When we think of tea drinkers, our immediate thought may be that of calm and relaxed individuals quietly sipping green tea from ceramic mugs. While this picture can be true, it is not entirely accurate. As the second most consumed beverage in the world, tea can be prepared in a variety of ways for different drinkers.
While people usually relate the drink to East Asian cultures, specifically China and Japan, tea is actually ingrained in other Asian cultures as well. But what does tea culture look like in other Asian regions?
Southeast Asian Tea Culture
Tea has a special place in Southeast Asian culture. Because a lot of Southeast Asian countries were colonized by Western powers, tea had a huge historical, cultural, and economic impact on these countries. In some Islamic countries, tea has also replaced alcohol as the social drink of choice. Today, Southeast Asian teas aren’t necessarily served in the stereotypical image of the warm, relaxing beverage that we’re all familiar with.
Vietnam is considered as one of the biggest producers of tea in the world and is the biggest producer in Southeast Asia. Tea is a mainstay in Vietnamese culture, with locals consuming tea like they drink water.
Vietnamese locals prefer simpler flavors like green tea, jasmine, and plain black tea. Wherever you go in Vietnam, you can be sure that someone will offer you trà nóng (hot tea) or trà đá (iced tea).
Much like Vietnam, the ubiquity of tea in Myanmar’s culture is a result of British colonization. Myanmar has a lot of tea shops as well, since tea is considered a large part of their social interactions. For those with a sweet tooth, most tea shops offer laphet yay cho which is black tea with sweetened condensed milk.
Most notably, tea leaves are also eaten in Myanmar. Also known as laphet, these tea leaves are pickled and can be served in different ways as a salad.
Tea culture in Thailand is a bit different from the other countries. Unlike Myanmar and Vietnam, tea is not deeply ingrained in Thailand’s history. That being said, the highlight of Thailand’s tea culture is its Thai iced tea or cha yen.
Cha yen is usually made with Ceylon tea and other spices and sweetened with condensed milk. Perhaps, it can be said that this is the Thai equivalent of our obsession with milk tea! For most Thais, cha yen can be bought from street vendors (much like sago’t gulaman) and tea shops.
As the one of the largest producers of tea in the region, Indonesia exports different kinds of teas worldwide. Unlike other Southeast Asian countries, Indonesia does not have a definite tea culture, although it is said that there is a general preference for jasmine tea and sweetened black tea within the country.
Indonesia exports jasmine tea, oolong tea, green tea, black tea, white tea, red tea, and yellow tea.
Malaysia is considered to be the country that consumes the most tea in Southeast Asia. Its most popular tea is known as teh tarik.
Teh tarik, also known as Malaysia’s national drink, is an icon of Malaysian street food culture. It is made by pouring hot tea and condensed milk between two mugs in a flashy manner. Teh tarik is usually sold in 24/7 mamak stalls (food carts). It is listed as one of the most recognizable drinks within the Southeast Asian region and has a lot of blogs dedicated to honoring the drink.
Tea culture in the Philippines is not as thriving as the country primarily consumes coffee. This is not to say that tea is not appreciated in the country.
Primarily seen as medicinal, most Filipinos first encounter tea in the form of salabat, a ginger tea that is commonly used to treat sore throat and colds. Even today, when we think of tea, it is always with the health benefits in mind.
Recently, however, we have seen a rising interest in tea within the country. For one, most Filipinos have been obsessing over milk tea. The recent interest in tea has also led to an exploration of locally-sourced tea leaves, in particular hibiscus tea.
Far from the stereotype of being a drink for calm, old people, tea is for everyone. Whether you prefer to take it iced or hot, sweetened, plain, or with milk, there’s bound to be something for you.