Due to the importance of tea in Chinese society and culture, tea houses can be found in most Chinese neighborhoods and business districts. Chinese-style tea houses offer dozens of varieties of hot and cold tea concoctions. They also serve a variety of tea-friendly or tea-related snacks. Beginning in the late afternoon, the typical Chinese tea house quickly becomes packed with students and business people, and later at night plays host to insomniacs and night owls simply looking for a place to relax.
There are formal tea houses. They provide a range of Chinese and Japanese tea leaves, as well as tea making accoutrements and a better class of snack food. Finally there are tea vendors, who specialize in the sale of tea leaves, pots, and other related paraphernalia. Tea is an important item in Chinese culture and is mentioned in the seven necessities of (Chinese) daily life.
In China, at least as early as the Tang Dynasty, tea was an object of connoisseurship; in the Song Dynasty formal tea-tasting parties were held, comparable to modern wine tastings. As much as in modern wine tastings, the proper vessel was important and much attention was paid to matching the tea to an aesthetically appealing serving vessel.
Historically there were two phases of tea drinking in China based on the form of tea that was produced and consumed, namely: tea bricks versus loose leaf tea
Tea found its way to Persia (Iran) through the Silk Road from India and soon became the national drink. The whole part of northern Iran along the shores of the Caspian Sea is suitable for the cultivation of tea. Especially in the Gilan province on the slopes of Alborz, large areas are under tea cultivation and millions of people work in the tea industry. That region covers a large part of Iran’s need for tea. Iranians have one of the highest per capita rates of tea consumption in the world and since old times every street has had a Châikhâne (Tea House). Châikhânes are still an important social place. Iranians traditionally drink tea by pouring it into a saucer and putting a lump of rock sugar (qand) in the mouth before drinking the tea.
Turkish tea, served in a typical glass
As of 2016, Turkey tops the per capita tea consumption statistics at 6.96 pounds.
Turkish tea or Çay is produced on the eastern Black Sea coast, which has a mild climate with high precipitation and fertile soil. Turkish tea is typically prepared using çaydanlık, an instrument especially designed for tea preparation. Water is brought to a boil in the larger lower kettle and then some of the water is used to fill the smaller kettle on top and steep several spoons of loose tea leaves, producing a very strong tea. When served, the remaining water is used to dilute the tea on an individual basis, giving each consumer the choice between strong (“koyu”/dark) or weak (“açık”/light). Tea is drunk from small glasses to enjoy it hot in addition to show its colour, with lumps of beetroot sugar. To a lesser extent than in other Muslim countries, tea replaces both alcohol and coffee as the social beverage. Within Turkey the tea is usually known as Rize tea.
In 2004, Turkey produced 205,500 tonnes of tea (6.4% of the world’s total tea production), which made it one of the largest tea markets in the world, with 120,000 tons being consumed in Turkey, and the rest being exported. In 2010 Turkey had the highest per capita consumption in the world at 2.7 kg. As of 2013, the per-capita consumption of Turkish tea exceeds 10 cups per day and 13.8 kg per year. Tea is grown mostly in Rize Province on the Black Sea coast.
While France is well known for its coffee drinking, afternoon tea has long been a social habit of the upper middle class, famously illustrated, for example, by Marcel Proust’s novels. Mariage Frères is a famous high-end tea shop from Paris, active since 1854. The French tea market is still only a fraction of the British one (a consumption of 250 grams per person a year compared to about 2 kilos in the UK), but it has doubled from 1995 to 2005 and is still growing steadily. Tea in France is of the black variety, but Asian green teas and fruit-flavoured teas are becoming increasingly popular. French people generally drink tea in the afternoon. It is often taken in salons de thé. Most people will add sugar to their tea (65%), then milk (25%), lemon (30%) or nothing (32%) are about equally popular. Tea is generally served with some pastries, including a variety of not so sweet ones reserved for tea drinking, like the madeleine and the financier.
The British are one of the largest tea consumers in the world, with each person consuming on average 1.9 kg per year. Tea is usually black tea served with milk and sometimes with sugar. Strong tea served with lots of milk and often two teaspoons of sugar, usually in a mug, is commonly referred to as builder’s tea for its association with builders and more broadly with the working class. Much of the time in the United Kingdom, tea drinking is not the delicate, refined cultural expression that the rest of the world imagines—a cup (or commonly a mug) of tea is something drunk frequently throughout the day. This is not to say that the British do not have a more formal tea ceremony, but tea breaks are an essential part of the working day. The term is often shortened to ‘tea’, essentially indicating a break. This term was exported to the game of cricket and consequently to most other countries of the former British Empire.