No.199 (11/11/11)

Countries of Tea: Japan vs. England

By Keiko H. Johnson
Staff Writer

I have always been a big fan of tea in general, as I grew up in the country where considerable amount of tea is consumed. A few months ago, I moved to Great Britain, another country famous for its tea culture and values its relationship with tea. Here, I was exposed to world famous afternoon tea.

There are over 1,500 varieties of which several kinds of tea: including the most popular ones, green tea, black tea, white tea, and oolong tea, are made from a plant called Camellia Sinensis. Although the flavor and the aroma may be slightly different to each other, both Japanese tea and English tea are made from the leaves of this type of shrub. The difference that makes between the teas is what part of the leaf is used and how it's processed. While the less fermented light textured green tea is known as a traditional Japanese tea, the well-fermented rich flavored black tea such as earl gray and English breakfast, are regarded as the traditional tea of England.

The history of practicing afternoon tea in England began in 1800s when the Duchess of Bedford had servants bring her tea and some light snacks in her dressing room each day. These small afternoon snacks were ways for her to fill the gap between breakfast and dinner. Later, the queen engaged in the practice of afternoon tea herself and it eventually spread throughout the nation and evolved as a national British pastime that completed was with tea, scones, sandwiches, biscuits, cookies and cakes.

In Japan, apart from the traditional style of formal tea ceremonies: Chanoyu that entails traditional manners of tea brewing methods, a green tea is consumed daily as a follower to each meal. In Britain, there are two types of traditional tea sessions: One of them is called High-tea, which is also known as a meat-tea. High- tea is served with a meal that consists of meat pies, pickles and tea. This type of hearty option of afternoon tea is developed by a working class population who requires a high calorie meal for their mid day snack. The name a high tea originates from is in the way the tea is consumed

As opposed to a High-tea, a Low-tea is supplemented with lightly prepared finger snacks. The English Low-tea is also the style recognized by most people outside of Great Britain and it is often referred to as a tea party or the afternoon tea. The low tea is usually taken to a sitting room or gathering room where a low coffee table was placed. The name “ low tea” derived from such setting of the room.

The afternoon tea in Britain is served in many ways, yet, the Devonshire cream tea, A light tea, and a full tea, are commonly known types of low-tea in Britain. The Devonshire cream tea is composed of tea, scones, strawberry jam and whipped heavy cream, A light tea normally offers scones, sweets, and a cup of tea called guest tea, and a full tea offers variety of small shaped sandwiches, along with small cakes, scones, and cookies. This type of tea is practiced at Japanese homes and offered at cafes in Japan as well, it is just not referred to as a low-tea.

I have traveled to several towns and have visited a few of the tearooms that serve low tea in England. I am mesmerized by its flavors and aroma and my desire to learn about English tea is stimulated. The accompanying foods not only complement the tea, but also make perfect treats at a social gathering. I must say the tea culture that exists in spirit of the Japanese and that of the English is above theatrical and beyond remarkable.

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