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Tea has its own rituals and traditions that vary widely from one country to another. Learn more about these rituals and traditions in China, Japan, the United Kingdom, Russia or Morrocco:
Cha No You from Japan
In Japan, tea has a very important cultural dimension. More than just an art of good living, it is a form of worship founded on the adoration of Beauty amidst the banalities of everyday existence. This philosophy is embodied in an extremely codified ceremony, which takes place in a specific place and in which every gesture must be strictly followed.
A maximum of five people participate in the ceremony, which is held in a pavilion located in a shady part of the garden and used only for this purpose and which houses a tea room and a preparation room. Smaller than traditional tea rooms, this pavilion must give the impression of genteel poverty since simplicity conveys the essence of true beauty for the Japanese.
This philosophical ceremony, developed toward the end of the 15th century and reflecting the influence of Zen Buddhism, invites the participant to purify himself by becoming one with nature. This is why the walkway leading to the pavilion is lined with trees and flowers, allowing the visitor to achieve the first stage of meditation. Nothing is left to chance: decor, food, topics of conversation, etc. Great respect is paid to the geishas, who give their utmost attention to even the smallest detail of the ceremony.
First, a light meal is served, followed by a short pause. Then comes the Goza Iri, the central moment of the ceremony during which first a thick tea is served - Koicha - then a light one - Usucha. Various customary cleansing rituals and courtesies take place until the host strikes a gong five times. After a series of meticulous gestures, he pours three spoonfuls of Matcha per guest into a bowl, adds a ladleful of hot water and beats it with a bamboo whisk until a thick liquid is obtained. The bowl is placed next to the hearth and the guest of honor approaches on his knees. He then takes three sips and, after the first one, offers his compliments on the taste of the tea. He then dries the place where his lips touched the bowl, with the Kaishi paper that he brought with him, and passes the bowl to the second guest who does the same, and so forth. The last person gives the bowl back to the first guest, who hands it over to the host.
The various stages of the Cha No Yu ceremony have been paramount in developing Japan's architecture, horticulture, landscaping, porcelain and floral art. Each step involves adherence to aesthetic principles in very diverse areas. For example, value is placed on the tools required for the ceremony - the bowl, the box, the ladle, the whisk - which are often true works of art. But it is also about knowing how to enjoy their decorative settings, such as the Kakemono, a vertical painting on a roller, the Chabana, a flower arrangement designed for the occasion, or the harmony of the slopes of the tea room roof.
Furthermore, the meticulous etiquette followed during the ceremony has fundamentally influenced the manner in which the Japanese live. To take an interest in this ancient art, designed to bring grace and good manners to those who practice it, is one of the keys to understanding Japanese society.
Gong Fu Cha from China
In their everyday lives, the Chinese do not use a teapot, but prepare their tea in small individual bowls - zhong bowls - into which they place a little green tea and then pour on boiling water. The bowl is covered with a special lid that allows the tea to be drunk without swallowing the leaves. Tea drinkers will continue to re-infuse the same leaves many times throughout the day and will take their bowls with them wherever they go.
Alongside this everyday form of tea drinking, there is the Chinese tradition of tea drinking, Gong Fu Cha, which has been adopted in Taiwan for several decades.
It was during the Ming dynasty that the practice of infusing tea first became widespread, the first teapots appeared and Yi Xing clay began to be used in their production. Tea drinking at the time was a refined and social act, which aimed to recapture and imitate the forgotten rituals of the Song tradition. This aim led to the creation of a tea manual, the Cha Shu, which described in great detail every step in the preparation of tea and on which the Taiwanese Gong Fu Cha is directly based.
Today, this set of rules is observed in most Taiwanese teahouses, where tea lovers can get together in a warm and friendly environment. The teas drunk there are of an exceptional quality; they are most often Wu Long (Oolong) with very delicate aromas and long-lasting flavors, which require teapots made of a particular type of clay from Yi Xing, a Chinese village to the west of Shanghai. Among other accessories, one typically finds the kettle, the tea boat, a sort of large shallow dish onto which the teapot and cups are placed, the spare pot, and the smelling and tasting cups.
So how is tea prepared according to Gong Fu Cha?
- place the teapot and the cups on the tea boat,
- pour some hot water into the teapot to rinse it and then pour this water into the spare pot,
- put enough tea leaves into the teapot to half fill it. Rinse the leaves with a little water just to moisten them, then immediately pour the rinsing water into the spare pot,
- pour the contents of this pot into the tea boat,
- fill the teapot with water to the top so as to remove any bubbles. Allow to infuse for one minute and then pour the liqueur into the spare pot.
- fill the smelling cup from the pot and then immediately transfer its contents into the tasting cup.
The tea lover inhales deeply from the first cup in order to take in the scent of the tea and then drinks from the second cup, savoring it slowly and taking little sips. The infusion is repeated several times following the same procedure.
Tea prepared in this way is much stronger than ordinary tea; it should be savored like a liqueur and taken in very small quantities. Every artifact used, each gesture performed, has the aim of drawing out and extracting the scents and the aromas of the tea, which makes Gong Fu Cha primarily an art of tea tasting.
Morrocan Hospitality: mint tea
In a 9th century trade report, the Arab merchant Soliman wrote of his travels in China. He mentioned tea as an almost sacred herb, the importance of which was essential in Chinese society. Outside Chinese texts, this is the oldest written record of the existence of tea. Tea arrived in Egypt around the 16th century, having passed through Pakistan, the Arabian Peninsula and Turkey. But its progression stopped there and it did not cross the Libyan desert.
In fact, it was not until the middle of the 19th century that tea was introduced to the Maghreb countries, at a time when the English, faced with the loss of the Slavonic market during the Crimean War, were looking for new trade outlets. They turned to Morocco, and more specifically the ports of Mogador and Tangier, to sell their stocks. The most popular beverage in Maghreb at the time was an infusion of mint leaves, sometimes of absinthe. Tea was apparently well-received by the people since mixing it with these leaves made them less bitter without spoiling their flavor or color. It was quickly adopted and the traditional Moroccan way of drinking tea was born. Thanks to nomadic people, tea drinking soon spread all over the Maghreb and the whole of West Africa. Ever since, serving mint tea has become part of the rulebook for good living, not only in Morocco but also in many other Arab countries.
The tea used is always green tea, usually Gunpowder, renowned for its freshness and thirst-quenching qualities.
Tea represents the most refined expression of hospitality. It is usually prepared by the head of the household, or sometimes his oldest son, unless he wishes to honor his guest by inviting him to perform this task. Two teapots are prepared at the same time: the person officiating puts a large pinch of green tea in each one, which he then quickly rinses with boiling water to take away its bitterness. A handful of mint leaves and a large piece of sugarloaf are then added to each teapot and covered with boiling water.
After the tea infuses for a few minutes, the person making the tea stirs the mixture and tastes it, adding a few leaves or some sugar if necessary. He then lifts both teapots up high and pours the tea into small glasses, which he carries on a finely-engraved metal tray. Three successive infusions are served, each sweeter than the one before, and after the last one is served, it is polite for the guest to signal his departure.
In the desert, tea preparation is slightly different and is accomplished using small enameled metal teapots, which are placed directly on the fire and filled with tea, water and sugar. As in Morocco, three successive teas are served. Touaregs say that the first is strong, like life; the second is good, like love, and the last is sweet, like death.
The first evidence of tea in Russia dates back to 1567, when two Cossacks - Petrov and Yalychev - described it as a wonderful Chinese beverage and decided to drink it regularly. However, it was not until the late 17th century that tea became a staple commodity imported regularly to Moscow. For nearly two centuries, tea was available only in that city, remaining the sole preserve of Muscovites, who were mockingly called "tea drinkers" or "hot water drinkers" by other Russians. It was only from the 1850s that tea drinking spread throughout the empire and was taken up by all social classes.
Tea in Russia is inseparable from the samovar. Invented in the early 18th century in the Urals, this object designed for preparing tea was not widely adopted until tea became more accessible. The samovar is a kind of large kettle for making tea which contains several liters of water kept at the right temperature, as well as a source of heat around which the whole family keeps warm.
The samovar consists of a brazier, a large urn with its center hollowed out, and a chimney. A charcoal fire is prepared in the brazier, which serves to heat the air in the chimney above it. This system allows the water to be brought to and kept at a constant temperature. The shape of the samovar is designed so that one can hear the various stages at which the water boils: it starts by "singing", then "humming", and finally "rumbling like thunder". It is when the water hums that it is ready.
A faucet located on the outside of the urn allows cups and teapots to be filled easily. The teapot, in which a highly concentrated extract of tea has been prepared, is placed above the chimney to keep it warm. Each person serves himself by pouring a little tea from the pot into a cup and then diluting it with hot water. To cool the beverage, the contents of the cup are often emptied into a saucer and the tea is drunk directly from this second receptacle.
Tea occupies a prominent place in Russian society and has even given the language some of its common idiomatic expressions: a "tip", for example, is a na tchaï, which means "for tea". On a social level, meeting around a cup of tea has taken on various meanings. What began as an occasion for an intimate family gathering later became a social event in which the urbane, formal dimension completely overshadowed any warmth and coziness.
Today, drinking a cup of tea around the samovar is a warm, friendly gesture, comparable to original family gatherings for which descriptions can be found in all Russian literature of the 19th and early 20th centuries. It is a time for sharing with family and friends, a time when everyone stops for a moment to enjoy the warmth and each other's presence.
British Tradition: Tea Time in the United Kingom
In 1606, the first tea chests arrived in Amsterdam in Holland, the first known cargo of tea to be officially registered at a western port. At that time, the Netherlands controlled the trade of rare commodities from the Orient. But this supremacy was soon challenged by the English who, a few years later, founded the East India Company, a direct competitor of the Dutch company. The arrival of tea in England happened against a particular backdrop. The trend at the time was coffee houses, which were spreading rapidly and with great success. During the same period, Catherine of Bragance, a Portuguese princess and wife of the young king of England, offered as a dowry Bombay and the custom of drinking tea at anytime of the day!
From then on, tea became hugely popular throughout the country. A favorite of the royal court, it was not long before tea was embraced by all levels of society and quickly met with enormous success.Today, tea is a pillar of British society and the English drink it throughout the day. They start with an early morning tea, often taken in bed with plain biscuits, continue with a breakfast tea which accompanies the large meal of the same name, and then enjoy a cup at 11 o'clock, which holds them over until it is time for the traditional high tea. Finally, a last couple of tea is often taken in the evening just before bedtime.
High tea in Great Britain is a real tradition. It is a custom which is believed to have been introduced by the seventh Duchess of Bedford in the 19th century. At the time, lunch was eaten very early and supper very late, so the duchess made a habit of taking tea in the afternoon between three and four o'clock along with a snack. She began inviting her friends to join her, thereby starting a fashion that met with immediate and considerable success.
Today, as in the 19th century, friends or family get together for tea. Milk, sugar and lemon are always provided in order to cater to everyone's tastes.
Tea is prepared according to five golden rules that are typically British and are most suited to the types of tea drunk in England:
- warm the teapot with boiling water in order to warm the leaves so that they can release all their flavor,
- add one teaspoon of tea per person plus one extra for the pot,
- pour simmering - never boiling - water onto the leaves,
- allow to brew for three to five minutes,
- stir and serve.
Since being introduced, the tradition of high tea has given rise to many artifacts, utensils, cakes, and so on. Tea caddies, tea cozies, tea balls, tea strainers, sugar bowls, creamers, teacups, teapots, scones, cakes, muffins, crumpets, toasts, cream puffs, etc. were all designed to bring out the best in tea, both in its serving and in its drinking, thereby creating the cozy atmosphere of English-style tea.