“Tea Traditions: More Than Just Brewing Leaf Juice”

Whether it’s in Lhaviyani Naifaru, Male’ or the southern region of Addu atoll, there’s no denying that tea is a big part of Maldivian life. Similarly, tea is seen strewn (and sometimes thrown overboard) throughout history. Intertwined with tales of culture and survival – and most importantly, the resourcefulness of humanity to unify simple ingredients. 

Tea, a lot like love, is variant and hard to define. It has never been just “hot tea juice”. While traditionally tea is known to be dried leaves stewed in hot water from South Asia, different cultures took care of making sure that the definition of tea is dynamic. Here’s a look at teas being sipped around the world.



English: White coffee 

French: Café Blanc 

Its roots credited to Beirut, this tea is typically an after-meal palate cleanser believed to aid in digestion. It’s made by infusing orange blossom extract with water with a sprig of mint leaves. Variations on the recipe also include brewing with lemon peel and cardamom pods. The orange blossom extract is made utilising several parts of the orange plant and is deeply aromatic.


SAHLEP (also pronounced Sahleb)

Owing its roots to the Ottoman Empire, this is also credited to have come from Beirut and Turkey. The winter-time favorite drink has a milky, starchy consistency and is made by mixing orchid tuber flour with water, sugar and milk. The orchid tubers in Turkey especially come from the southern city of Kahramanmaraş. This thick consistency isn’t complete without a sprinkling of cinnamon powder or pistachio. 



Intertwined in 300 years of enslavement and exploitation, the tales that could be told by Chai in India are numerous. Our biggest neighbour’s rich concoction has taken over the world. Chai is typically made by stewing leaves that are crushed, torn, and curled in rollers to make pellets. An assortment of ginger, cloves, cinnamon, saffron, nutmeg, cardamom, fennel, and peppercorns are added depending on the region, and made with varying types of milk and sugar. It should also be noted that variants of this tea are found scattered all over India and South Asian regions with names such as Masala Chai, Bombay Chai and Teh Tarik. 



Historians dispute the introduction of tea to Morocco – some crediting the Barbars while others say that it was as late as the 19th century that tea made its way to Morocco. This Moroccan brew is traditionally offered to guests with a special tea ceremony of rinsing the pot and green gunpowder tea leaves with boiling water as well as a distanced, simultaneous pours into cups – with added mint leaves and sugar. Multiple brews are made for guests amidst great conversation and sweet dates.



The history of tea in Russia can be splotched on the pages of its royal history and trade routes with China. This tea is said to be sipped with a sugar cube placed between teeth or wedged inside one cheek. Another option is to enjoy it with blueberry jam placed inside mesmerising Imperial porcelain – the Lomonosov cup. The leaves are heated by burning wood chips or pine cones, shoved into a tube inside a metal pot as large as two to three feet in height called a Samovar. The pot placed on top of the Samovar makes a concentrated tea called Zavarka infused with fireweed, blackcurrant leaves or carrot leaves. It takes a while but the wait is definitely worth it. 



This tea is known for its dense flavor as well as the intricate ceremony that goes along with it. This Way of Tea is also known as Chanoyu, Sado or Ocha in Japanese. The tea ceremony was carried out traditionally following a Kaiseki Ryori meal (with every course imaginable). The “thick” and “thin” tea ceremonies are carried out atop cushions inside rooms of woven Tatami mat floors typically surrounded by a garden. After all the utensils are rinsed with hot water by the host, the matcha and boiling water are mixed with a bamboo whisk and served. From the host using their own kimono sash to handle the tea pot, to the guest rotating the teacup 180 degrees before sipping the tea, this ceremony is steeped in intricate hospitality and a treat for all senses. 



Traditionally used by medically inclined elders within the First Nations of indigenous Australians to alleviate toothaches and cramps, this tea is also known as the “Sun Tea” – due to the leaves being placed in water under the sun for a couple of hours. If an outsider wanted to be invited to a community, they sought out the Guradji Man (similar to a law man) of that community. In sharing the tea with the visitor, the community or nation has then accepted and welcomed the outsider.  Said to be filled with rich antioxidants, capable of lowering anxiety and stress as well as appetite, the flavour of the tea is nutty and similar to typical green tea. 


YERBA MATE (chimarrão or cimarrón)

Traditionally sipped in moderation by the indigenous Guarani people of mainly pre-Columbian Paraguay, this drink makes cameos in Guarani legends of the moon and warring tribes. The drink is said to contain the “good” effects of caffeine and invigorates its drinker. The leaves and tender stems of the emerald evergreen tree are dried out and steeped with hot (not boiling) water inside mate (gourd “cups”) and sometimes sipped through a Bombilla, (straw for filtering tea leaves while drinking). The flavour is strong and bitter with a lasting aftertaste and a rise in energy levels of the drinker. 



While the native Nations of North America were put through one of the worst cultural and actual genocides, the Nations and traditions of tea survive till date. Deeply connected to lands and nature, it’s not surprising that multiple Nations had their own infusions for specific purposes. One such concoction is known as the Navajo Nation’s “best kept secret”, the Navajo Tea. This caffeine-free tea is made with Greenthread plant of the Southwest four-corner regions of North America, and is said to have anti-inflammatory and stress relieving properties. The leaves, grown today on the Navajo reservation, is naturally sweet and has a pine-like and grassy flavour that’s tender and cooling when steeped. 


ROOIBOS TEA (Red Bush Tea) 

Said to be harvested by the Khoisan bushmen up in the Cederberg mountains of western cape of South Africa, this aromatic tea was commercialised approximately 300 years ago. From a mother who published a book on Rooibos tea relieving colic in babies to the “Red Espresso” offered in restaurants all across South Africa today, the leaves are prepared through oxidation – allowing the green leaves to turn brick red. This tea is a blessing for those that forget their tea bags in their cups for a while, as Rooibos is never said to go bitter. This is owed to lower levels of bitterness causing tannins that are found in typical teas. Rooibos tea is said to taste naturally sweet, nutty and smell woody after a while – typically served with added sugar. 

By Jumana Shareef