Traditional Vs. Modern Brewing Styles of Tea
From the misty mountains of China to the bustling streets of London, tea has woven its way into the fabric of cultures worldwide. Over the many centuries, tea has evolved, transforming itself in the ways it is prepared, consumed, and even conceptualized. Let’s take a look at the differences between traditional and modern brewing styles, exploring how tea rituals have changed over time.
The Ancient Rituals of Brewing Tea
Tea has historically been more than just a drink. Traditionally, brewing tea was more about the experience. It was seen as an art form; in fact, it was seen as a way of life with cultural, spiritual, and communal roots that stretched deep.
The Chinese have an ancient ritual known as the Gongfu Cha tea ceremony. Gongfu translates to mean “with great skill” and the tea ceremony meant brewing tea with skill and precision. Using a small teapot known as a gaiwan, tea masters will brew the tea in multiple short infusions using a high leaf-to-water ratio. High-quality tea leaves can offer a wide range of nuanced flavors when brewed using this unique method.
The Japanese Tea Ceremony known as “Chanoyu” or “The Way of Tea” is a choreographed ritual of preparing and serving tea, generally Ceremonial Matcha, that embodies a philosophy that reflects the principle of Zen Buddhism. These principles include harmony, respect, purity, and tranquility and reflect a being in the world.
In South American cultures, particularly Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay, and parts of Brazil, the native drink known as yerba mate is traditionally consumed from a hollowed-out gourd using a metal straw known as a bombilla. Its ritual involves a communal activity where the mate is passed around and each person sips from the same gourd as a gesture of unity.
The Age of Modern Brewing Styles
Due to advancements in technology and globalization, the world has gotten smaller and the intricacies of the tea ritual have dwindled being transformed to fit into the faster-paced, modern technological lifestyles of today.
In some ways, the sacred has been replaced by the absurd, and the various cultures of tea have fused into one with British Milk tea, a colonial adaptation of Indian Chai, finding its way into Hong Kong-style milk tea as well as Taiwan’s popular “bubble tea”.
Yerba Mate once symbolized the unity of the South American people, but today it can be found worldwide in ready-to-drink bottled versions and even in tea bags. Many enjoy their yerba mate today without the gourd and bombillia foregoing the traditional brewing method. Many of these teas cater to individual consumers seeking its energizing benefits without the traditional communal experience.
A Reflection of Values and Lifestyles
The traditional tea rituals often emphasized patience, mindfulness, community, and a deep appreciation for the nuanced flavors of the tea. Brewing tea once was a meditative ritual encouraging a deeper connection with ourselves, the tea, and the world around us. The tea ceremonies of the time are closely connected to the values of the times and times have changed.
The once important values have changed with today’s brewing methods reflecting today’s values. Today people value quick and convenient approaches to tea, with a greater emphasis on the energy-boosting effects and the health benefits. On top of all of this many of the traditional methods of brewing have crossed paths creating hybrid experiences such as a traditional Matcha from the Japanese Tea Ceremony being whipped up into a Matcha Latte at your local hipster cafe.
Chongfu Cha: Chinese Tea Ceremony
with Gaiwan and multiple short infusions
Japanese Tea Ceremony prepared in a
bowl frothed with a chasen
Masala Chai from India made by brewing
black tea with a blend of spices, milk and sugar
Yerba Mate traditionally enjoy in a gourd
sipped through a bombillia and share with others
Automated Electric Tea Kettles with settings
often duplicating multiple quick infusions
Matcha Lattes made with electric frothers
and combined with milk
Instant Chai Powders and pre-blended
tea with spices
Yerba mate is worldwide found in ready-to-drink bottles not drank in the traditional manner
Balancing the Traditional with the Modern
Many might argue that the modern ways dilute and bastardize the essence of the traditional tea rituals. However, it may be of value to observe how the various brewing styles of each time may serve a different need or context.
There is beauty in slowing down and taking a more mindful approach to tea. Sometimes, the rituals of the Japanese Tea Ceremony and the Chinese Gongfu Cha where precision, skill, and mindful reflection are emphasized may be the right approach. There may also be value in being able to quickly brew your tea or store it in your fridge, iced and ready to go.
The coming together and sharing a gourd of yerba mate with friends is a unifying experience but having your yerba mate as a go-to, energy-boost on busy days also has its place. There is nothing wrong with brewing yerba mate differently and advancements in technology have made brewing tea convenient and easy, but this doesn’t have to take away from the tea brewing experience.
The merging of traditions and cultures as well as the modern emphasis on health isn’t a departure from tradition, rather it can be seen as a global evolution. It really is a testament to tea’s eternal appeal.