Spilling the Tea on Tea

9 min read

Tea. The cup of life.

A great British love and a staple of many people’s daily routines. Whether you’re having a morning brew, taking 5 minutes at work for a cuppa, or warming up after a winter walk, a cup of tea serves a number of purposes. You just can’t beat that warm feeling, as though the tea is melting your troubles away.

But, the tea world is so vast and ever-changing. From one culture to another, the concept of tea is very different and so is its appearance and taste. 

Nations have defined themselves by their tea ceremonies. It's that powerful. Tea is one of the longest customs and trades of the world and holds a very special place in many people’s hearts throughout the world. From China, to the streets of India, to Buckingham palace, tea is a member of households everywhere.

It’s no longer just about a standard builder's brew, but there’s a whole world of cups of tea just waiting to be explored. From green to herbal to oolong tea (have you ever heard of this one?!), you’re spoilt for choice. Plus, there’s so many health benefits to be enjoyed by drinking different types of tea that it's well worth giving them a try!

History of tea

Although tea is usually thought of as a British drink, the history of the brew spans across multiple cultures over thousands of years.

It’s strange to think our comforting morning brew has such a rich and international history dating back over 5,000 years ago.

According to legend, tea originated in Ancient China in 2732 B.C. It is believed that emperor Shen Nung was sitting under a tree with a boiling pot of water when a leaf fell into the pot. Feeling intrigued, the emperor took a drink and described the taste as a ‘warm feeling’.

The popularity of tea in China continued to grow and became known as a pleasurable refreshment.  As plantations spread throughout China, tea merchants became very wealthy and drinking tea became a status symbol. 

The Chinese government tightly controlled the cultivation of the crop and were so protective over it that only delicate, young women were allowed to handle the tea leaves.

Today, tea remains an integral part of Chinese culture and continues to be a symbol of their history, religion and culture.

There’s even a tea institute.

Yep, you heard me. An institution for TEA. 

To be successful, students under-go a very competitive, selective process. This involves playing the traditional Guzheng stringed instrument, performing a tea-riffic tea-serving ceremony, and speaking a foreign language to entertain overseas guests. Oh, and this is all on top of distinguishing between 1,000 different Chinese teas. It’s no surprise that only 75 students have passed the rigorous process and have been awarded a Tea Art Certificate. Imagine that?

Tea in Europe

The Portuguese and Dutch first imported tea into Europe in 1610 but England was slower to catch onto the tea craze.

It wasn’t until King Charles II married Portuguese princess Catherine of Braganza that tea was introduced to the monarchy and England. The princess loved tea so much that in her dowry, she brought with her a chest of fine Chinese tea. 

She began sharing this exotic beverage with her court, and soon the word spread. Tea became known as an expensive indulgence enjoyed by the upper-classes. 

Tea as a status symbol

As tea was imported, it was highly taxed meaning only the wealthy members of society could afford to drink it. Even the cheapest tea would cost the average labourer a months worth of wages. This kept tea an elitist and fashionable social activity which represented grandeur and elegance. Many 18th century families even had paintings made of the family drinking tea which they hung proudly on the wall.

Afternoon tea

Afternoon tea is a popular British social activity where people indulge in cakes, scones, sandwiches and of course, tea. We have Anna xxx 7th Duchess of Bedford to thank for this as she complained about the long gap between breakfast and an evening meal. During this time she became hungry and asked her maid to bring her a selection of snacks to ease her cravings. She soon began inviting her friends to join, and the rest is history (literally).

High tea 

Although high tea sounds more fancy and elite, it’s actually for working-class people. Usually served later in the day around 6pm, high tea is served alongside meats, fish or eggs, cheese, bread and butter, and cake. 

Also, in comparison to afternoon tea which is primarily a ladies social event, high tea is more catered towards men.


Different types of tea

The world is your oyster when it comes to exploring different types of tea. Whether you want a traditional British brew or something a little more quirky, tea is complex and comes in a variety of flavours.

Some of the most common types of tea include black tea, green tea, and herbal tea which you can buy from pretty much any cafe or restaurant. Most teas derive from the Camellia Sinensis species of a plant, but surprisingly, some teas do not come from tea leaves at all.

Many people choose to drink tea over coffee as it can be blended with lots of different flavours to create a refreshing beverage without containing as much caffeine.

With that said, let's take a look at different types of tea.

Black tea

This is one of the most popular drinks in the world, especially in Great Britain. Black tea, or red tea as it’s known in China, is fully oxidised and has a darker colour and stronger flavour compared to other blends of tea. As the taste is quite strong, many people choose to drink this with a small amount of milk.

The caffeine content in black tea is still half the level of coffee. There are lots of health benefits that can be enjoyed by drinking black tea including better gut health and a reduction in blood pressure.

Herbal tea

Herbal teas have been around for centuries. There are many types of herbal teas including chamomile and peppermint. 

Unlike black tea which is made from the leaves of a Camellia sinensis plant, herbal teas are made from dried fruits, flowers, spices and herbs.

As a result, herbal teas come in a variety of flavours to suit different tastes and can be an alternative to sugary drinks. 

They also have a number of reported health benefits such as improving sleep and reducing depression.

Chaga tea

Have you ever tried mushroom tea? Or even heard of it?

In Siberia and other parts of Asia, Chaga tea has been used to boost immune systems and improve overall health. The Chaga mushroom usually grows on the birch of bark trees in cold climates such as Siberia, Russia, and Korea.

In terms of appearance, Chaga produces a woody growth which resembles a piece of burnt charcoal, roughly 10-15 inches in size.

Despite its ugly aesthetic, Chaga tea is gaining popularity in Western countries due to the proposed health benefits. This includes being used to treat diabetes as well as certain types of cancer.

chai tea

Chai tea

In some parts of the world ‘chai’ is simply the word for ‘tea’. This reflects the cultural differences of how people perceive tea.

Chai tea is sweet and spicy in flavour and is known for its fragrant aroma. Made from a combination of black tea, ginger, and other spices, chai tea is usually brewed using both warm water and warm milk. 

Chai lattes are another way of consuming the tea with people adding a shot of concentrated chai tea to steamed milk to create a milky beverage.

As with the tea blends mentioned above, there are reported health benefits to drinking chai tea such as improving heart health, reducing blood sugar levels, and facilitating weight loss. Why not give it a try and see if it works? Got nothing to lose (apart from maybe some weight). 

Oolong tea

As one of the least popular tea blends, Oolong only represents around 2% of the world's teas.

A Chinese tradition, the blend is made from the Camellia sinensis plant which is the same as the process for black tea and green tea.

Combining the qualities of black and green tea, this blend offers some interesting health benefits including helping to reduce stress and boost metabolism. 

Rooibos tea

‘Rooibos’ which means ‘red bush’, is a member of the plant family Fabaceae that grows in the small mountainous region of the Western Cape province of South Africa.

The leaves are used to create ‘Rooibos’ (as it’s known in South Africa) which is a herbal tea, known for its earthy flavour that has been compared to tobacco! It’s usually prepared in the same way as black tea with little or no milk, while some people choose to add sugar or honey to sweeten the flavour.

Whilst it’s still a beloved drink in Africa, Rooibos is gaining popularity in other countries due to reported health perks such as reducing the risk of cancer and helping those with type 2 diabetes.

In other parts of the world, this brew is known as bush tea, red tea, or redbush tea as it’s known in Great Britain. 

Matcha Tea

This type of tea is a premium Japanese green tea which has a strong, bitter, grassy taste and is bright green in colour.

It’s made using the finest shade-grown tea leaves which are carefully ground into a fine powder. Whilst the Japanese culture drinks it in its most pure state, other countries combine it with large amounts of sugar and steamed milk to make a green tea latte.

Whilst matcha tea contains the same benefits as standard green tea, there are even more health benefits which is why it is becoming a more popular brew.

These include potential weight loss and improved focus. According to research, drinking matcha tea helps enhance concentration due to the combination of caffeine, EGCG and L-theanine.

Tea leaf reading

Believe it or not, tea isn’t just for sipping.

Tea leaves are used as a divination tool to analyse the past, present and future events in life. Also known as tasseography, this is the practice of identifying shapes and symbols within tea leaves by directing our energy towards them.

When we focus our whole attention on the leaves, they begin to mirror our experiences - including those in the future which have not happened yet. When we ask the leaves a question, they reveal hidden blockages, offer advice and guidance, and even forecast future events.

An old text on the art of tasseography, ‘Reading tea leaves’ written by ‘A Highland Seer’ in 1881 provides a comprehensive list of what different tea leaves symbolise to help people make sense of the shapes. This list is still used by tea leaf readers today who consider it a fundamental resource.

How does it work?

As obvious as it might sound, before you start reading tea leaves you need to brew a cup of tea.

Preferably use a cup which is white (or light in colour) to allow you to see the configuration of the tea leaves, then add tea leaves and hot water. Use simple black tea leaves and add them into your cup. 

As the water is cooling, use this time to reflect on your energy and intentions so they start to transfer into the absorbent tea leaves. The person seeking answers in this process is called the ‘querent’. Make sure your questions are specific, as asking a generic question will yield a generic answer.

Once the tea has cooled down, the querent (you) should start sipping the tea until there’s only around a tablespoon of liquid left in the cup, all the time contemplating your question. Then, holding the cup with your left hand, start swirling the small amount of remaining tea three times from left to right.

Next, still using your left hand, carefully invert the cup over a saucer. Leave the cup upside down for around a minute, then rotate it 3 times before turning the cup upright and positioning the handle south. 

The tea leaves should now be stuck to the bottom of the cup forming all sorts of shapes. Inside these shapes contain insights and answers to your questions. 

 spilling tea

Conclusion: Spilling the tea on tea

Tea has a dynamic and international history that spans many centuries over many cultures.

From a traditional English breakfast brew to a Japanese matcha green tea, each country has their own version of this beloved hot drink that can actually define their culture.

There are so many different ways to make tea and a variety of blends meaning you’re spoilt for choice if you want to try this delicious brew.

But tea does so much more than providing us with a comforting, hot drink. It has the power to tell our future and shed light on past experiences in our lifetime. Through learning how to identify different tea leaf symbols, it helps us answer some of our most burning questions. Who would have thought it?

Along with many reported health benefits from boosting our immune system to potential weight loss, tea is one of the world's most popular drinks and it’s not hard to see why.

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