Tea, once the beverage of Chinese royals, has spread today to most parts of the world. Along with its spread across the world, the methods of production and brewing have also undergone a sea change. Each part of the world has tea traditions unique to them, may it be the brewing of tea or its production. With the development of unique traditions and customs related to tea, various different varieties of tea have also been discovered. Let us then have a look at some of the tea traditions in Asia, the birthplace of tea. It would be prudent to look at the tea traditions of the two most important tea producing and consuming nations of the world, China and India. Let us start with China, where tea was discovered.
Chinese culture places a high importance to the consumption of tea, especially at any social gathering. Tea can be found in almost every neighborhood in China. Tea houses, places who specialize in making various varieties of tea and snacks to be consumed with tea, are dotted across the country, more so in the cities. From late afternoon, when people start coming out of work, till late in the night these places are packed with people.
All through Chinese history the production of tea has evolved greatly. It started of with the compressed tea bricks found during the Tang Dynasty. Later, during the Song Dynasty, tea was found as a fine whitish powder. This was the period when a great development took place in the production of White Tea. The tradition of making a cup of tea from loose leaf tea took place in the fourteenth century during the Ming Dynasty when a royal proclamation was issued to state that tea would be accepted as tribute only if given in the loose leaf form. Most of the modern methods of tea production developed during the Qing Dynasty in the eighteenth centuryToday, in modern China, tea in still prepared on special occasions to make the day memorable. It is used to show respect to elders by the younger generation.
This is done by the young serving tea to the elders. Tea is used in any family gathering, especially on Sundays when the entire family gets together after a week of hard work. Tea can also be used as a sign of apology. This is done by a person pouring out tea to whom he wants to apologize. Lastly, the Chinese also serve to share the exquisite flavors of the tea they have brewed and also to share their peace of mind.
In India, which is the largest producer of tea, tea traditions have remained the same since tea was introduced in the nineteenth century by the British East India Company. Here, tea is popular all across the country as breakfast and evening drink. The most popular method of brewing tea is by boiling the tea leaves along with sugar and milk. Served across thousands of roadside stalls across the country, this is known as masala chai. The tea served in high society gatherings is generally aromatic.
Most Indian tea is Black Tea. Grown in Darjeeling, Assam and the Nilgiris, the tea is judged according to its fragrance, strength of taste and heaviness of the leaves. The most expensive variety is the Darjeeling tea and is known for its light color and exquisite aroma. Assam tea is dark and has a strong taste. Nilgiri tea is also dark and it is a variety of tea which is highly flavored.
In India, it is the cultural practice to offer tea and not alcoholic drinks to visitors. In fact tea is so common in India that it is referred to as Chai-Pani, which literally means tea and water, but is used to mean tips, wages and even bribery!
Besides these two countries, other nations of Asia such as Japan, Myanmar, Tibet, Sri Lanka and Pakistan have their own unique customs. However, there would be no stopping if one got into the tea traditions of each country, so important and revered is this drink!