Exploring Prague’s Tea Houses: A Brief History and What to Expect

As a British expat, I have a soft spot for tea and its restorative properties. So when Expats Of CZ asked me to visit some of Prague’s tea houses, or čajovny, I was thrilled to take on the task.

Tea Culture in Britain vs Czech Republic

While tea is a staple in British culture, the tea houses of the Czech Republic are a relatively new addition. Traditional British tea shops often feature lace doilies, scones, and little old ladies. In contrast, Czech tea houses are more relaxed and ‘hippified’, catering to a younger crowd.

A Brief History of Prague’s Tea Houses

Legend has it that in 1848, Russian anarchist Mikhail Bakunin visited a Prague café and asked for tea, only to be met with confusion. Bakunin allegedly went into the kitchen and made the city’s first cup of tea. The tea craze caught on, and by the First World War, there were over 150 tea houses in Prague. However, they didn’t survive the Communist occupation, and the tea houses of the First Republic disappeared. The čajovny that exist today are the result of a post-1989 revival.

What to Expect at a Czech Tea House

As the name suggests, čajovny serve tea, often with a menu of nearly 100 tea varieties from around the world. Some tea houses also offer wine, beer, or coffee, but hard-core tea enthusiasts may prefer to stick to the pure teas. Hookah with flavored tobacco is also available at some establishments.

The atmosphere at čajovny is casual, attracting Czech teenagers and students as well as tourists. The decor, dress, and crockery are influenced by the tea cultures of different countries and locations along traditional trade routes. It’s not uncommon to find furnishings and hookah from the Middle East, tea from China, and snacks from Japan.

Overall, čajovny offer a relaxed and laid-back vibe, with no pressure to rush. They’re generally non-smoking, except for those offering hookah. As I visit and explore Prague’s čajovny over the coming weeks, I’ll be sure to share my experiences.

A Tea House Glossary

For those new to the tea house scene, here are a few terms to know:

  • Čajovny – ‘Tea Houses’ in Czech!
  • Hookah – a smoking instrument where tobacco smoke is passed through water to purify and cool the smoke.
  • Flowering – small bundles of tea leaves bound together into a ball that expands and opens like a flower when put into hot water.
  • Oolong – a Chinese tea with a strong, earthy, and woody flavor, produced through a unique drying and twisting process.
  • Tea – Čaj or tea comes in different forms based on the degree of oxidation the leaves have undergone, including white, green, oolong, and black.

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