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Tea history and traditions from around the world

Before the tradition of infusing tea leaves as a drink came into practice, indigenous tribes in the mountains southwest of China chewed on tea leaves for medicinal purposes, and in Thailand, boiled or steamed tea leaves were seasoned with garlic and salt and served with foods like dried fish or pork. The use of tea leaves evolved in 2737 B.C. when the leaves from a wild tea bush are said to have blown into the cup of a Chinese emperor who sat resting in its shade. Today in China, tea is often brewed in a covered cup from which the liquor is then sipped in small amounts.

As navigators, sailors, and missionaries traveled to China in search of its treasures, the custom of taking tea began to slowly impact those in Western Europe, especially those in England. Tearooms where a strong pot of black tea can always be found now dot the landscape. Following English colonization, Sri Lanka (Ceylon at the time), Australia and New Zealand, Canada, and the United States also inherited the British habit of drinking tea, with each area incorporating its own customs, traditions, and values. In Sri Lanka, tea is served with breakfast, lunch, and then again in the evening at the various tea gardens on the island, and tea drinkers occasionally sit on pillows on the floor in keeping with native custom.

Australian sheep farmers adapted the British custom of tea drinking in their own unique fashion. In a tin vessel called a "billy can," the sheep farmer boils water and puts in a handful of leaves. He then lets this brew until his bacon is finished cooking, and after adding a generous amount of sugar, he drinks the strong brew. The “billy can” is left with the leaves inside to simmer all day, so when the sheep farmer arrives home after a day of work, the intense infusion is reheated and enjoyed. Further south on the island of New Zealand, tea is consumed as a less intense brew. Two pots are served for tea; one holds the infused tea liquor while the other contains hot water for dilution if the tea is too strong.

Today in Canada, tea traditions vary only slightly from those in Europe. A "crockery teapot" is scalded with boiling water, and a teaspoon of tea is measured out per two cups of tea. The leaves are then infused from five to eight minutes depending on the desired strength. In the United States, most of the tea consumed is either from teabags or iced tea. Stemming from the American Revolution against British rule, loose-leaf tea was viewed as unpatriotic, and the cultural effects can be seen even today. Still, fine tea is regaining popularity among connoisseurs and green and white teas are gaining recognition for its health benefits.

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