Vietnam Tea Customs

by Elena Popec 12. September 2011 10:48

In the Medieval Ages one of the court healers gave his patients the following advice: "Drink one cup of tea in the morning and glass of wine in the evening and you will forget doctors forever." Instructive meaning of this parable is that moderate and timely use of tea and wine are really beneficial.

People have long known that tea is not just a drink to quench their thirst, but rather a magic drink for good health. Therefore, a tea party for most cultures and times is perceived as a ritual of compelling with a vital force of Nature.

Vietnamese tea ceremony is a pleasant sign of hospitality with deep social importance. As in many other traditional tea cultures, Vietnamese tradition suggests that the environment where the ceremony takes place should bring people together, contribute to a relaxed conversation and cultural communication: the recitation of poetry, discussion of literature and art. If the conversation goes on everyday topic or discussion of issues of mutual interest, the guests always leave the last word for the master of the house. The whole idea of Vietnamese ritual of tea drinking is a maximum spiritual rapprochement between the participants of the ceremony combined with the pleasure of drinking tea. In general, Vietnamese tea drinking tradition is a bridge that brings people together and helps to better understand each other.


The traditional Vietnamese tea ceremony is a complex of all the preparations for it. Every element of the ceremony plays its meaningful importance in it:  where to drink tea, when and with whom, what kind of water to use, where in the house set the table for brewing tea, and which tea cups to use.


Tea has been cultivated in Vietnam from immemorial time. One of the most unique and exquisite Vietnamese tea customs is lotus flavored tea. During the Nguyen dynasty, tea drinking ritual was brought to the level of art. King Tu Duc who reigned during the Nguyen dynasty (1848-1883) is known for drinking tea flavored with lotus in a very special way. On moonlit nights, prior to his morning tea, King had his servants set their boats on the lake in the royal garden where the lotus flowers are in bloom and put a handful of tea into each blossom, then close them with ribbon. Tea leaves would absorb the living scent of the lotus petals. Then they will collect the dew from the lotus leaves due to belief that only water born between heaven and earth, can give the king strength for the day. Next morning the tea would be picked from the lotus lake and offered to the king as his morning refreshment. According to tea connoisseurs, tea grown on the hills of Thai Nguyen province is a signature of Vietnamese tea. It’s praised for its very unique taste and distinctive aroma.
Vietnamese custom of drinking tea in different provinces of the country was formed in different ways. For instance, South Vietnam region prefers green ice tea, flavored with flowers. For the population of the South, tea is, above all, a drink of refreshment. In central region of the country, where climate is mostly rainy, the most popular is tea made from fresh tea leaves slightly dried on the sun. This type of fresh brew unfolds a strong, natural taste and aroma. The north population prefers hot tea, brewed strong, natural green or flavored with flowers of jasmine, lotus, or chrysanthemum.

Tea flavored with freshly picked flowers mostly preferred by elderly, preparing such tea is a long process; older folks can always find time for that. Often rainwater gathered in mountain streams and waterfalls is used in this process. For special occasions some dew collected from lotus leaves can be used. Water is boiled in a copper vessel on the coals of palm tree. An earthenware teapot, tea cups and tea box are required for tea course. Fresh jasmine, lotus or rose petals are placed on a saucer and covered with a cup rinsed with hot water. This is a special way of flavoring tea with scent of freshly picked flowers. When tea is ready, it’s poured into a cup that absorbed a subtle fragrance of flowers.  Skillful tea connoisseurs always keep tea as a subject of conversation, comment and compliment it, just like some do at wine tasting.

Tea drinking is a customary signature practice at wedding and engagement ceremonies. Marrying couples use the ritual of drinking tea at the wedding ceremony to express their affection for each other.

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Traditions

Russian Tea Drinking Tradition

by Elena Popec 7. September 2011 09:32

Russian tea drinking tradition, along with some other Russian customs, has long been a hallmark of the country. Nevertheless, to describe the attributes of Russian tea drinking: samovar (meaning "self-boiler" in Russian), loose leaf black tea, pancakes, jam, cubed sugar, sliced lemon, cups in cup holders, porcelain set… Unfortunately, very few people drink tea in accordance with this attributes, because almost no one these days uses a samovar.

This old Russian tea drinking tradition becomes history, but still lives and breathes in Russia and around the world where Russian emigrants make their homes. Russian literature often invokes the samovar to symbolize Russian hospitality. Gathering around the table by a samovar with family and friends evokes a sense of cosines and comfort, which is an important element in our busy lives. Let me just try to formulate some of the characteristics of tea drinking, which can be classified as specifically Russian.

A real Russian tea party requires a porcelain tea set; a classical Russian tea set is "Cobalt net" of the Imperial Lomonosov’s Porcelain Manufactory. These sets are often sold in duty free shops at the international airports of Russia and in numerous souvenir shops. Contrary to popular opinion, tea glasses even in the most exclusive holders are not the most accurate representation of the Russian tea drinking tradition. Since the 18th century, people who understood the sense in life and in tea-drinking, tried to get the porcelain set.

A very specific feature of Russian tea-drinking is samovar, a vessel with boiling water. In Russian tradition, tea leaves brewed in the porcelain pot, which is placed on the top of the samovar keeping the brew hot. In most major tea drinking cultures, Chinese, Japanese and English, tea leaves steep, a brew is poured in a cup and drunk. In Russia, a brew is diluted with hot water directly in a cup, that’s why besides the standard tea set, tea party in Russia involves a samovar with boiling water.

Another important part of Russian tea-drinking tradition is a simple and obvious lemon, cut in thin slices, not wedges, since circles look beautiful on a plate and in a cup. In fact, the whole world believes that tea with lemon is a Russian invention, often called "Russian tea". 

However, the most important feature of a Russian tea party is tea itself. Of course, it should be black tea. Historically, it was Chinese tea, such as Keemun or a blend based on it "Russian Caravan" or “Russian Samovar”. Chinese tea was drunk in Russia for three centuries, and only in the 20th century adjusted traditionally established tea preferences. Nowadays, most Russians prefer a rich aroma and strong taste of Ceylon tea over subtle taste of Chinese teas. Often, both teas are served at the party, Chinese in respect to century’s old tradition and Ceylon in respect to modern tea taste.

When at the table served with samovar full of boiling water, porcelain tea set, two teapots (with Chinese and Ceylon tea), a plate with a stack of pancakes, a few fresh baked pies (with apples, cherries, cheese, cabbage and all sorts of fillings…), several kinds of jam (strawberry, cherry, blueberry, lingoberry, cloudberry, raspberry…), honey, condensed sweet milk, sliced lemon and cubed sugar, one will understand what is a true Russian made happiness. Laughing

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