Gastronomy Culture: Tea Rituals from Around the World

EHL Faculty | 5 Feb, 2016

Some of the best secrets, most memorable afternoons, restorative moments, and biggest cultural landmarks have been exchanged over a cup of tea. 

Christophe Laurent, Senior Lecturer Practical Arts & EHL Values Ambassador, takes you around the world with just five pots of tea as we explore how different regions celebrate one of the most universal signs of hospitality. 

First brewed in China for medicinal purposes circa 2000 BC, tea is the oldest and second most commonly consumed beverage (aside from water) in the world. Although almost every country drinks some form of tea, each culture has adopted and interpreted their tea rituals to reflect its own values, heritage, and tastes. While exchanging tea-related traditions, the distance that separates us becomes as small as the rim of a tea cup; because no matter what country you're in, tea brings people together, heals, and welcomes while restoring the body and mind.

BUTTER TEA IN TIBET

Although India famously produces 900,000 tons of tea each year, their neighbor Tibet gives them a good run for their tea leaf in consumption. Tibetans are said to consume more than 60 cups of tea per day (particularly in the colder, mountainous regions). Tibetan tea is savory rather than sweet like Moroccan tea (or even the more well-known Indian chai tea), combining black pemagul tea with rich yak butter, fresh milk, and a dash of salt. This hardy drink symbolizes vivacity and is meant to warm the soul and invigorate the body in even the highest altitudes.

AFTERNOON TEA IN ENGLAND

If you've ever indulged in a sumptuous, leisurely afternoon of tea, delicate pastries, and finger sandwiches, you should thank Anna the Seventh Duchess of Bedford, who created the famous English tea ceremony to curb her afternoon food cravings. Today, English tea rituals are celebrated across the world and have become a trendy craze for tourists and locals alike. Afternoon tea carves out space to celebrate friendship, indulge, and enjoy life at a leisurely pace and has become a staple in the pop iconization of British culture in tandem with sayings like "Keep Calm and Carry On." And after all, if it's good enough for Her Majesty the Queen of England, it's good enough for us.

JAPANESE MATCHA AND MEDITATION

Aside from the many social benefits of sharing a cup of tea, Eastern cultures have long embraced the healing powers of this remarkable beverage. Japanese matcha - or powdered green tea - has an almost mystic quality and relates closely to the practice of Zen Buddhism (while making its way into the mainstream thanks to health enthusiasts and worldwide chains such as Starbucks). In Japan, drinking tea is often done in small groups at a tea house or while practicing the art of meditation in the traditional chanoyu ceremony. Matcha is said to have a calming effect while serving up a serious dose of antioxidants, metabolism boosting nutrients, and purifying properties.

SWEET TEA IN THE UNITED STATES

The American South has made tea consumption all its own. Sweet tea is a cold pressed take on the traditional favorite, packed with the molasses-like flavor of raw cane sugar. Although this drink seems to embody the modern American spirit of bigger, bolder flavors, the drink actually dates all the way back to 1879. Early settlers found themselves enjoying this sweet drink to stave off the hot Southern climate while indulging in the fruits of their imports: both sugar and tea. Sweet tea is one of the most popular beverages in the United States and a cultural staple in the South.

SIP MINT TEA IN THE MAGHREB

Cheers to love, life, and death. Tea in Morocco is at once casual and ritualistic. North Africans drink tuareg, their signature sweet, mint tea, after every meal, and celebrate arriving visitors with a tea ceremony to honor their guests. Exchanging tea is a great honor, led by the head of household. Guests are offered three delicate cups of tea signifying love, life, and death - each filled with this warm elixir to represent the abundance and flow of these forces in our lives. It's important to drink from each cup to complete the ritual...

...But I suspect you'll be coming back for more.

Author: Christophe Laurent, Senior Lecturer Practical Arts & EHL Values Ambassador

Master Class in Culinary Arts
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