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  • Writer's pictureFreya Ingva

Tea Travels

Updated: Oct 8, 2020

The etiquette of accepting and enjoying a cup of tea around the world reflects the rich culture and social rituals of the place.

Here we will look at drinking tea in daily life, perhaps in a cafe, as a guest, or in a market, in a few countries.

From mint tea to an East Frisian tea cloud, from yerba mate to chai this is what you should do to behave like a local when consuming your drink.

This shared pleasure unites people and brings joy. Read on to be prepared for your trip around the globe!


Native, strong black tea and flavoured apple tea are readily offered to guests everywhere.

So, expect it in shops and bazaar, where it will be made in a çaydanlik teapot (a Turkish version of the samovar) and served in small, curved and transparent glasses. The saucers are colourful and decorated.

You are meant to drink it without milk or cream. Locals enjoy dipping sugar cubes in the tea and sucking on them before they dissolve in the tea.

Always accept it, as a sign of courtesy, even if you only pretend to drink it.


Tea will be offered to you if you are out shopping. As a hospitality gesture, you are expected to accept it, even if you don’t drink it.

If you are a guest of someone and out dining, be mindful of your companion's teacup or glass. If it’s less than half full, you are meant to refill it.

They are expected to do the same with you when it’s your turn. If they don’t, pour a little more into their cup or glass until they realise your need and perform their duty.

The Himalayas & Central Asia

Yak butter tea (or po cha, cha süma, sūyóu chá, gur gur cha, cha suskan) is made of black or

pu'erh tea, traditionally in brick or cake form; yak butter; salt.

These tea bricks or cakes were used as currency till WWII in many parts of Asia, like Siberia,

Tibet, Mongolia, Nepal, Bhutan, Turkmenistan, etc.

A personal po cha cup is a symbol of status and wealth. It can be made of gold, silver, inlaid with precious stones, etc. Even the most basic teacup will be beautifully decorated.

When offered one of these beautiful cups, you are meant to receive it with both hands to show respect, gratitude, and appreciation.

Do not finish the tea if you don’t want more, but leave some at the bottom. As your host is bound to look after you, they will continually refill it. 


As the largest producer and consumer of tea, in China offering tea is a rule and a pleasure.

If you are a guest, do not pour tea for yourself, but wait to be served. Also, wait for your host to start drinking before you take a sip.

In a restaurant, have the teapot lid open for a refill. Gently tap two fingers (index and middle) on the table to express your gratitude when served the tea.


Politely turn down the offer of a cup of tea. After allowing some insistence from the host, graciously accept the offer and drink the tea.

If you are outside drinking a chai tea sold by a street vendor, or chai wallah, crush the small clay cup, called kulhud, on the ground at the end. 

The hand-less cup will soon disintegrate without polluting.

Russia Russian tea is normally black and served with snacks (a selection of cheese, cured meats called sushkie, pretzels), varenye (a jelly-like fruit concoction), biscuits, or a piece of cake. The samovar would be your starting point: get some of your concentrated tea (zavarka) in the cup from the top teapot, then add boiling water. As a guest, you will be offered milk and sugar, although Russians like their tea plain. You are meant to merrily eat and drink.  Being served only a cup of tea, without food, would be considered very rude. Similarly, it would be seen as impolite not to accept the food.


Taste your tea, then decide if you really want to add anything, like sugar or milk. Slurping is acceptable.

Green tea, in different forms, is the most common beverage and it is drunk plain by Japanese people.

Here, Sencha is the most popular tea. When drinking, it’s polite to hold your tea bowl with both hands as a sign of respect.

Germany Prepared with strong Assam tea, an East Frisian tea cloud must be sipped without stirring. This is not to disturb the carefully arranged top layer, or cloud, made of cream. This tea ceremony implies that the sugar at the bottom represents the land; the tea brew the sea; and the top layer of cream the sky.


When passed a gourd of yerba mate (technically not a tea as it does not contain the camellia sinensis plant), accept it without saying ‘thank you’. The ‘thank you’ would signify 'pass' and you will be expected to pass it to your neighbour and not partake of it.

The gourd is refilled with hot water after each round by the cebador. Traditionally, it moves anticlockwise.

Do not stir the yerba mate with the special straining straw called bombilla. This metal straw has an inbuilt filter to separate the liquid from the small parts of the leaves.


If enjoying your mint, or Maghrebi tea, in a shop or bazaar, make sure you empty your glass before you start haggling or discussing any sort of business.

Be prepared to be served three times and expect a slightly different flavour from the same brew. As for tradition "The first glass is as gentle as life, the second is as strong as love, the third is as bitter as death”.

Refusing a serving is unthinkable!

With thanks to Yosomono, Jaida Stewart, Davide Ragusa, Aditya Chinchure for some of the photographs

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