The Chinese art of tea making, called cha dao, has been practiced in China since 2000 B.C.E., when tea was drunk for medicinal purposes. Tea is given as a gift, used in courting and hospitality rituals and ancestral worship, and enjoyed in social settings. Tea houses, where people gather to drink tea and mingle, remain the social center of Chinese culture.
It goes by different names in other countries, but in Taiwan, where it originated in the 1980s, it’s called pearl milk tea: an iced, sweet, tea drink that contains what look like small bubbles (tapioca balls) at the bottom of the drink. The drink comes in many flavors and is generally made in two forms: a fruity, iced tea, consisting of fresh fruits, tea, and crushed ice; or a milkshake-like tea, made by combining tea, (sometimes) milk, powdered flavoring, creamer, water, and crushed ice.
The spicy flavor of Thai tea, called cha yen, compliments spicy Thai cuisine. This iced milk tea from Thailand is made from red tea and various spices like anise, green cardamom, orange blossoms, cloves, cinnamon, and ground tamarind.
Tea in Tibet is drunk from a bowl instead of a cup. What Tibetans call po cha, or butter tea, is made by crushing brick tea, soaking it in water overnight, then churning it with salt, goat’s milk, and yak butter, for a thick, buttery tea drink ideal for the cold climate high in the Himalayas.
The Japanese drink a variety of green teas, ranging in color and taste. Matcha tea is a powdered green tea used in tea ceremonies, called chanoyu in Japanese, celebrating harmony, respect, purity, and tranquility. During a ceremony, the host mixes tea and water with a bamboo whisk and guest sip from one bowl that is passed around.
In India, tea makers known as chai wallahs brew tea, or chai-pani, in roadside stalls on street corners. The most common method of brewing is boiling tea leaves with sugar and milk to create a creamy drink known as masala chai tea, infused with pepper, cinnamon, cardamom, and cloves.
A Malaysian breakfast isn’t complete without a cup of teh tarik tea to go with a plate of Indian flatbread , or roti canai. Teh tarik is a strong tea that is mixed with condensed milk and sugar, then poured several times between two cups, making the drink frothy.
Conversations without tea are like a night sky without the moon, according to a popular Turkish proverb. Tea is at the center of most social events in Turkey. Tea houses, however, are mainly for men, who come together to play board games while sipping tea. They mainly drink Turkish tea, a dark red tea served in a tulip-shaped glass. In eastern Turkey, a cube of sugar is placed under the tongue before sipping tea, and some tea drinkers keep a pot in their car so that they can boil tea at any time.
A pink-colored, milky tea called noon chai is drunk twice a day in Kashmir, Pakistan as well as at holidays and on special occasions. It’s made with milk, pistachios, almonds, various spices, and a pinch of baking soda for the pink color.
In Egypt, tea is called shai and there are two types: Koshary and Saiidi. Koshary tea, popular in Northern Egypt, is prepared by traditional steeping methods and flavored with sugar, mint leaves, and often milk. Saiidi tea is popular in Southern Egypt, where it’s made by boiling the tea with water over a flame and sweetening it with many spoonfuls of sugar.
Hospitality is a virtue in Morocco, and tea has always been the drink of choice when welcoming guests in the home. Maghrebi mint tea, a refreshing mixture of green tea and mint leaves, is served to guests three times to represent life, love, and death.
Tea time is an old tradition in the United Kingdom, dating back to the nineteenth century, when breakfast and lunch were the main meals of the day, and a cup of tea and snacks were enjoyed as an afternoon pick-me-up. Black tea blends like Earl Grey and English Breakfast are preferred and are usually drunk in the morning in bed, at breakfast, and at afternoon tea at about 4 or 5 p.m.
Tea is always served hot in Russia, even when it’s warm outside. Traditional Russian zavarka tea is brewed in a samovar, a Mongolian-inspired urn that looks like a combination of a hot water heater and a teapot, and the tea is often sweetened with sugar, fruits, or jam.
The history of the United States begins with tea. At the Boston Tea Party in 1773, three shiploads of tea were dumped into the harbor to protest high taxes on tea. Iced tea, sweetened with sugar or simple syrup, is enjoyed as a refreshing drink in summer months.