Tea is an integral part of many cultures around the world. It's a beverage that's ingrained in history, and it has been the centre of social gatherings for centuries. In fact, tea is the second most consumed beverage in the world after water. This is mainly because it is easy to make and can be enjoyed at any time or place, hot or cold. Tea is grown in many countries around the world and is steeped in rituals and customs that date back centuries. It’s also a great social drink, as it encourages conversation and bonding between friends and family.
There’s also been lots of research about tea in the modern world to suggest that tea has lots of health benefits. For example, a study published by Peng X, Zhou R, Wang B, et al suggested that green tea significantly decreased blood pressure .
Let’s pump up our levels of caffeine content as we explore the cultural significance of tea around the world, where it came from, and what types you may find there.
Tea in China
Let’s start off with the birth place of tea in China. According to legend, tea was found by Shen Nong, a Chinese emperor, around 2732 BC when a leaf from a nearby shrub fell into some water he was boiling. Ritual tea drinking also originates in China during the Tang dynasty and with tea being such a huge part in Chinese culture this is no surprise. Fundamentally tea ceremonies cemented the way of making a particular tea, though they’ve been refined through time for better taste.
In China and lots of other parts of East Asia you’ll find what they call ‘Tea houses’ much like the western style coffee houses, where people gather to socialize, play traditional games and enjoy tea.
Much like the legend, China still creates tea from the buds of the Camellia Sinensis plant. They also classify their tea into 5 categories: post-fermented, white tea, black tea, oolong and green.
So if you’re looking to trace back the origins of tea, why not try Chinese style Tea?
Tea in India
India is one of the largest producers of tea in the world, and the country itself consumes 70% of their own production. In fact, some teas are only exclusively grown in India, like the Darjeeling and Assam tea. Tea consumption is so popular here that it’s the 3rd most popular drink after water and milk.
The British empire began experimenting with tea production from China and India. They found that tea grew particularly well in Assam and thus began large scale production of tea gardens across the east of India, taking control of the land which belonged to the Singpho people, traditional tribes who grew the tea originally.
One of the most famous types of Tea is the masala chai which is a spiced tea, it mixes black tea, milk and sugar with lots of eastern spices like cardamom, ground cloves, ground ginger and cinnamon (I know these spices sound like autumn here in the west but I promise you, they’re originally from India or South east Asia!).
Tea in Morocco
Morocco is particularly known for their elaborate tea presentation called Atay. It’s a symbolic tradition which is synonymous with friendship and hospitality. The tea itself consists of a green tea base, sugar and fresh mint leaves.
If you’re ever in Morocco or know anyone from the Maghreb region, you’ll see them pouring tea at great heights over a small glass. It’s Moroccan tradition that if the foam has not settled at the top of the cup, it has not been brewed long enough, so back into the teapot it goes for another, longer steep and pour.
Tea is embedded into Moroccan culture as people drink tea regularly (more than once a day in fact) and it is a must to offer specifically mint tea to welcomed guests.
Tea in Britain
What’s better known as the traditional English breakfast actually originates from Assam in India and in China as early as the mid-1600s. During the British Empire tea grew in great popularity and was quickly seen as a symbol of a patriotic product of the empire as well as strength. It was traditionally associated with the upper class but slowly through time has fallen in price making it a lot more accessible to the working class and then became the dominant drink for all classes during the Victorian era. London quickly became the international centre of the tea trade which made the price of tea rise as well as porcelain, for things like tea cups, mugs and teapots.
English tea is usually a black tea blended with milk and sugar and is a common drink to have for breakfast (check out our breakfast blog). Tea is often served with sandwiches, crumpets, scones, cake, or biscuits, giving rise to the British practice of dunking biscuits into tea. Unlike older generations of tea making, kettles were first introduced in the United Kingdom and thus began a culture of brewing tea using them.
After reading this, be sure to draw out your tea bag and have a cuppa!
Tea in Taiwan
Today we are aware of the bubble tea trend and yes you’ve got that right, bubble tea originates from Taiwan. It’s a relatively recent style of tea, only introduced in the 1980s. The tea can consist of any type but it must be topped with tapioca or ‘boba’ balls or pearls (the chewy black balls you typically see at the bottom).
Bubble tea comes in two different categories, tea without milk and tea with milk but both come with either black, green, or oolong tea as the base. The traditional way of making bubble tea in Taiwan would be to mix the ingredients (sugar, powders and other flavourings) together using a bubble tea shaker, by hand. Though in modern times they use a special bubble tea machine, reducing the manpower needed.
This Taiwanese drink has become so popular that there are many stores opening up around the world just focusing on this one particular type of tea! You get a sense why since the variety is so huge, there are iced teas, herbal tea and so much more in bubble tea form! But you know, there are many Asians shops which sell the tapioca pearls as a standalone product, so why not have a go at making your own bubble tea at home?
Tea in Bangladesh
Great now for the good stuff! (I’m not just saying this because I’m ethnically from there and happen to be from the literal city which produces the most tea in the country, honest!). Tea in Bangladesh started out in the pre-partition era of the British empire when India, Pakistan and Bangladesh used to be unified as one country. Back then Sylhet in Bangladesh (my ancestral homeland) and Assam in India were the leading producers of tea. The two districts then quickly fell under one region during the latter stages of the empire once the British discovered the high yield of tea leaves grown there. To this day this tradition still lives on.
Not only did tea give Bangladesh a stable income, but it also paved the way for women in work. Majority of the laborers who work in the tea gardens of Bangladesh are women (though the working conditions, much like everywhere else where tea is grown, could do with a lot more work!).
Bangladesh is famous for their iconic 7 coloured tea or (সাত রং চা / Shat ronger cha in Bengali). The unique tea was invented by Romesh Ram Gour when he discovered the various densities of tea. The 7 layered tea consists of green and black tea, along with lemon, spices and condensed milk. Each layer of tea is carefully poured on top of another. From a sweet syrupy, fruity to a spicy clove centre, each layer varies in colours and taste. Sadly, this tea is only sold in a handful of tea stands even within Bangladesh (Sreemangal, Sylhet) though there are plenty of recipes out there online! Why not try experimenting with different types of teas and make your own?
 Peng, X., Zhou, R., Wang, B., Yu, X., Yang, X., Liu, K., & Mi, M. (2014). Effect of green tea consumption on blood pressure: a meta-analysis of 13 randomized controlled trials. Scientific reports, 4, 6251. https://doi.org/10.1038/srep06251