Tea time is a sacred ritual for cultures around the world. As tea is accessible and easily cultivated in so many regions, distinct cultures from Europe to the Middle East adopted tea as an important cultural artifact centuries ago. With this ever-present consumption, these cultures have crafted their own rituals and ceremonies around the fragrant, elevating and conversational Camellia Sinensis leaf.
Centuries ago, tea was born in China. Before long, it crossed the sea to Japan and then was transplanted far and wide. According to the most excellent Republic of Tea, "tea is today cultivated on lush hills, high mountains and coastal regions in a geographic belt that runs from the Tropic of Cancer to the Tropic of Capricorn. The great teas of the world, however, are grown and masterfully processed in a handful of countries: China, India, Japan, Sri Lanka (Ceylon), and Taiwan (Formosa)."
Tea is the infusion of this specific leaf in water -- herbal, fruit and flower "teas" are in fact not teas at all, but infusions themselves -- and there exist four distinct types of tea. White, green, oolong and black all come from the same leaf but the way the leaves are processed-steamed, fermented (oxidized), dried, or bruised-gives the tea the special characteristics of its category.
Most Westerners are familiar with British teatime, with its delicate treats and finger sandwiches, but other countries have celebrated teatimes as well: imperial Japan, China, the subcontinent (India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka) and of course places like Thailand and the Middle East.
Even if one has neither the means nor time to travel the world, the teas of the world can be sampled here in the sprawling cosmopolitan metropolis of Los Angeles, which I had the pleasure of documenting last week in the slideshow below.
My normal teatime follows the British tradition in the late afternoon, the time of day that the Duchess of Devonshire faced the low blood sugar she introduced teatime to combat. It soon became the fashion along with all the delicacies that were served along with it: scones, crumpets, shortbreads and delicate finger sandwiches.
In the subcontinent, teatime is almost a meal in itself; it is served with Samosas and chutneys and the indigenous way of making tea there is chai, cooking it for an extended time along with the milk to be served with sweet and savory snacks.
In Japan there's a very elaborate tea ceremony in which the hostesses serve you tea in their gorgeous traditional kimonos along with sweet delicacies made from red beans. The process is meditative and deeply ingrained into normal Japanese culture, regularly yet respectfully participated. In contrast to this regularity of ceremony is Chinese teatime, which is used for more significant occasions: in celebration of a wedding or special event, as a sign of respect, as a sincere apology. Without ceremony, tea is served as a near constant staple in China with meals and throughout the day.
The Middle East celebrates tea time in what may seem to westerners a delightfully exotic manner, with black tea served with mint and sugar in small clear glasses or receptacles and, in Iran, highlighted with rose petals and a sugar cube held in the mouth as you sip. Delicate and fragrant, teatime here is clearly not to be missed!
On the subject of exotic tea that is not to be missed, I of course must mention the brilliant spiced and hued "red tea," which is black tea made to look bright orange and packed with other savory, invigorating flavors. Served over ice and topped with coconut or sweetened condensed milk, this dreamy blend has gained popularity through Thai restaurants and can be spotted from across the room.
Have a look into my ventures dabbling into global Tea culture found in my city, I invite you to do the same in yours!