Tea Time Traditions Around the World

As a drink that is an integral part of many people’s everyday lives, tea can be magical. From its origins in the ancient Chinese Dynasty to now, traditions surrounding tea have spread around the globe.

Almost any country you travel to has its own tea time traditions. From different ceremonies to different types of teas, there is much to be learned from a single cup.

We’ve put together a list of eleven different countries and their tea traditions to broaden your horizons about the most-consumed drink in the world. 

  • China: Cha-Dao (the way of the tea)
  • Japan: chanoyu tea ceremony (Matcha ceremony)
  • India: Chai
  • Morocco: Touareg tea (Moroccan mint tea)
  • Russia: Zavarka 
  • Iran: teahouses
  • Tibet: Po cha (butter tea)
  • Taiwan: bubble tea
  • Thailand: cha-yen (iced tea)
  • Argentina: Yerba mate
  • England: afternoon tea

The Chinese Tradition of Cha-Dao: The Way of The Tea

Cha is the Chinese word for tea. Dao, or “the way,” is the process of reality. Dao philosophy promotes living in harmony with nature. Though there are many interpretations of Dao, a few principles associated with Daoism include:

  • Simplicity
  • Patience
  • Going with the flow
  • Realizing all things change
  • Harmony with nature 
  • Balance

The tradition of Cha-Dao allows you to understand the Dao through the taste of tea. Everything that goes into making the tea is appreciated in this tradition. Each aspect contains an “energy” that flows through you while you drink the tea. These “energies” include:

  • The mountain
  • Wind
  • Rain
  • Soil
  • Sun
  • Moonlight
  • The clay for the tea bowl
  • Springwater
  • The people who cultivated the tea
  • The person who brews the tea

Nature provides all the elements to produce the tea leaf and the bowl you use to drink it. Humans in harmony with nature cultivate the leaf and pass their energy onto it.

Then the person who prepares the tea uses their refined skills to create something extraordinary. Thus, harmoniously aligning oneself with nature.

Traditional Chinese Tea Ceremonies

There are a couple of different tea time tradition ceremonies practiced in China. The most popular being the Gongfu ceremony. Others include:

  • Wedding tea ceremony
    • Bride and Groom share tea with each other’s parents as a sign of respect and a joining of the family
  • Wu wo tea ceremony
    • Social rank has no meaning in this ceremony where everyone brings their own tea set
  • Perennial tea ceremony
    • With one leader and four participants, this ceremony promotes the importance of harmony and respect for nature

The Gongfu ceremony is meant to create an art-like experience. In a peaceful environment, this ceremony requires extreme attention to detail and a long-time investment. 

Japanese Tea Time Traditions: Chanoyu Tea Ceremony 

China introduced tea to Japan in the 8th Century as a medicinal beverage. Around 1333 to 1573, people of all classes in Japan began enjoying tea and focusing more on the spiritual aspects.

Today, green tea is the drink of choice for most people of Japan in the morning. They will enjoy a few cups throughout the day as well.  As an essential part of every meal, restaurants will even offer you tea free of charge as you take a seat.

Even today, though, the people of Japan still enjoy traditional ceremonies from their past. The Matcha ceremony being a popular one that even tourists can enjoy.

What Is the Matcha Ceremony?

Chanoyu, “the way of the tea,” is a tea time tradition based around serving the green tea Matcha. It is more about the preparation and ceremonial gestures than it is about drinking the tea. Every detail of the ceremony is meant to be for the pleasure of the guests. 

The tea ceremony is meant to induce Zen meditation by expressing simplicity and creating an elegant atmosphere. Every predefined movement is a bonding experience of:

  • Honor
  • Hospitality
  • Appreciation
  • Mindfulness
  • Respect 

Matcha ceremonies are typically held in a traditional tearoom with a tatami floor. An outdoor tea gathering called a nodate is another popular area to hold this ceremony.

Types of Matcha Ceremonies

There are different reasons for holding this tea ceremony. Other types of tea ceremonies include:

  • Akatsuki-no-chaji
    • Held in winter to welcome dawn into the tearoom
  • Yuuzari-no-chaji (Yûzari-no-chaji)
    • This translates to “early-evening tea ceremony held in the warmer months”
  • Asa-cha
    • This is held in the early morning hours of summer
  • Shoburo
    • This honors the first use of the portable brazier for the year in May
  • Shougo-no-chaji
    • Most formal type of ceremony held in winter and summer months
  • Kuchikiri-no-chaji
    • Celebrates the breaking of a seal on a new jar of tea in November
  • Nagori-no-chaji
    • Honors the last of the year’s tea supply in October
  • Yobanashi
    • Honors the long winter nights of December and February
  • Hatsugama
    • Signifies the first tea of the year
worldwide tea tradition

Steps of The Chanoyu Ceremony

The matcha ceremony is all about simplicity. The basic steps associated with the Japanese tea ceremony include:

  • Host prepares the utensils and tearoom as well as their mind and soul
  • Guests wash their hands and bow upon entering the tearoom
  • Host cleanses the tools while guests remain silent
  • Host prepares the Matcha
  • Host serves Matcha to the main guest (shokyaku), who takes a sip, wipes brim, and passes onto the next guest.
  • Host cleans utensils, and guests look over them with a cloth before bowing and exiting

Be sure to be on time and be respectful of the host. The tea ceremony is as much about guest etiquette as it is about proper preparation by the host.

The Rhythm of Life in India: Chai

Originating in India, Chai is a black tea boiled in milk and water that is mixed with spices and herbs. As India’s most popular drink, you can find Chai Wallahs (people who serve Chai) almost anywhere. 

Also known as masala chai, or “spiced tea,” Chai was said to be created somewhere between 5,000 to 9,000 years ago by a king to act as a cleansing Ayurvedic beverage in what is now India.

Originally used as a cure for mild ailments, this tea evolved into an everyday favorite beverage by the 1900s.  

Today, the people of India drink multiple cups of Chai throughout their day. They are usually enjoying it around four p.m. with an afternoon snack. They buy their cups from roadside shops and stands as well as brew their own at home.

Chai: A Family Business

Everywhere you look in India, you can find a small Chai shop run by a devoted family. Multiple generations of brewing lead up to the cup you drink today. 

As the country evolves, many people still flock to little roadside stands to watch the magic of a family run business brew a tea rooted in tradition. Some families have upgraded to modernized Chai cafes that offer better sanitization and the luxury of Wi-Fi.

Different Variations of Chai

Even though masala chai is the most popular Chai, there are many variations of Chai throughout the world. Even in India, you can find a wide array of ways to make the countries beloved drink. A few variations of Chai are:

  • Mumbai’s cutting chai
  • Hyderabad’s Irani chai
  • Kashmiri Kahwa
  • Adrak chai
  • Tulsi tea Chai

Morocco: Touareg tea (Moroccan mint tea)

Tea became popular in the mid-19th century in Morocco. Touareg tea, also known as Tuareg tea or mint tea, is green tea mixed with mint leaves and sugar. Other herbs such as absinthium can also be added generously to create this popular drink.

Whenever a guest comes to their home, the people of Morocco must offer them tea as a sign of friendship and hospitality. It is a sign of great disrespect to not offer one’s guest a cup. This simple offering is a great part of their culture. 

Mint tea is drunk throughout the entirety of the day. It is served before, after, and sometimes during every meal. You can find it at teahouses and every home. Often, this tea time tradition along with the art of preparing mint tea is passed down through generations. 

Traditional Tea Ceremony

Serving tea to one’s guest is often done the traditional way. Atai, or the process of preparing tea, is done in front of one’s guest and can vary from region to region. Generally, preparing tea the traditional way goes like this.

  • Set up a tray of decorative glasses and two teapots
  • Ensure all ingredients are nearby 
    • Ingredients may differ by region
  • Rinse teapots with warm water
  • Place leaves in pot and rinse with warm water, then discard water
  • Add sugar to pots 
  • Add boiling water to pots
  • Let steep for several minutes
  • Pour tea into glasses from a height of at least twelve inches
  • If tea does not have foam on the top, pour back into the pot to let steep longer.
  • Only serve when tea appears foamy 

A second and third pot may be prepared while guests enjoy their cups. In some regions, the act of pouring the tea into the glass and back into the pot is a necessary step to mix ingredients. 

However, in modern times, some people have begun preparing the tea in the kitchen away from the guests. The same method is used, but the demonstration of skill to guests is not done. 

Russia’s Tea Time Traditions: Zavarka 

Russia is famous for its vodka, but did you know tea is a popular drink as well? Somewhere around the 1920s, workers began brewing tea the zavarka way, and it became popular throughout all social classes after that.  

Zavarka, which means “to brew,” is a strong tea-based concentrate. Russians prepare their tea by brewing a large pot of tea concentrate in the morning and then diluting each individual cup to ones liking throughout the day. 

The samovar, or Russian teapot, is just as important as the tea itself. Samovars often have attachments that hold the tea concentrate and can be very intricate in design. As the main centerpiece of the table, the samovar is often passed down as a family heirloom.

Components of Zavarka

The Russian tea ceremony can be done with any type of tea so that each person can create their own perfect cup. Besides tea, the samovar and podstakannik are traditionally used.

Podstakannik is a tea glass holder that is often elaborately designed like the samovar. It is commonly made of metal and is still used today on trains or in local cafes.

Nowadays, people use porcelain cups to drink their tea from, but some still break out the traditional podstakannik occasionally. 

The samovar is also not as popularly used today due to the introduction of electric tea kettles. However, most people still have it as a decorative piece for their home. 

yerba mate tea tradition

Tea and Snacks in Russian Tea Time Traditions

No matter the time of day, when Russians invite guests into their home, they offer not only tea but snacks as well. Sushkie is a common dessert offered that is a cross between a bread and a cookie meant to be dipped within the tea. Other snacks offered include:

  • Chocolates
  • Honey
  • Pierogis
  • Sweets 
  • Jams

Tea is always served with dinner towards the end with the desserts. If you are ever invited for tea, be sure to bring a dessert for the host to share during teatime. 

It is considered extremely rude to turn down tea when offered it. No matter the reasoning for visiting, there is always time for tea. 

Iranian Teahouses

Kashef Al Saltaneh is said to be the father of Iranian tea after he smuggled tea saplings and seeds from India to Iran after learning the secrets of how to make tea in 1895. Since then, tea has become the drink of choice for most Iranians, who consume it throughout the entirety of the day.

Imported from Russia, the samovar is what tea is traditionally served in. Most formal meetings and occasions begin with the offering of tea from the samovar. Most dinners end this way too.

Iranian tea itself is defined by its deep reddish-brown color. It can come in a variety of subtle flavors and is normally quite strong. You sweeten the tea by placing a sugar cube between your teeth and then drinking the tea. 

The Importance of Chaikhanehs

Chaikhanehs, or teahouses, are imperative to the tea time traditions in Iranian society. As a place to socialize with one’s peers due to the ban on clubs and bars, Iranian tea houses are often populated by younger generations.

People of all generations can enjoy the comfort and experience of a Chaikhaneh, though. These teahouses come in all shapes and sizes with something for everyone. Whether they are a lavish venue or simple one, they are something magical.

Lavish chaikhanehs have intricate architectural design as well as traditional decorations of pots and mirrors amongst other things. Some, like the Azari Tea House in Tehran, even have teahouse paintings that feature religious and mythical themes. 

Keep in mind that in Iran, only men are allowed in most teahouses; however, a few like Azadegan Teahouse allow women in as well. 

Tibet’s Butter Tea: Po cha

Tea was introduced to Tibet somewhere around AD 641. Gradually, Tibetans decided that they could receive nutrients from the tea to make up for their lack of vegetable intake since vegetables do not grow in harsh environments. 

There are four main types of tea served in Tibet. These include:

Butter tea, or Po cha, is the most popular of the four. The people of Tibet drink it to keep them warm outside while giving them energy, healthy fats, and calories. You burn a lot of calories trying to stay warm in the cold; butter tea helps with this.

Tibetans will drink many cups of tea per day for the nutritional intake. It gives them an instant energy boost to do daily activities in their high elevation home that can be difficult to breathe in. 

How to Traditionally Prepare Po cha 

When you enter a Tibetan home, they will likely prepare a glass of butter tea for you. Although there are only a few steps, this process can last for a few hours. Here’s how to prepare Po cha.

  • Boil pu-erh tea for a couple hours
    • This creates chaku (a strong bitter tea)
  • Boil water and add chaku and salt
  • Add butter and milk from a dri (female yak)
  • Pour mixture into a chandong (a type of churn)
  • Blend the po-cha for as long as desired

Nowadays, Tibetans may simply pour the tea into a cup and stir it with their chopsticks instead of using a chandong. People outside of Tibet may use a black tea that takes less time to steep and a use blender to churn the final product. 

Tibetan Tea Houses

If you wish to experience Tibetan tea tradition first hand, stop into one of their many tea houses. Though small, they offer an unpretentious atmosphere where people gather to socialize.

Take a walk down Barkour Street, and you will find an array of teahouses to choose from that all offer a genuine Tibetan experience. 

Taiwan’s Changing Tea Time Traditions: Bubble Tea

Taiwan tea culture dates to the 18th century when Chinese tea farmers brought over tea bushes. Oolong tea quickly became a popular tea grown within Taiwan along with green and black teas. 

The Taiwanese ceremony of drinking tea is greatly influenced by China and Japan. It closely resembles the Chinese gong fu cha ceremony using Japanese tea ware. 

This ceremony involves appreciating the scent of the tea before consuming it by pouring the tea into scent cups. Once the aroma has been appreciated, the tea is poured into a different cup, where it is to be enjoyed in three sips.  

Bubble Tea: Taiwan’s New Tea Culture

However, nowadays you are less likely to find teahouses and tea ceremonies due to a changing tea culture. Instead, you will find bubble tea shops everywhere you go. 

Bubble tea, also known as “black pearl tea” or “boba tea,” didn’t come about until the 1980s. This makes this drink newer to the scene than most traditional teas. It is said to be the culture of the younger generation.

Back in 1949, shou yao, or hand-shaken, tea was created and named foam tea. Later in the 1980s, black tapioca balls were added to milk-based foam tea to create the bubble tea we know today. Now, you can find this drink everywhere you look in Taiwan, as well as all over the world. 

world tea traditions

Iced Tea of Thailand: Cha-yen 

As a way of eradicating the growth of opium in Thailand, King Bhumibol Adulyadej initiated a variety of royal projects that switched farmers over from opium farming to tea farming around the 1960s.

Sometime after that, Thailand became known for its cha-yen (iced tea). It is blacked tea mixed with condensed milk and ice. This strongly brewed red, sweet tea is not typically made at home. Rather, you can find it in any local store or restaurant.

How Popular is Cha-yen in Thai Tea Time Traditions?

In other countries, Cha-yen is viewed as an extremely popular drink to the people of Thailand’s culture, but to natives, it is just another drink. They do not drink it every day, but this is not to say that it isn’t enjoyed by many. North America has simply idolized the beverage.

Thailand is best known for producing oolong tea, which is a traditional Chinese tea. When it comes to consumption, bubble tea from Taiwan is very popularly consumed.

Tea isn’t a necessity to the culture of Taiwan even though the drink Cha-yen has become a sort of symbol of the country in North America. 

Yerba Mate of Argentina

Yerba mate comes from a tree and was first used in the 14th century by Guaraní natives. They used the leaves of the tree as a currency as well as to create the drink we know as yerba mate.

Yerba mate tea is not actually a true tea because it contains no tea leaves from the Camellia sinensis, but rather herbs. The leaves of the yerba mate are dried and steeped in hot water to create a tea-like substance that can be served cold or hot. 

As a caffeinated beverage, yerba mate tea is often described as tasting earthy and bittersweet. Depending on the type of plant and time of harvesting, you can get different levels of sweetness and woodsy flavors. 

How is Yerba Mate Part of Tea Time Traditions in Argentina?

Yerba Mate is drunk throughout the entirety of the day. You can find it in tea bags and in instant form but very rarely in restaurants. This is because it is not meant to be served with a meal. 

Instead, it is meant to be sipped throughout the day or used in social interactions. 

Custom of Preparing Mate

Yerba mate is easily made by locals using only a few ingredients and materials. To make yerba mate, all you need is:

  • Hollowed calabash gourd
    • Today you can use a wooden, glass, or ceramic gourd
  • Bombilla – metal straw with a filter on the end
  • A thermos
  • Yerba mate
  • Hot water

A simple process of filling the gourd with mate and pouring hot water at a temperature of 140–158ºF into the gourd and letting it sit for a while produces the well-known tea. After the tea has steeped, place the filtered end of the bombilla into the mate and enjoy. 

Yerba Mate Etiquette

Drinking yerba mate is a bonding experience between people. The brewer of the mate hands the guest a gourd as a sign of respect. The guest is expected to drink all the mate and hand the gourd back. 

If the guest does not want anymore, they say “gracias.” If the guest would like more, though, they simply refrain from saying it and wait for the gourd to be handed back.  

In a group setting, it works the same way. The host offers someone the gourd, and they drink and hand it back for the host to fill and hand to another member of the group. Only say thank you when you are done drinking.

British Afternoon Tea Time Tradition

When you think of tea, almost everyone thinks of England and their afternoon ritual around it. Tea was popularized in England in the 1660s by King Charles II. It wasn’t until 1840 that the tradition of afternoon tea was started. 

The seventh Duchess of Bedford, Anna, would become hungry between her lunch and eight o’clock dinner time. She would ask that tea and snacks be delivered to her in the late afternoon daily. This is what began traditional teatime that is still observed today.

What Kind of Tea is Drunk?

Any type of tea can be drunk during the afternoon teatime. It is all dependent upon the person’s preferences. A few common types of teas include:

  • Earl Grey
  • English Black
  • Mint herbal
  • Lavender herbal
  • Assam

What is Served with Afternoon Tea?

The reasoning behind afternoon tea was the food. Tea is traditionally served with an array of snacks. These include:

  • Finger sandwiches
  • Scones
  • Cakes
  • Pastries

Who Has Afternoon Tea?

Afternoon tea was normally practiced by women rather than men. It is a time to gather and socialize with friends over light snacks. Traveling around England, you will find that different restaurants, hotels, and bakeries all offer the option of afternoon tea.

Tea Time Traditions Are Fascinating

Whether you are experiencing your first Japanese Tea Ceremony, or have just settled in for a very proper British afternoon tea, there are amazing tea experiences all around the world.  Next time you travel, check into the region’s tea traditions – you’ll be glad you did.

If you love tea as much as I do, pin this Tea Time Traditions article to your favorite tea-loving Pinterest board and pass it on for others to enjoy! Pinkies up!

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