Celebrating the Culture and Community of Tea
As I sit here writing, researching, and reflecting on the impact of tea around the world, I am astounded by the significance and timelessness of it. And of course I am drinking a cup of my favorite tea while doing this!
Asia is famous for their tea culture and it has been a practice for centuries. Tea has become so ingrained in their culture and customs, many times even being used as a welcoming gesture for guests. It is a symbol of hospitality, community, family, and tradition. China was the first country to plant, harvest, and consume tea. Tea customs quickly spread throughout other Asian countries with each country putting their own spin on the recipes to adapt it to their likes. Since the creation of different tea recipes and traditions, tea has become the second most popular drink in the world, only falling behind water.
Some of the most popular recipes and adaptions on tea to come from Asian countries include Bubble Tea, Butter Tea, Matcha, Iced Tea, and Hong Kong-Style Milk Tea. Each of these have had a significant effect on the tea culture and have become popular in their countries of origin, the Asian continent, and sometimes around the world. The process of serving tea has a high social weight with different meanings in different countries.
To start us off, Bubble Tea, which has recently become popular here in the United States the past few years originates from Taiwan. Extremely popular in Taiwan, you can find it at practically any street tea-stall preparing this treat. Usually, it is made by sweetening tea with milk and adding a layer or two of tapioca balls. The tapioca balls are sometimes referred to as boba and can also be exchanged for popping boba, fruit jelly, grass jelly, or pudding. Some tea stalls may even choose to combine some or all of these into one drink!
Butter Tea originates and is extremely popular in Tibet. Since the creation of this drink, it has become extremely popular in the Himalayan regions including Bhutan, Nepal, Ladakh, Sikkim, and of course Tibet. It is also known as Po cha or Gur gur in different languages. Essentially, this drink is a highly concentrated tea made with yak butter and salt. It is made with only the highest quality leaves being boiled in water for half a day, or 12 hours to get a dark brown color. This is then poured into a cylinder with fresh yak butter and salt which is then shaken to make the Tibetan Butter Tea.
In Japanese culture, tea has become so ingrained into their culture that it has become an art and part of a spiritual practice. One of these practices led to the creation of Chanoyu, an artistic spiritual ceremony that involves matcha, a green tea powder. Matcha has also recently become popular here in the United States in recent years. It is a processed green tea powder that is then ground into a fine powder and can be brewed with hot water. Part of the ritual of this drink is to drink the dust of the tea and not to strain it, fully embracing the flavor.
Thai Iced tea on a hot summer day is arguably one of the most refreshing drinks. It is a strongly brewed black tea combined with milk, sweetener, and aromatic spices. Some of these spices include cloves, orange blossoms, cinnamon, and green cardamom. The orange blossoms steeped in the tea give this iconic drink its bright orange color.
Finally, Hong Kong-style milk tea is a popular afternoon treat for many. It is a combination of different tea leaves, evaporated milk, and condensed milk. They use pantyhose to create a super-fine strainer for the tea leaves. This process smooths and intensifies the flavor and caffeine.
Fun Fact: According to a popular myth, Shennong, the first emperor of China and the inventor of Chinese agriculture and medicine, discovered and tasted tea around 5000 years ago. Shennong would roam around in the forests in search of edible grains and herbs and try them himself to see the impact of such herbs on human body. On one such day, Shennong was drinking a bowl of plain boiled water sitting under a tree. A few leaves from a nearby tree drifted into his bowl. The water changed its color and taste. Shennong took a sip of the brew and was gloriously surprised by its taste and flavor. And according to the ancient legend, that’s how Tea was discovered in China. (livesinasia.com)