For the Chinese culture, tea is synonymous with life. As the first people to discover the tea leaf, it has evolved into the beverage of choice and a lifestyle.
Long before the celebrated discovery, it was considered a medicinal staple. Tea was a general health tonic, said to promote long life and vitality, as well as a treatment for individual ailments. Even today, in traditional Chinese medicine, green teas are prescribed to relieve a variety of symptoms, especially as research continues to support many of the age-old healing claims.
For some time, only people of high standing in the imperial courts and select priests had the means and ability to drink tea on a regular basis. Over time, tea grew to become more accessible to all people, and the lower classes were finally able to enjoy tea more frequently.
Eventually, tea became a significant part of daily life and is now enjoyed solely for its own pleasures. Tea houses are all over China, and people of all ages visit at all hours of the day to drink tea and enjoy the company of fellow tea tasters. In this way, tea is not confined to a strict time of the day.
In China, green tea is consumed the most, with oolong tea a close second.
The spread from China to Japan took some time, but it’s widely believed Japanese culture perfected the art of the tea ceremony, or Cha-no-yu. Many tea ceremony schools were established, with influences ranging from samurai warriors to monks.
Humility and respect are expected of the guests and the host in a tea ceremony. The door to the sukiya, or tea house, is a low crawl space requiring all who enter to bow and humble themselves before entering the sacred space. Once inside, the first observation is a simple flower arrangement and a scroll of artwork or poetic calligraphy. The transitory nature of the flower serves to help guests understand the temporary nature of the present time and the forthcoming experience.
Every element of the tea ceremony exudes simplicity and balance. Nothing in the tea room is excessive or lavish, to not distract from the moment. Furthermore, the guest will notice neutral colors and modest design in clothing, art and floral arrangements. The ceremony can take hours to complete and a lifetime to learn.
India produces and consumes more tea than any other country in the world. Chai is the national drink in India and it is served on just about every street corner.
Tea in India gained recognition as a national beverage in the 19th century after the British began to create large scale tea plantations to ensure adequate supplies for their own growing thirst.
Due to its relatively young involvement in the Indian culture, tea has not had time to develop intricate rituals like in Japan or China. Although not ritualized, tea is a huge part of daily life at home, work, on the streets and while traveling.
Cha-ya is the favored style of tea throughout the country. Cha-ya is strong black tea, spiced with fennel, cardamom, cloves or other spices. It is mixed with milk and sweetened with sugar for a creamy and sweet beverage that many Americans recognize as Chai tea.
Typically, Indian Cha-ya is sold in small clay cups that are only used once, then smashed. Whether prepared by a street vendor, train station or personal tea kettle, enjoying Cha-ya is the perfect break from the chaos of daily life.
Return to America
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