Five Unique Tea Traditions from Around the World

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Five Unique Tea Traditions from Around the World

Drinking tea is a tradition that dates back to 2737 BCE, according to legend, when a dried leaf fell from a plant in Chinese emperor Shennong’s hot water, and he found that he enjoyed the taste far more than usual. Since then, the practice of tea drinking has spread across the world, with countries and cultures adapting the practice to suit their preferences and traditions. Here’s how to enjoy a cup of the good stuff in various countries around the world.

Russian Zavarka Tea

Russia has two favorite beverages: vodka and zavarka tea. Their love of tea grew around the time of the Bolsheviks’ victory in the Civil War when soldiers and factory workers were given complimentary tea to enjoy. Before this, tea was a luxury reserved for aristocrats. Today, many Russians like to sip on zavarka, a tea concentrate brewed in a samovar (a metal urn used to boil water). Zavarka is served over several rounds, and each guest dilutes their tea concentrate until it reaches their preferred strength. If you find yourself in Russia, don’t hold back on accepting your zavarka tea with a hearty portion of cake. In the country, it’s considered bad manners for the host to serve tea ‘naked.’

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Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty

Taiwanese Bubble Tea

While Taiwanese bubble tea has become popular worldwide, there’s no denying this method of sipping tea is rather unusual. Bubble tea is a modern innovation on traditional Chinese tea, renowned for the ‘bubbles’ that give it its name. A sweet, high-calorie treat, bubble tea typically consists of iced tea with powdered milk and sugary syrup. But the stars of the show are the small balls of tapioca (a starchy white grain) that sit at the bottom of the beverage. As you sip the sweet stuff, on the first taste, you may be surprised to slurp up one of the translucent spheres. But as you’ll soon discover, the sugary liquid pairs wonderfully with the seemingly tasteless tapioca balls.

Moroccan Atai Tea

In Morocco, tea represents friendship and hospitality. The serving of atai tea involves a ceremony performed for guests, typically led by the male head of the house. Traditionally Moroccan atai tea consists of a Chinese gunpowder variety of green tea sweetened with plenty of sugar and flavored with fresh mint leaves. The tea is prepared in a samovar and is dramatically poured high in the air into small glasses typically decorated with eye-catching and colorful designs—it’s quite the show.

British Afternoon Tea

Many Brits would agree that it’s hard to get through the day without a good ‘cuppa.’ Tea was introduced to England in the 17th century, but the classic British afternoon tea tradition didn’t catch on for another 200 years. The custom usually consists of an elaborate selection of dainty cakes, sweet treats, and delicate, finely cut sandwiches. The concept of British afternoon tea came about when Anna, the seventh Duchess of Bedford, requested her staff to prepare an afternoon snack for her around 4 p.m. after becoming hungry in between midday lunch and evening dinner. Anna’s concept of afternoon tea inspired the upper class. It spread across the country, leading to decadent afternoon tea parties and the eventual opening of tea gardens where customers could enjoy tea and cake in a scenic setting. Today, British afternoon tea is world-renowned, and many tourists visiting Britain make sure to experience the tradition for themselves.

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Photo by Paula Bronstein/Getty

Thai Iced Tea

When the Chinese Civil War was ending in 1949, refugees headed to Thailand, bringing some parts of Chinese culture with them, including their rich love of tea. Thailand took the Chinese tea tradition and produced their own amber-hued Thai iced tea or Cha Yen. The beverage is a blend of Ceylon or Assam tea with sugar, condensed milk, and flavourful spices such as star anise, orange blossom and tamarind. This tea concoction was then served over ice in a tall glass. Some recipes include topping the tea with evaporated milk, creating a pleasing ombre effect and an extra sugary taste. A tall glass of refreshing Thai iced tea on a hot day will make you feel instantly refreshed.