Tea Traditions

Tea in the USA

Sleepy Leaf - Tea in the USAAmericans overwhelmingly prefer black tea - it represents nearly 95% of all tea consumed, according to the New York based Tea Council of the USA. The preference for black tea dates back to Word War II. Prior to that, the amount of black and green tea Americans drank was split fairly evenly. However, the impact of the war in Asia made it hard to obtain tea from China and Japan, leaving the market open to tea from British-controlled India; Americans came out of the war drinking nearly 99% black tea.

Tea in Canada

Tea first arrived in British Canada in 1716, and has been a staple ever since. Unlike the Americans, Canadians did not lose their taste for tea through the years, and old-fashioned "afternoon tea" service was a staple for many years at many of the grand old hotels connected by the Canadian Pacific Railway. Today, Canada remains one of the leading importers of teas, as the vast majority of Canadians drink tea regularly.

Tea in England

Sleepy Leaf - English Afternoon TeaThe formal afternoon tea has a well-developed etiquette that dates back to Victorian times.After preparing the pot of tea, the host or hostess pours the tea for guests, who then select traditional baked goods from the table, such as crumpets, fruit cakes, sandwiches, cookies, biscuits, and scones, served with a variety of jams, lemon curd, sweet butter, and clotted cream. Though many items may be offered, the portions are usually quite small - just enough to tide one over until dinner.

Afternoon tea, however, should never be confused with "high tea", which, despite the name, is a quite humble affair. High tea is actually a traditional supper served early in the evening. featuring the kind of starchy, hearty fare needed after hours of manual work. Typical high tea fare includes Welse Rarebit, Cornish pasties, which are filled with meat and vegetables; hot cross buns; and sweet baked goods such as shortbread or cakes.

Black tea, usually from India or Sri Lanka, is the standard tea in England. Although sugar may be added, the tendency is to drink it with a little milk only (never cream).

Tea in Ireland

The Irish retain many English-inspired customs and have added their own local twist. Tea is one - but at a strength that shocks the typical English palate. Adding plenty of milk and sugar is typical in Ireland - as is drinking tea on and off all day. No wonder the Irish are among the world leaders in the amount of tea consumed per capita every year!

Tea in Australia

Although Australians consume tea much as the English do, they also have the tradition of "bush" tea. This poweful beverage is made by boiling tea for a protracted period of time, in the kettle over a campfire - and then sampling a bit of the beverage at a time as a pick-me-up during the day.

Tea in Russia

Sleepy Leaf - Russian TeaRussians have been drinking tea since the 17th century, and it's easy to see how a warm cup is appreciated during their harsh winters. It's considered such as basic item that even convicts in Russian prisons are supposed to receive a regular ration of tea!

Russians typically drink black tea sweet from glasses with silver or pewter handles, sometimes placing a lump of sugar or a spoonful of jam in the mouth before taking a big sip. They view tea as something you can drink all day long and should always have on hand for guests. The samovar is a traditional appliance designed to produce hot water all day long, funneling heat from a charcoal fire up through a chimney that in turn heats water in a surrounding tank. To prepare tea, Russians make zavarka - an intense tea concentrate that they then dilute with hot water from the samovar when it's time for a new cup.

Tea in Turkey

Turkish coffee is famous, but in Turkey, black tea is more popular and is served in small tulip-shaped glasses almost everywhere you go. Tea is served frequently, greasing the wheel of commerce and brightening the most ordinary activities of life.

To prepare tea, Turks use a double teapot, with one kettle set atop the other. Tea leaves are put into the small pot on top and water is boiled in the large pot on the bottom. A little bit of boiling water is poured over the tea leaves, and, after a few moments, the rest of the boiling water added. Tea tends to be brewed strong, but the strength can be easily adjusted to taste by adding water from the large pot into your cup. Lumps of cubes of sugar are a must - unsweetened tea is virtually unheard of - while milk is rarely used.

Tea in the Middle East

North Africa, the Arab states, and Iran share a passion for sweet green tea, often flavoured with mint, sage, or other herbs. Hospitality is an important concept in many Arab countries, and the serving of tea to guests as a gesture of hospitality is taken quite seriously.

The Iranians, with their own distinct culture, are equally devoted to tea and drink it all day, using a type of samovar to keep hot water ready when they need it.

Tea in Japan

Sleepy Leaf - Japanese Tea GardenThe Japanese are devoted to green tea, and in fact have raised the making of tea into a high art through their traditional tea chanoyu ceremony. This sophisticated ritual, typically up to four hours long, is an elaborately choreographed series of gestures, light dishes, and, of course, tea. The point is not originality or self-expression, but rather to capture an ideal of beauty - a value highly prized in traditional Japanese culture.

The first course, kaiseki, typically consists of light dishes designed to relieve hunger during the rest of the ceremony. Following that, a special tea is made from matcha (powdered green tea), stirred with a bamboo whisk. Other foods that the Japanese may eat with tea include wagashi - small confections made from rice flour, tea, and sugar - and mochi, small dumplings filled with sweet red bean paste.

Tea in Tibet

Tea holds a near-sacred place in the lives of Tibetans, who mix green tea with yak butter to make a beverage called tsampa. Tea is brewed for hours at a time - you have to assume that is takes a strong tea to stand up to yak butter! The tea-butter mixture is also cooked with grain meal to produce a tsampa cake that is a staple food.

Sleepy Leaf - Chinese Tea DrinkingTea in China

The Chinese have more experience in making and drinking tea than any other people in the world. There are records of tea in China as far back as 2737 BCE - that's at least 4,000 years to get it right. The Chinese are the original scientists of tea - varying the fermentation times to produce oolong teas, and perfecting techniques to infuse tea with the scent of fruit, flowers, and herbs. Their centuries of exploration have yielded the most varied and distinguished teas on Earth.

Tea is a basic element of Chinese life. Though offered at every meal, it's not a mere beverage; it's a statement of culture. It has deep symbolic and historical connotations. Books and poems have been written about it. Even with the current rapid changes in Chinese society, many people, from construction workers to government bureaucrats, continue to bring their own tea to work in tea flasks. Tea houses, part of traditional life in China, were banned for a time by the Communist Party, but they have recently made a strong comeback as a natural expression of a cherished ideal.

Green, oolong, and scented teas are particularly popular in China. These and other teas are served in small teacups that hold only a few sips of tea at a time so the taste can be appreciated.