Tea Traditions and Techniques from Around the World: A Return to Craft in Tea Culture

In the twentieth century, tea underwent a transformation from being primarily sold as single-estate, loose-leaf tea to pre-made tea in plastic bottles and tea dust mixed with dried herbs and spices in paper tea bags. This commodification of tea led to a shift in tea consumption patterns in the United States, with 65% of tea consumed through tea bags and 25% consumed as ready-to-drink tea. However, amidst the clutter of this mass-market tea industry, the traditions and techniques that defined the world’s great tea cultures were lost. In the following sections, the author shares their experiences and collection of these influential tea traditions and techniques gathered during their travels around the world over the past twenty-plus years, with the aim of returning craft to tea culture.

English “Cuppa” and Dutch tea

The English and Dutch have had a significant influence on how tea is prepared and consumed in the Western world since they introduced it over four hundred years ago. Their style of tea preparation has become the standard in Western countries, and most people believe it is the only way tea should be made and taste.

This preparation style prioritizes creating a rich, full-bodied, and bold black tea, which can be rather bitter, so cream and sugar are almost essential. Although this style may not be the “best” way to prepare tea, there is something incredible about a strong, malty black tea complemented by a dash of cream and a touch of sugar.


  • 4 cups (946 ml) water
  • 2 to 3 teaspoons (4 to 6 g) loose black tea, preferably Ceylon, Assam, or Nilgiri Cream (to taste) Sugar (to taste)

To make this classic English tea, boil 4 cups of water and discard the first cup. Then, add 2-3 teaspoons of loose black tea and the remaining water to the pot. Allow it to steep for 5 minutes, filter into 2 cups, and add 1/4 cup of cream and 1-2 teaspoons of sugar per cup. Enjoy!

Russian tea

Russian tea differs from the English and Dutch teas in that it was mainly imported overland via caravan through central Asia. The dry and cold climate of the region allowed for safer transportation, resulting in better-quality tea when it arrived in St. Petersburg or Moscow. This gave Russians a reputation for having the best quality tea in Europe. As Russia’s political influence grew in the 1800s and 1900s, they influenced the way people in eastern Europe and the Middle East drank tea.


  • 4 cups (946 ml) water for steeping
  • 4 cups (946 ml) water for serving
  • 1/4 to 1/3 cup (24 to 32 g) loose black tea, preferably CTC Assam or strong Chinese black tea Cubed sugar (served on the side)

To make Russian tea, you need a very strong tea concentrate that’s diluted with hot water and sugar to each person’s preference. Boil 8 cups of water and steep 1/4 to 1/3 cup of loose black tea, preferably CTC Assam or strong Chinese black tea, for 20 minutes. Filter the tea concentrate into a teapot and fill each teacup one-quarter to one-half full with the concentrate. Then, fill each cup with boiling water and serve with cubed sugar on the side. Refill the cups with tea concentrate and water as needed.

Turkish tea

In Turkey, tea is a significant ritual. I had the chance to experience this wonderful tradition during my stay in Urumqi, China, where the Uyghurs, a Turkic group, reside.


  • 4 cups (946 ml) of water for steeping
  • 4 cups (946 ml) of water for serving
  • 1/3 cup (32 g) of black tea leaves, preferably CTC Assam or Ceylon black tea Cubed sugar (served on the side)

As the primary trading center between Turkey and China, Urumqi attracted Turkish merchants, and consequently, Turkish tea. Observing the Turkic tea traditions in China made it clear to me how different tea can be around the world.

The Turkish tea preparation style is quite similar to the Russian method, with one major distinction. Instead of filtering the tea concentrate into the pot, the Turks steep their tea leaves continuously in the concentrate and then pour it directly into the cup, filtering only when necessary. This results in an extremely bitter and astringent tea concentrate, much stronger than traditional Russian tea.

To prepare Turkish tea, fill a medium pot with 8 cups (1.9 L) of water and bring it to a boil. Quickly rinse the tea leaves with cold water in a fine-mesh filter and allow them to drain. Put the washed tea leaves in a small pot and add 4 cups (946 ml) of boiling water. Let the leaves steep for 10 to 20 minutes or until the tea concentrate becomes very bitter and strong. Once the tea is ready, fill the teacups halfway with the tea concentrate and use the remaining 4 cups (946 ml) of boiling water to fill the cups. Serve with cubed sugar on the side. When refilling the teacups, use the double boiler method by placing the small pot with the tea concentrate in the medium pot with the remaining boiling water, simmer, and cover. Repeat this process until the concentrate is used up, or you’re finished drinking tea.

Moroccan tea

Moroccan tea, also known as North African green tea, has a fascinating history. English traders introduced this beverage to North Africa during the eighteenth-century trade boom. Since then, the people of Morocco have developed their own unique way of preparing green tea, which involves brewing it very strong, infusing it with bunches of mint and adding plenty of sugar. This tradition has become so popular that it’s now widespread throughout North Africa, with some even adopting it as far away as western China.


  • 4 cups (946 ml) boiling water
  • 2 teaspoons (4 g) gunpowder green tea
  • 4 teaspoons (18 g) sugar
  • 1 bunch mint

To make Moroccan tea, begin by boiling 4 cups (946 ml) of water. In a small pot, add 2 teaspoons (4 g) of gunpowder green tea for every 2 cups (475 ml) of boiling water, and allow it to steep for at least 15 minutes. Don’t stir it during this time! Once it’s ready, filter the tea into a clean pot and add sugar, approximately 4 teaspoons (18 g) for every cup of tea. Cover the pot and bring the sweet tea to a boil, then let it boil for 3 to 5 minutes. Remove the tea from the heat and add a bunch of whole mint, approximately 1/4 to 1/2 cup (24 to 48 g) per cup of tea. Allow the mint to infuse for 2 minutes and then remove it. Some people prefer to remove the mint after only 2 minutes, as too much mint can cause acid reflux.

It’s worth noting that every region of Morocco and North Africa prepares tea slightly differently. Some regions add wormwood leaves or lemon verbena with the mint. To try this variation, simply add 1/4 to 1/2 tablespoon (1.5 to 3 g) of lemon verbena to the tea at the same time that you add the mint, or you can add the lemon verbena instead of the mint.

Persian rose tea

By observing tea-drinking customs across the globe, one can trace the trading patterns of the past two centuries.


  • 6 cups (1.4 L) water
  • 6 crushed green cardamom pods
  • 1 tablespoon (13 g) sugar
  • 2 teaspoons (4 g) black tea leaves
  • Rose water (to taste)
  • Fresh mint (served on the side)

Each tea-making method reflects the local people’s taste preferences and the products traded between different parts of the world. A prime example of this is the Persian/Iranian classic cardamom rose tea, which lies between Russia and India, and is heavily influenced by both cultures. It also showcases the Persians’ unique appreciation for the subtle flavor of rose.

In a medium saucepan, bring water, crushed cardamom pods, and sugar to a boil. Reduce the heat to low, and once the sugar dissolves, add black tea leaves. Simmer for three minutes, then add rose water to taste. Serve with fresh mint on the side.

Indian spiced tea

Masala chai, the milk-infused spiced tea from South Asia, has become increasingly popular worldwide in recent times. It is remarkable that even though the people of the Indian subcontinent have only been drinking tea for about a century, they have fully integrated it into their unique culture. Tea is so deeply ingrained in South Asian culture that it is impossible to discuss one without discussing the other. When it comes to masala chai, every South Asian has a strong opinion on who makes the best one, often citing their own mother.


  • 2 cups (475 ml) water
  • 2 cups (475 ml) milk
  • 6 to 8 green cardamom pods, crushed
  • 8 to 10 black peppercorns
  • 1 cinnamon stick, broken
  • 1 teaspoon fennel seeds
  • 1 teaspoon ground clove
  • 1 star anise
  • 1 teaspoon finely grated fresh ginger
  • 4 teaspoons (8 g) loose black tea (Assam)
  • Sugar or honey (to taste)

As someone married into a South Asian family, I have been fortunate to collect a wealth of proprietary recipes and techniques for making masala chai. The following recipe is a combination of my family’s recipes and techniques that I have gathered over the years through various trips to India and countless hours spent taking notes while hiding in kitchens.

To make the perfect masala chai, bring water, milk, crushed cardamom pods, black peppercorns, cinnamon stick, fennel seeds, clove, star anise, and fresh ginger to a boil in a medium saucepan. Reduce the heat and let it simmer for 2 to 3 minutes, or until you reach your desired taste. Remove the saucepan from the heat and add black tea. Let it steep for 3 to 4 minutes. Strain the masala chai into a clean saucepan or four cups and add sugar or honey to taste.

I carefully boil the masala chai four times after adding the sugar and steeping the tea, taking care to prevent it from overflowing. After bringing it to a boil, I remove it from the heat and wait for the foam to subside before repeating this process three more times. This technique caramelizes the sugars, enhancing the flavor of the masala chai. I also pour the tea from one saucepan to another from a height of 2 to 3 feet (61 to 91 cm), a process known as “pulling” the tea, which not only cools it down but also aerates it, resulting in a more satisfying mouthfeel.

Hyderabad Iranian tea

Tea preparation techniques in India have evolved over the past century, resulting in some interesting and unique methods. One such tradition is Hyderabad’s Iranian chai, which originated from Persian traders who settled in the city about a hundred years ago. Interestingly, the only difference between Iranian chai and English tea is the way it is processed.

Hyderabad’s Iranian tea is known for its strength, and to offset its bitterness and astringency, a sugar cube was traditionally tucked in the cheek and sipped through. To fit in with the locals, the Persians added milk and sugar, and the rest is history.


  • 1 1/2 cups (355 ml) water 2 teaspoons (4 g) loose black tea
  • 2 cups (475 ml) milk
  • 2 to 3 teaspoons (9 to 14 g) sugar
  • 1 or 2 crushed cardamom pods (optional)

To make Hyderabad Iranian tea, put water and loose black tea in a small saucepan, cover it, and bring it to a boil. Reduce the heat and let it simmer for 15 to 20 minutes. Chai wallahs in Hyderabad may simmer their tea for hours to make a stronger tea concentrate. Consider experimenting with stronger tea concentrates. In another small saucepan, heat the milk and sugar over low heat and let it simmer for 20 to 60 minutes. The longer the milk simmers, the thicker and richer it becomes.

Once the tea concentrate and milk syrup are ready, mix them in the ratio of one-quarter tea to three-quarters milk. If you prefer, you can add crushed cardamom pods to the milk syrup as it simmers.

South Indian Black Cardamom Tea

This recipe is for South Indian Black Cardamom Tea, which is a popular type of spiced tea made in the southern states of India. It is a variation of the traditional masala chai, which refers to a general group of spiced teas rather than a specific type of tea. This particular recipe includes black cardamom, which gives the tea a smoky taste and aroma.


  • 2 cups (475 ml) water
  • 2 cardamom pods, broken
  • 2 teaspoons (4 g) fennel
  • 2 teaspoons (4 g) loose black tea
  • 1 cup (235 ml) milk
  • Sugar or honey (to taste)

To make this tea, bring water, broken cardamom pods, and fennel to a boil in a medium saucepan. Simmer until only 1 cup of liquid remains, then remove from heat and add loose black tea. Steep for 3 minutes, then add milk and return to heat. Boil for 2 to 3 minutes, then strain into 2 teacups. Sweeten with sugar or honey to taste.

Ethiopian tea

The recipe below is for Ethiopian tea, which is technically not a tea because it doesn’t use leaves from the Camellia sinensis plant. However, this recipe is too good to ignore. This recipe is included for three reasons: it is delicious, it demonstrates the generosity and love of the Ethiopian culture when sharing their tea, and it shows how trade patterns of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries have affected tea traditions around the world.

Ethiopia, located on the western border of the Indian Ocean, has a long history of trade with India, as evidenced by the virtually identical tea traditions. However, unlike India, Ethiopia was never colonized and, therefore, never introduced to tea as a tradable commodity. A traditional Ethiopian tea is similar to a masala chai but without the tea leaves.


  • 4 cups (946 ml) water
  • 6 to 8 green cardamom pods (crushed)
  • 8 to 10 black peppercorns
  • 1 cinnamon stick, broken
  • 1 teaspoon fennel seeds
  • 1 teaspoon ground clove
  • 1 star anise
  • 1 teaspoon finely grated fresh ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon orange zest Sugar (to taste)

To make this tea, bring water, crushed green cardamom pods, black peppercorns, cinnamon stick, fennel seeds, clove, star anise, and grated fresh ginger to a boil in a medium saucepan. Simmer for 2 to 3 minutes or until desired taste is achieved. Remove from heat and add orange zest. Steep for 3 to 4 minutes. Strain the tea into a clean saucepan or into 4 cups and add sugar or honey to taste. This recipe serves four.

Southeast Asia Teh Tarik Tea

My first exposure to some of the greatest tea traditions occurred while studying at a college in Malaysia during the early 1990s. There, I discovered the rich culture of late-night markets, spicy foods, and sweet tea that was oh-so-good: teh tarik! Whether served hot or cold, this tea is best enjoyed with spicy noodles or rice dishes.


  • 4 cups (946 ml) water
  • 4 teaspoons (8 g) loose black tea
  • 3/4 cup (150 g) sugar
  • Ice
  • Half-and-half (to fill)

In a small pot, bring water to a boil. In another pot, combine tea and sugar. When the water reaches boiling point, pour it over the tea and sugar. Gently simmer the tea for 3 minutes and remove from heat. Steep the tea off the heat for another 30 minutes. At the end of 30 minutes, filter the tea concentrate into another container and allow it to cool. (This concentrate can last for days when stored in the refrigerator).

For the iced version, fill highball glasses with ice. Then, fill each glass three-quarters full with the cooled concentrate and the remainder of the glass with half-and-half. (Most of my friends in Malaysia used sweetened condensed milk instead of half-and-half or cream. This makes a very sweet tea, but on a hot, humid Malaysian day, nothing can beat it!) While filling the rest of the glass with half-and-half or cream, pour slowly to create two distinct layers: the tea layer and the cream layer.

Technique: If you want to serve or drink your teh tarik warm, do not cool the tea concentrate. Simply combine the tea concentrate and the cream and begin to pull the tea by pouring it 2 to 3 feet from one pot into another. By doing this four or five times, you will not only cool the tea, but you will also aerate it, giving it a fuller mouthfeel. Pour the tea and enjoy.

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