Tea is the world’s favorite beverage! (Second only to water.) It has reshaped nations, changed the course of history, and become a cultural staple around the globe. But how did this all come to be? How did tea end up connecting us all? And how in the world do you make a perfect cup?
Whether you’re a fan of loose leaf, a simple tea bag, take it with or without milk, tea is something that runs through our global cultural fabric. With this kind of cross-cultural appeal, one has to ask the question, why?
While we don’t have one answer for you, we will be heading on a journey that will give you a greater appreciation for tea’s connective power. These leaves have had an impact on your life more than you may realize.
Let’s start at the beginning:
Where did tea, as we know it today, come from?
Tea plants began to be widely consumed and cultivated about 6,000 years ago in China!
At first, tea leaves were consumed as a green leafy vegetable. It wasn’t until 1500 years ago that they were turned into a beverage, and their popularity trickled from China to Japan and eventually into Europe when Dutch traders introduced the product.
So how did this seemingly simple plant come to rule the world? It’s a wild tale of intercontinental trade, featuring espionage, royal marriages, and societal upheaval. All of which have a nearly daily impact on every one of us (whether or not we like to start our morning with a hot cup of tea).
To explain the global ripple effect that tea has had on the planet we have this great video for you from TED-Ed.
If you haven’t yet, take a little time to check out TED-Ed! It’s a great resource for all kinds of knowledge that will leave you with a greater appreciation for the world around you!
So how has tea culture impacted us today?
Well, if you are a part of a community with a strong tea drinking culture, or if you have visited places that do, it will come as no surprise to you that the practice of serving and drinking tea has great social weight.
Tea, or chai, as it is referred to in many cultures, is a symbol of hospitality, community, and family tradition. And for the millions of people who have immigrated to new places around the world, coming together with other tea drinkers can be a great way to remember and celebrate their roots.
About a year ago, I stumbled across this video from AJ+ that looked at the global impact of tea culture. From its complicated colonial roots to the ways in which tea is celebrated today, the interviews in this piece really stuck with me. I thought about them almost daily as I sat down with my own cup of tea in the afternoon. Take a look.
If you’re interested in diving into some of the complexities of history and society, go check out more from AJ+. They have a unique perspective on our times that always leaves me feeling more knowledgable outside of the typical perspectives we hear every day.
Why is it that so many societies have a tea drinking culture?
I was most struck with how universal the “ceremony” of tea drinking has become for cultures around the world; the kind of tea, the way it’s served, who drinks it. Tea, like so many traditions of food and drink, comes with family recipes passed down; stories of beloved tea brewers, and memories of moments surrounding the ritual of tea drinking.
Coming together over a cup of tea or meal as a form of daily ritual is a seemingly universal part of humanity. These cross-cultural similarities of food, drink, tradition, and hospitality are a marvelous reminder of the capacity of humanity’s good nature.
Without sharing a language we can share a meal or a cup of tea. We are connected by this universal need for sustenance, and in that, we can find closeness. Our unique customs of food and drink are not what makes us different, but what makes us all so remarkably similar.
So, how do we make the perfect cup of tea?
Now, we know there are a lot of different tea drinking traditions across the world. And a lot of them come with their own particular cultural customs and rituals. But, let’s be real, a fairly common daily ritual for a lot of tea drinkers is a quick tea bag thrown in with some water, and maybe some added milk and sugar. So, how can we make this generic “cup of tea” a little more satisfying?
Well, when it comes to a quick cuppa, the Brits became experts. There is actually some fun science that we can bring to the table that puts the mythology of the “perfect cup” to rest!
This great piece from the BBC helps us learn to brew the very best cup of tea on the go! (And the worst.)
So here are the top tips for when you need a quick cup of tea:
- 1. Skip the styrofoam and go for a red mug!
- 2. If you have hard water, filter it before boiling
- 3. Leave your tea bag in the water 5 minutes for that extra caffeine and antioxidant boost!
Here’s my quick tip, if you love the taste of chai masala, or other spiced black tea but don’t have a lot of brew time, add a cardamom pod or two to the steps above. It’s a favorite brew in the EWC office!
Beyond the lovely moment of joy you’ll have with your next (now far more caffeinated) cup of tea, you now are armed with a little more knowledge and history to connect to.
So, the next time you brew a good cup think about the connection you have to a rich culture of tea drinkers around the globe, and the thousands of years of their ancestors doing just the same!
It’s nice to remember these simple threads of connection that we can still savor in a complex world.
Stay beautiful & keep laughing!
Do you have a tea tradition close to your heart? We want to hear about it!
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- TED-Ed. “The History of Tea – Shunan Teng.” YouTube, TED-Ed, 16 May 2017, www.youtube.com/watch?v=LaLvVc1sS20. Accessed 3 Apr. 2019. ↩
- AJ+. “Who Invented Chai? Well, It’s Complicated | AJ+.” YouTube, AJ+, 20 May 2018, www.youtube.com/watch?v=kJpXPmHpvEs. Accessed 3 Apr. 2019. ↩
- BBC. “How You’ve Been Making Tea WRONG Your Entire Life – BBC.” YouTube, BBC, 14 Jan. 2019, www.youtube.com/watch?v=Fhuc6qOGNPc. Accessed 3 Apr. 2019. ↩