Nowadays, bubble tea shops can not only be virtually found at every corner of Taiwanese streets but all corners of the world as well. However, Taiwan is not the only country with vibrant tea culture. Some other unique teas and tea cultures stem from various countries such as the U.S., Turkey, Pakistan, Thailand, and Argentina.
For the U.S., tea culture usually means Southern sweet tea made with Lipton tea, sugar, lemon, and occasionally baking soda for smoother texture. Southern sweet tea began as a luxury item due to how expensive it was to import tea, ice, and sugar. Although the tea was originally made with green tea imported from Japan, World War II shifted consumer preferences and since then, sweet tea has been made from black tea, imported from India. This Southern staple is often consumed with meals, which is why it is sometimes called the “table wine of the South.”
Besides its unique brewing process, cay tea is served in petite, tulip-shaped, clear glasses. The reason why glasses are used to consume the tea is so that one can consume the drink while it is hot. The transparency of the glass aims to highlight the hue of the tea.
Cay tea is interwoven in Turkish social culture. The tea, a sign of hospitality, is served when guests visit a house, when customers enter a shop, or when bargains are being discussed. Cay tea is usually consumed during breakfast, after lunch, after dinner, or with afternoon snacks.
What is most unique about Pakistan’s traditional tea, “Noon Chai,” also known as “Kashmiri Tea,” is its specific shade of pink. The origin of its name stems from Indo-Aryan languages, where “noon” means salt.
Traditionally, Noon Chai is prepared in a copper samovar, made with pistachios, almonds, salt, milk, and spices such as cardamom, cinnamon or star anise. Sometimes a dash of baking soda is added into the tea to bring out the pink color.
Although modern Thai tea is often served with tapioca pearls, the traditional Thai Iced Tea, “Cha Yen,” was not. Cha Yen can be made from either Ceylon or Assam tea, and spices such as star anise, tamarind, and orange blossom can be added. Sugar and condensed milk are then added to sweeten the flavor of the tea.
In addition to its rare taste, Cha Yen is also well known for its distinctive appearance. The amber ombre aesthetic is created with the evaporated milk, or sometimes coconut milk, that is poured over the tea and ice as a final touch. Usually, Thai tea is served in a tall glass to accentuate the creamy appearance of ombre colors.
El Yerba Mate
The traditional tea in Argentina is called El Yerba Mate. “Yerba” literally means herb, exemplifying that the herb tea leaves—which can only be found in Latin American countries Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay, Bolivia, Brazil, and Chile—are what makes this cultural drink so unique.
One of the unique aspects of El Yerba Mate is the container which typically is a small pot or dried calabaza gourd. The herb tea leaves are put in this container with a metallic straw known as a “bombilla.” The simplistic nature of both the container and the drink reflects “traditional Argentine cowboy lifestyle,” says Spanish teacher Señora Susana Hartzell. As a result of this simplicity, traditionally, no sweeteners are added with the Yerba Mate, but younger generations now add sugar or honey.
Like many of the other teas mentioned, El Yerba Mate holds great cultural significance. “When the community sat in a circle around a fire, they would pass the Yerba Mate around and everyone would share it,” says Señora Hartzell. “The tradition of drinking Yerba Mate is an ancient idea of sharing that has stayed with Argentinian culture.”