There are a variety of unusual tea traditions and little known facts that I find delightful. For example, high in the Himalayan mountains, the Tibetan people drink what is known as yak butter tea. Using strong black tea, they simmer the leaves overnight to make a very strong, concentrated brew. They mix or churn this concentrate with yak butter and salt until it is thick and frothy. Because it is high in calories, it is a daily beverage that is a critical source of energy.
In Russia, the well-known Samovar, has a lesser known secret. While the samovar contains a supply of boiling water, there is a small tea pot that rests on top containing a very strong concentrate of tea called zavarka. As tea is served, a small amount of concentrate is added to the tea cup and you may add the amount of water desired to dilute the tea. As a result, the traditional way of drinking tea in Russia is to sip the tea through a sugar cube in the mouth, or by stirring a spoon of homemade jam into the cup before drinking.
And while many of you may be familiar with the tea called, “Russian Caravan,” noted for its smoky character, what you might not be familiar with are the theories of its origins. In the 1700’s, in order to get tea from China to Russia, it was often transported by camel. The nearly 5,000 mile journey took about 6 months. As the caravan would unload its cargo for the evening and camp would be established, the travellers would build their fires for warmth and cooking. One of the most easily accessible fuels just happened to be camel dung. The journey, therefore, became part of the tea processing. There are those who would argue that the cold, dry climate through Mongolia and Siberia, with a bit of moisture absorption from the snow as it was unloaded from the camel to the ground each night, actually added a notable delicacy. Add in the smoke from the camel dung fire, and you’ve got something quite distinctive. You’ll be happy to know that, as far as I know, no camel dung is used in the making of modern day Russian Caravan blends!
In China, visitors will be amazed at the tea service provided in some restaurants where servers carry large kettles with long spouts. When they see the signal that a tea pot needs water, they are able to gracefully aim the spout to deliver the boiling water into the tea pot in a 2 – 3 foot arc! There are even tea masters of this art who perform amazing feats with these long-spouted tea pots.
This is one of the many things I love about tea. It is universal, and yet has so many differences depending on the culture, the tea, and the traditions. What unusual tea discoveries have you made?