mint tea. Educated Moroccans talking with other Arabic-speakers often use Moroccan Arabic "atay" for their tea, in contrast to Modern Standard Arabic "shay" for tea in general. Morocco even has a tea ceremony, not nearly as elaborate as Japan's but still distinctly elaborate; when tea is being served at home to an honored guest — and so the ceremony is at its full height of sophistication — one makes a great show of bringing in the trays bearing glasses, mint, tea, and sugar; taste-tests the tea halfway through boiling; and pours the tea, when it's ready, from a height of at least a meter, in order to mix and aerate it thoroughly. Moroccans will also go to great trouble to source high-quality water for their tea, traveling for miles to find pure, un-chlorinated, low-mineral water that won't impart any unpleasant flavors to the tea. They prefer tea that's a bit strong and very sweet, enough to surprise even other Maghrebi Arabs; there's an old Moroccan proverb that says, "Moroccans do not drink tea, they drink honey."
      • The ceremonial nature of tea in Morocco goes Up to Eleven in the southern parts of of the country, which are mostly desert. Preparing and serving tea in the south can take as long as an hour and a half. The Japanese tea ceremony (the chaji) can take as long as four hours, but then, the Japanese tea ceremony includes a four-course meal; this is an hour and a half for the tea alone.

The Rest of Asia

  • Indonesians drink sweet, iced jasmine tea, especially on hot days; what would the American South and Indonesia make of each other's drinks? Traditional hot tea is also quite popular in Indonesia, especially in the countryside. And there's a recent commercial product called Tebs, Teh BerSoda — sweet jasmine tea with soda water. Whatever tea lovers elsewhere may think of that idea, Indonesia loves it.
  • Heavily sweetened iced tea with canned milk has become popular in several Asian countries, probably picked up from colonial Europeans. Perhaps the most famous form is Thai iced tea, flavored with star anise, vanilla and other spices. It's served cold, the canned milk is sometimes replaced by fresh whole milk, cream, or coconut milk, and it feels more like a dessert than a drink; but it's not that different from masala chai.
  • Vietnam has a rather unique type of green tea, using fresh tea leaves. This is an everyday beverage, especially for the older generations; dried tea, typically flavored with jasmine or lotus, is reserved for special occasion or friends.
  • Malaysians drink a variant of milk tea called teh tarik (literally "pulled tea"), in which the milk tea is aerated by pouring it repeatedly between two containers. This pouring process is called "pulling" (tarik), and it's said that the higher one pulls the tea, the better it tastes.
  • In Myanmar (formerly known as Burma), tea is typically drunk hot, strong, and sweet, with milk or cream; this is similar to British "Builder's Tea", and might even be derived from it. (The British ruled Burma in the 1920s and 1930s.) Burmese tea is typically lingered over with friends; teashops are social hubs, serving food or at least simple snacks, and it's very common to spend half an hour or more in the tea shops — sometimes most of the day.

The Rest of Europe

  • Tea isn't very common in most of Germany, but it's very popular in East Frisia, a subregion of Lower Saxony. East Frisian tea has one or more lumps of rock sugar added to the cup, then tea, then cream; one drinks it without stirring, giving the flavors an interesting layered effect. Napoleon banned tea (and all other goods that could only be acquired from Britain) when he annexed East Frisia to France, and that offense is still remembered today.
    • There is also a specific East Frisian blend of tea, the secret of which is generally jealously guarded by tea dealers, but which cynics say consists mainly of "Assam tea for the colour, and Java tea for the price". Here's a recipe, with links to more info about the East Frisian tea culture if you can read and understand German.
    • During the occupation after World War II, the district of East Frisia had its own unique food rationing cards. The main difference was that tea was treated as one of the basic necessities like bread and potatoes, instead of a luxury good like coffee.
    • In recent years, people have started to speak of the "East Frisian Tea Ceremony". It's less formalized than the Japanese one but just as elaborate and complex. May or may not be Serious Business, which in rural northern Germany is always hard to tell. (Confusing people by feigning offense at the most trivial things, or making increasingly bizarre statements, is a common prank in those parts of Germany — and hardly anyone around there will let you know when You Have Been Trolled.)
    • Heligoland, a Frisian island off the Elbe estuary, was a British possession 1807-1890; there may have been a tea culture there, but at this point in history it's defunct. The island is a part of North Frisia (which belongs to Schleswig-Holstein), where they definitely prefer coffee (especially Pharisäer, which is prepared with rum and cream).
    • Frederick The Great of Prussia liked a bit of tea too and built a "Chinese" tea-house in the park near his palace of Sanssouci in Potsdam. Coincidentally or not, this was about a decade after he inherited East Frisia in 1744. At the time, Prussia imported its tea and other Chinese goods via its North Sea port of Emden in East Frisia.
  • In the German-speaking Alpine regions — Austria, parts of Switzerland, and parts of southern Germany — Jäger-Tee (lit. hunter tea) is a popular beverage among hunters, skiers and other outdoorsy types, praised for it's ability to restore warmth to the body after a day out in the cold and wet. Jäger-Tee is a grog consisting of hot, black tea with a tot of rum, just big enough to add some sweetness and a bit of "zip".
  • Portugal is the country that brought tea to England (Catarina de Brangança loved tea, which Portugal imported from Japan and India, so she asked her husband to import some from Portugal; she shared it with the court, and the rest is history); but it doesn't have any particular interest in tea today. It's probably because of the climate; Portugal is as dry and hot as England is cold and wet, and Iberians tend to prefer cold drinks instead of hot ones in the heat. Portugal is also famous for its wines, which are as popular locally as they are abroad. Canned, cold iced tea is popular among young people in modern Portugal — being neither alcoholic nor carbonated — but there's no particular historic tradition.
  • The Dutch were the first to sell large quantities of tea in Europe (primarily as a health drink); but while they drink a fair bit of tea, it doesn't have much cultural significance.
    • In fact, in every canteen or house and at every coffee machine it is not unusual that there is a wide range of different varieties of tea (all in teabag style, both retro and pyramid), amongst them always English (Breakfast) Blend, Earl Grey, Rooibos and a bunch of fruity ones.
    • The country even has its very own tea company which provides all kinds of teas for all those occasions, from your standard Black and Fruit teas to Herbal Goodness and Wellbeing Moments.
      • There's even Caramelized Pear and Apple Pie flavoured teas!

    Hey, you! Yeah, you! Tea! It's Coffee! I need to talk to you...