IF you’re looking for a nice brew, a cuppa, a chai or any kind of hot water infused with tea, Asia has you covered. Not only were there enough British colonies in this part of the world to have brought their national drink with them long enough to make it stick, but other Asian nations have a long, long history with the beverage as well, and their own variations. Let’s take a look.
Tea cultivation in China and tea drinking goes back centuries, some sources say more than 4,000 years thanks to a legend about the Chinese Emperor Shen Nung who was boiling water around 2,700BC when some tea leaves wafted into his kettle. Whatever the history, today you will find tea brewing elements in every house in the land. Tea culture is so widespread in China it is not only drunk but used in Chinese medicine and ceremonies. There are teahouses where people go exclusively to drink tea and eat snacks and even tea shows where pouring tea has become an art form. Tea shops abound in all towns and cities, tea is always provided at restaurants free of charge and it is very common to see local people travelling with their own flasks on trains and buses. It is also believed the saucer is actually Chinese invention that acted like a tray for passing around the typical handle-less cups of China. Green tea is the most popular of China’s tea beverages.
Butter tea is consumed in the Himalayan regions of China, Nepal, India and Bhutan. It is definitely an acquired taste and made from tea leaves, yak butter, water and salt. The high caloric energy gained from the drink makes sense in the high altitudes and cold climates where it is served. Butter is a staple in this region, particularly among nomads, and it is often used to prevent chapped lips and sun burn. If you visit nomads or locals in this area you will find their butter churn in the kitchen and it’s an interesting process to watch them preparing the tea. As the tea can be a bit hard to stomach initially, the best thing to do if you are served it, is to either take a sip, then, having tried it and then put it down. Or leave it untouched until you leave and then drain the bowl to avoid offending your host.
Ceylon tea is famous around the world and you don’t have to travel all the way to the emerald isle to taste it as it has a huge export market being the world’s fourth largest producer. The British are largely heralded as having introduced tea plants to Ceylon in the 1800s, as the cool climate in the hill country in regions around Kandy was particularly perfect for tea plantations. These areas were largely converted into tea plantations throughout the 1800s. Black tea is perhaps the country’s speciality, however there is a green and white tea produced here that is also highly prized.
Japan is another Asian country where the drinking of tea has become an art form with elaborate tea ceremonies performed for special occasions. It is believed that tea drinking begin in Japan during the Tang Dynasty (AD 618 – 807), when a Buddhist monk brought tea back from China. The royal classes adopted the tradition of drinking tea and the growth of tea plants was encouraged. By the 12th and 13th centuries reading poetry, discussing philosophy and painting became popular while drinking tea. Green tea is the most popular in Japan, particularly sencha, an unfermented form of green tea. Tea can be found in restaurants, vending machines, supermarkets and other stores. Green tea is usually available free of charge at inexpensive restaurants. Temples and gardens often serve tea to tourists.
One hasn’t experienced India unless they’ve drunk chai. While this isn’t a traveller’s adage it could be, and it certainly holds true for the Indian subcontinent where tea drinking is ubiquitous. While the British are credited with bringing tea to India, like all good Indian traditions, they’ve truly made it their own by adding spices and refining the preparation process by boiling the leaves, milk and sugar altogether. Today India is one of the largest tea producers in the world, although they actually drink a good percentage of their own tea. Assam and Darjeeling tea are two of the nation’s biggest exports and grown exclusively on the subcontinent. Masala tea is one of the most commonly prepared teas but can vary from place to place where a pinch of salt may be added, more black pepper or cloves depending on the traditional composition of spices in that region.
If you’d like to look at coffee brews around Asia take a look at this article, All about the bean: 5 top places to get coffee around the world.