How is tea drunk?

So, what’s the best way to drink tea? 

Around the world, there are different tea habits. But taking a broad-brush approach, we can boil down (if you’ll pardon the pun) the way tea is drunk into four main ‘tea cultures’.

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The plant purists

If we begin in the same place as tea did – and start in China – you’ll find that there, tea is simplest of all.

Almost all tea drunk in China is green tea, taken without any extras. People simply infuse the leaves in hot water, and rarely add sugar, lemon or milk. (These are definitely seen as western additions.) 

It’s also usual for Chinese people to brew more than one infusion from the same leaves – sometimes drinking the tea in increasingly diluted concentrations. Then it’s time for a fresh pot!

Other eastern countries like Japan, Taiwan and Korea enjoy green tea in a similar way. And of course, in Japan elaborate tea ceremonies have been created, dating back around a millennium.

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Milk and sugar

Britain was one of the predominant importers of tea into Europe. The Brits added milk to black tea, to make it taste slightly less bitter. For sweetness, they often added sugar. So, across the Commonwealth (in the UK, Ireland, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, India, Pakistan, South Africa and east Africa), you’ll find teas are broadly consumed in this way. 

That said, there’s quite a difference between a cup of tea from a London ‘greasy spoon’ cafe and the tea a New Delhi chaiwallah prepares.

You’ll find milk and sugar in both, but their flavours, and the way they are boiled and brewed, are highly distinct.

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Dark and strong

Looking at Russia and the middle east, you’ll find nations of tea lovers who like their black teas without milk, sweet and strong. They like a deep red intensity of colour in their cups. This is the way to drink tea in Turkey, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Iraq, Russia and eastern Europe.

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Light and lemon-y

This still leaves a huge swathe of the planet. A lot of the areas we haven’t yet mentioned – like central and western Europe, Scandinavia, the United States and most of South America – are places where coffee has tended to dominate.

Tea is still drunk here, of course – especially in Europe and North America. But it’s more likely to be consumed without milk and with lemon (in Europe), or as a lighter variety (such as Earl Grey) or iced (in the US).

In most of South America, tea is drunk much less often: it’s fair to say coffee is king. And in all of these cultures, herbal infusions are much more popular given their light, non-bitter but highly aromatic nature. 

After this global whistle-stop tour, to sum up, there’s really no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’. The best way to drink tea is the way you like it!