When one really thinks about the history of tea and the habits which have been developed from its existence, one discovers it holds a far deeper story about the relationship between people, countries and culture, which has been around for hundreds, and in some cases thousands of years.
In tea, the art of slow living is alive and well as in any true art form, it’s creation can’t be rushed. With guidance from Numi’s Tea Around the World collection, I’ve collected some stories, histories and habits of countries and cultures beyond our own.
BREAKFAST BLEND | ENGLAND
This particular blend of assam, ceylon and keemun tea is amongst the most popular in the UK, reviving an entire nation each morning. The way one takes their tea — with combinations of milk, sugar, lemon, honey, or without — has become an almost political affair, so personal is their relationship to it. As a nation, they drink about 165 million cups per day, that’s 62 billion cups per year. Over 25 percent of all the milk consumed in the UK goes into tea. The British drink tea throughout the day, beginning at breakfast, then officially followed by ‘teatime’ which is served with a light meal around 4pm (if you work in an office in the UK you’ll notice a productivity drop at this point). Then comes high tea, which occurs between 5 and 7 P.M and includes a hot dish. The very creation of tea time, known a bit more luxuriously as afternoon tea, is attributed to Anna Russel, Duchess of Bedford (learn more on afternoon tea and its history HERE) who was amongst the first to create a traditional tea culture with her harmonious hosting.
AGED EARL GREY | ITALY
Having visited Italy a few times and never seen a soul drinking tea, I too wondered how Earl Grey could be related to the tea I’ve known since childhood to be a British staple. As it turns out, Earl Grey is flavoured with oil from the rind of the bergamot orange, a fruit mostly grown in Italy. The gentleman responsible for the name is Charles Grey, an English aristocrat elected to Parliament at the age of 22. He became British Prime Minister in the 1830s and received a tea flavoured with bergamot oil as a diplomatic gift, which subsequently was named after him. According to the Grey family, the tea was blended by a Chinese mandarin for Lord Grey to offset the taste of lime they had in their water. Lady Grey (there’s also a tea named after her) was a political hostess during her husband’s reign and their bergamot-flavoured tea became so popular she asked if it could be sold to others. The Greys were not particularly business savvy and never registered the trademark. While the tea is now sold worldwide, the family never received a penny for the use of their name, though I’m sure they’re not short of free product.
GOLDEN CHAI | INDIA
While it has made its mark on western culture, Chai tea originated almost 5,000 years ago as part of the alternative medicine practices known collectively as Ayurveda. The scent of Chai tells a story in and of itself, infused with spices and the culture which thrives around it. In India, people start their day by consuming tea and continue to drink chai tea throughout the day either brewed at home or supplied by the “Chia Walla” tea maker who brews the tea fresh with a mixture of milk, water, loose leaf tea, sweeteners and whole spices on each street corner.
MATE LEMON | BRAZIL, PARAGUAY, ARGENTINA
In the vibrant cultures of Central and South America, drinking mate with friends by passing the tea around after each sip from the “bombilla” (a metal straw with a strainer built into the bottom) is tradition and drank throughout the day by adding hot water to the initial cup without additional leaves. Mate was initially cultivated by the the Guaraní people who believed it to be a gift from the gods. The thin tree is found in forests throughput South and Central America and is harvested by gathering the youngest, greenest leaves which are then dried and pan fried or steamed to prevent oxidation. Numi’s Mate Lemon is then mixed with Australian Lemon Myrtle and green tea to add flavor and kick to the already vibrant mix.
JASMINE GREEN TEA | CHINA
Most all tea we know or will discover originated in China. The Chinese are true tea connoisseurs with endless combinations of tea, including pu-erh tea which comes from the Yunnan Province. In China tea is consumed throughout the day, but not usually at meals, apart from dim sum. Jasmine Tea is the most famous scented tea in China and it is a slow and careful process that brings it to its aromatic form. The tea is initially harvested in early spring and stored until summer when fresh jasmine flowers are in bloom. Theses fresh flowers are then picked during the day while the petals are closed, and placed with the dried tea. At nightfall, the flowers open and release their fragrance, infusing into the tea to enhance both aroma and taste. With Numi’s Jasmine Green Tea the organic jasmine buds are laid over green tea leaves as well so both can absorb the jasmine flower fragrance. The next day, the flowers are sifted out and stored. This process is repeated up to three times to create a tasty and most traditional tea.
GUNPOWDER GREEN TEA | TAIWAN
With each leaf rolled into a small round ball, the English name for ‘gunpowder tea’ comes from its resemblance to grains of gunpowder. Each leaf is withered, steamed, rolled, and then dried protecting the tea from damage and allowing it to retain its flavour and prevent oxidation. The production of gunpowder tea dates back to the Tang Dynasty (618-907) and was first introduced to Taiwan in the 19th century. Taiwan has a school of tea culture and Zen meditation in Miaoli City called the Tea Sage Hut with a mission to “promote, cultivate and express an awakening of harmony through tea” bringing the art of tea appreciation to a whole new level.
ROOIBOS | SOUTH AFRICA
This ‘red bush’ tea has been popular in Southern Africa for generations. It is made from a wild plant which grows in the mountains of the Cederberg region in South Africa. Traditionally, the tea was foraged by local people who would climb the mountains to cut the needle-like leaves from the rooibos plants. The leaves were then rolled into bunches and tbrought down the mountain on the backs of donkeys to be chopped and dried in the sun. The oxidization of the tea produces the distinctive reddish-brown colour it is known for, enhancing its delicious flavor.
MOROCCAN MINT | MOROCCO
The culture in Morocco is as warm as the tea which is offered to you, sweet and steaming with the refreshing scent of mint billowing from its midst. It is served from standing height into a small glass below with elaborate gestures as it is mixed between cup and teapot, aerating the tea and releasing its alluring aroma throughout the room.
CHAMOMILE LEMON | EGYPT
This calming tea dates back to beyond its first documentation in 1550 BC. In Ancient Egypt, chamomile was used to honour the gods, embalm the dead and cure the sick. It is made from a daisy-like plant which serves various medicinal purposes and offers a warm, earthy, floral experience. Its name comes from the Greek word khamaimēlon meaning “earth apple” and khamai meaning “on the ground”, a christening most fitting for a tea that offers us humans such calm and healing. Numi’s organic chamomile is harvested along the banks of the Nile River where Fair Trade has workers with shares in the company and marriage loans to assist young couples.