The World Cup is upon us - evident to all unless you have been hiding under a rock for the past two weeks. Football as a sport itself has always incited passion. For football fans and hobby fans of the World Cup, football is ingrained in many cultures and people’s heart and souls. I must confess that I am one of those hobby fans that catch football matches only at grand international occasions. However, what I have been thinking as of late is how cultures vary around tea in these participant countries in the World Cup.
We all know that the Brits invented ‘afternoon tea’ and finger sandwiches and love a good ‘cuppa’ - general English Breakfast blends that normally consist of Assam and Ceylon - and that the Chinese are very serious about their teas, being the country where tea originated and, granted, China did not make it to the World Cup…But what about other countries around the world? I’ve been curious and have been exploring a little.
Uruguay - Old School Football Legends
You have to give it to Uruguay, this bucolic Latin American country with a flat landscape, nesting between Argentina and Paraguay does not do anything in halves. Firstly, despite a population of less than 7 million - as a comparison, London has a population of 8.1 million! - Uruguay has won two World Cups, including the first ever World Cup held in the 1930s. The truism of “strength of numbers” certainly does not apply to plucky Uruguay!
Secondly, it is known that mate is the drink de rigeur in many parts of Latin America, though none more popular than in Uruguay. Everywhere you go in Montevideo and all around the country, you will see the young and old sipping Yerba mate from their mate (both the drink and the drinking vessel) through metal straws (the bombilla).
For the uninitiated, what is this mate that Uruguayans obsessively drink? Mate is an infusion of Yerba (dried mate plant) and hot water. Unlike coffee and tea, mate is generally shared, passed around from one person to the next.
Yerba mate contains caffeine and contains Vitamin A. It also contains powerful antioxidants. It is a drink that has been around for hundreds of years since the native Guaranis had been using mate originally for medicinal purposes.
South Korea - From Buddhism to Ceremonial Tea Rituals
South Korea, like its Pacific Rim neighbours is a tea-drinking nation with a venerable history of ceremonial tea culture.
Tea drinking began on the Korean Penninsula as tea branches were brought back by Buddhist Monks from China during the Silla Dynasty (57 B.C - A.D 668). Thus, tea was closely associated with the spread of Buddhism throughout the country, just as it did in Japan a century later.
It was during the Korai period (936-1392) that the culture of tea spread from Buddhist monasteries to palaces and society. It was also during this period that the tea ceremony, dado, literally meaning the “way of tea”, was created ritualising the tea offering made to Buddha.
Tea ceremonies, steeped in its rich history, remains as cultivation of the mind. Tea and the ritual itself was thought to be calming and created a peaceful atmosphere. Furthermore, in this day and age Korean youth learn traditional manners from their elders through practising dado.
The Korean Peninsula is best known for its green teas cultivated in three major regions: Boseong in Jeollanam-do, Jeju-do, and Hadong in Gyeongsangnam-do, each of which annually holds a green festival.
France - A Nation of Oenophiles and also tea lovers?
Though Britain may be the Western country most widely identified as a tea nation, France is not far behind in revering this humble yet complex leaf. It is a little known fact that France may have adopted tea drinking earlier than its neighbour. As early as 1639, the Cardinal Mazarin drank tea to treat his gout. Tea became a popular drink amongst the upper echelons of society. The wealthy classes adopted tea drinking with gusto and prepared tea in pristine china, pairing it with gastronomic delicacies.
The habit of tea drinking even extended to King Louis XIV, who had learnt about it and drank tea to treat his gout and for his overall health. So what happened to tea in France? Why do we only associate Britain as a nation of loyal tea drinkers?
Unlike in Britain, tea did not trickle down to every part of society. Tea remained as the drink du jour with the elite and not with the general public. As the gulf of wealth continued to divide society in the seventeenth century, not only did Marie Antoinette and King Louis XIV meet the guillotine, it is said that so did tea.
As coffee permeated French homes as the drink of choice, tea made its comeback in the latter half of the twentieth century. The French did not particularly take to the stronger flavour of teas that the British tend to enjoy, thus, different types of teas were reintroduced to the public. As healthy lifestyles grew in popularity, tea came into vogue once again.
Japan - tea as an art and spiritual discipline
Japan is most well-known for its tea ceremonies and rich green teas. Though green tea had been introduced to Japan in the 8th century, powdered green tea, matcha, did not reach Japan until the 12th century. Steeped in Chinese Zen philosophy, Japan developed the Chanoyu or Japanese Tea Ceremony as it is known in the West, into an artistic ritualistic pastime.
Serving tea is both an art and a spiritual discipline. The objective of the tea ceremony is to create a relaxed atmosphere between the host and guests, through the appreciation and inclusion of unique tea utensils, architecture, landscape gardening, paintings, ceramics, calligraphy and teachings of Zen Buddhism. On the surface, the Way of Tea in Japan is viewed by the West as a ceremony - a set of formal acts, however, as you delve deeper into understanding The Way, you will find layers of meaning, influenced by deeply rooted Chinese Zen philosophy. The Way of Tea is a way to remove oneself from the mundane affairs of day-to-day living and to achieve if only for a time, serenity and inner peace.
The Japanese Tea Ceremony and Tea Ceremonies in the rest of East Asia are deeply influenced by prevailing cultures and philosophy of each country. It is a fascinating and meaty topic for another blog post (coming soon!) that will both be stimulating and pertinent to our modern metropolitan lives.
Russia - Tea in a Cold Climate
Russian tea culture is perhaps one of the more underrated cultures in our common knowledge. Tea is remarkably prominent in Russian culture. It was first introduced to Russia in the mid-1600s and by the 1800s, tea was imported in such large quantities that it became accessible to most Russians across all sections society.
Russian teas tend to be known for their smoky flavour profiles. As tea traveled for 16 to 18 months from China to Russia across what is now Mongolia, the airing of the tea at night on its long journey adopted smoky profiles as smoke from campfires affected the tea unintentionally. In modern times tea in Russia is no longer naturally “smoked”, nonetheless, smokier types of tea, such as Lapsang Souchong (our Lapsang is wonderfully well-balanced) and other full-bodied black teas are added to the mix to create a blend similar to an 18th century Russian tea.
Russian tea is traditionally served out of a samovar, which has become a symbol of hospitality. A samovar heats the water, and some also include an infuser for brewing tea in it as well. The tea is traditionally brewed in a very concentrated form, and then served to guests along with hot water, so that they can adjust it to their taste.
Literary maestros, Tolstoy, Dostoevsky and Chekov each depict their own unique versions of Russian culture and ideology. Nevertheless, the one thing they all agree on is the significance of Russian tea culture. Tea is so ingrained in Russian culture, there is even an expression “to have a sit by samovar,” which depicts the social ritual of drinking a cup of tea.
There you have it… there are many more types of tea cultures in the world than British afternoon tea! Stay tuned for more of my blog posts on the cultural aspects of tea. Now you can have a break… and enjoy some tea!