By Oge Okafor
Let’s do a mind jogging exercise. Cast your minds back to the very first spot, where you took your first cup of tea? Where would that be?
Well, just as you took your first tea drink, the same goes for every other person across the world and with time, it evolved into their tea culture.
History has it that the tradition of drinking tea originated when Chinese emperor Shennong, according to legend, found his hot water was greatly improved when a dried leaf fell from a plant into his cup. This was dated back to 2737 BC and since then, the art of tea drinking has spread around the world with its recipes and preparations evolving along the way.
Well, for some of those Nigerians who have never had the opportunity to travel out or those who may have visited other parts of the world, but never got to see for themselves what tea across the world may mean; here is how to enjoy a cup of tea across the globe.
The traditional Chinese tea ceremony, Gongfu Tea is an incredibly detailed process, down to the elaborate designs on its small pot and cups. The ritual also involves a tureen, strainers, tongs, tea towels, a brewing tray, and “scent cups,” which are used solely to sniff, not drink the very strong and bitter brew.
Guests are invited to smell the leaves before brewing. This is just the first of many steps, along with warming the cups with a wash of the tea’s first brew. The second is drinking, and the tea will be ideally be poured by arranging the cups in a circle, pouring from high in one continuous motion, around and around until each cup is full. Guests are expected to cradle the cup and its accompanying saucer if there is one, in two hands, to sip slowly and savor the flavor, and then cradle the empty cup to relish in the aroma after the tea is gone.
India is both a huge producer and consumer of tea. But for all its variants, the country is best known for its chai blends that mix black tea leaves with spices like cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, cloves, cardamom, and pepper. Though regional recipes vary, this spicy tea is such a quintessential element of day-to-day life that is sipped on the go, offered to houseguests, and found for sale on nearly every street. Vendors called chai wallahs traditionally sell their brew in small sustainable clay cups made from local earth. Some people consider the dust of these clay cups to be a crucial ingredient to get the true taste of this national drink.
A mix of mint, green tea leaves, and a generous serving of sugar, Touareg tea (also known as Maghrebi mint tea) is the customary blend in this North African country. Poured from up high into slim, delicate glasses, it’s served three times to guests. Each time the flavor varies slightly. Per the proverb: “The first glass is as gentle as life, the second is as strong as love, the third is as bitter as death.” Refusing any one of these servings is considered the height of rudeness.
Forget the “milk or lemon” debate. How about adding some salty butter to your tea? Po cha, the traditional tea of Tibet, is made by boiling a brick of Pemagul black tea for hours. From there, milk, salt, and yak butter are added, and the mixture is then churned together. It’s said this blend with a soup-like consistency is uniquely comforting and fortifying in the high-altitude and cold climates.
The tea traditions of Russia were forged in its leaner days, where food and drinks needed to be stretched to serve as many as possible. From these shortages came zavarka, a loose-leaf tea concentrate brewed in a small metal container called a samovar. In this vessel, a very strong (usually black) tea is brewed and then served in large mugs. However, you wouldn’t dare fill the mug. Instead, guests take an inch or less of this powerful concoction that they then tame with boiling water as desired. Russians typically drink it black, but hosts will offer milk and sugar, as well as an accompanying snack. Serving zavarka without cookies, crackers or some other munchable is to serve it “naked” and is considered wildly rude.
The name “pantyhose tea” may make this concoction sound unappealing, but it’s named for the straining sock, which resembles but is not and has never been pantyhose that is used to strain the tea and milk. The brewing of this powerful blend is labor-intensive; demanding 10 to 20 minutes of dedicated and repeated straining. Most often it appears on the menu in lively tea-centric diners called cha chaan teng, where people of every class and background happily mingle over the beverage and with raucous conversation.
The United Kingdom
Tea was introduced to England in the 17th century, but the iconic British tradition of afternoon tea took nearly another 200 years to catch on. In 1840, standard meal times placed lunch at midday and dinner late, around 8 p.m. or so. Anna, the seventh Duchess of Bedford, requested her household staff prepare a sort of mini-meal around 4 p.m., where tea and a selection of cakes or small sandwiches would be served. Her example inspired the upper class, and then spread across the country, spurring the proliferation of tea gardens where customers could enjoy tea and cake in a lovely setting. Today, tea is a major element of Great Britain’s identity and day-to-day life.
British missionaries in the early 19th century are believed to have introduced the tea-brewing practice to the Kiwis, and by the end of the century, tea had replaced ale as the beverage of choice for breakfast across all classes. The rise of tea gardens during this time promoted tea drinking to a social activity, which gave men and women the perfect chance to mingle in public without drawing gossip. Inspired by their British roots, “afternoon tea” became a staple, and New Zealand developed its own high tea ceremony, which includes elegant settings, delectable finger sandwiches, and mouth-watering sweets.
It wasn’t until the 20th century that Iranians began growing their own black tea, making it a nationally embraced beverage, which now welcomes guests and is a crucial element in social life. A silver tray customarily carries in the drink, which is accompanied by a bright yellow rock candy called nabat. So constant is tea’s presence in Iranians’ lives that its kettle will be kept on a stove burner all day. Tea is served very strong. Rather than mixing in sugar to counteract the bitterness, you’re encouraged to place a sugar cube between your front teeth and suck the strong brew through it.
So, where does this leave Nigeria? The tea tradition needs to be revived as so many other things.
► Materials from mentalfloss.com