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When thinking about tea culture, it is easy to limit yourself to envisioning rolling green hills in China, Japan and India. Not only are there many more countries that produce and consume tea, but they all enjoy it very differently! Here's a peek at a few countries' tea cultures that you may not be familiar with.
Sandy beaches, mariachi music, handmade tortillas, and...tea? That's right. While Mexico does not grow tea in the traditional sense, natives were drinking herbal teas hundreds of years before Spanish colonization in the 15th century. These herbal teas were used medicinally to treat anything from cough to kidney problems. Encino, or white oak bark, is boiled and used to treat diarrhea. Leaves from naranjo agrio, or sour orange, are infused and used as a calming agent or to treat stomach pains. The list goes on and on. Critics of these herbal remedies argue that if consumed in excessive quantities, they can actually do more harm than good. For instance, the recommended daily does of encino is one gram. If taken in excess, side effects may include kidney and liver damage. Be sure to talk to a doctor before experimenting.
Turkey is one of the largest tea producers and consumers in the world, ranking 5th behind China, India, Kenya and Sri Lanka in 2012. Fresh brewed tea is consumed all throughout the day, accompanied by sugar cubes and served in clear tulip-shaped glasses, taking after Turkey's national flower. These glasses allow the drinker to fully appreciate the tea's deep red hue, which matches the country's flag. Turkish tea is brewed in the samovar, a majestic metallic appliance with a teapot fixed to the top of a spouted container of boiling hot water. The tea is steeped incredibly strong. Drinkers who wish to dilute their tea can do so using the hot water spout on the lower end of the samovar.
Unlike the traditional teas from Mexico and Turkey, Thai tea is very milky and very sweet. While natives usually drink hot tea with no added milk in the mornings, Thai tea that you find in restaurants is an iced beverage. It is made of strongly brewed black tea with star anise, cinnamon, vanilla, sugar and condensed milk. Sometimes red food coloring is also added. Interested in making Thai tea at home? Check out this recipe from Emeril Legasse.
Rather than using milk and sugar to add creaminess to strong black tea, Tibetans take things one step further. Tibetan butter tea, or Po Cha, is a mixture of aged black tea (pu erh), cream, yak butter and salt. Traditionally, cakes of black tea are broken up and boiled for hours. This concentrated tea can be reused later by adding more water. Salt and cream or milk are added to the steeped tea of the drinker's desired strength. Once these are blended together, the liquid is transferred to a churn, or Chandong, and churned with butter from a female yak. Because it is an acquired taste for travelers, it is easier to think of it as a soup rather than tea since it is salty instead of sweet. Tibetans drink up to 60 small cups of Po Cha daily for both nutritional and hydration purposes. Sources: