Afternoon tea: how it's consumed in different cultures

Afternoon tea: how it's consumed in different cultures

When you think of tea, images probably come to mind of your typical everyday brew: a nice little cup of black tea with a splash of milk (and a teaspoon of sugar if you like things a bit sweeter). But when it boils down to it (pun intended), there are numerous ways that tea can be prepared, so depending where you are in the world, you’ll find that there are different cultures and customs for the way that tea is drunk.

Tea is a worldwide phenomenon: the Beyoncé of the beverage world, and just about every country from Morocco to Malaysia has its own way of consuming this versatile plant. Here in Britain, we like to opt for a traditional afternoon tea, complete with scones and tiny sandwiches, while other cultures carry out different ceremonies around their tea-drinking experiences. As you might imagine, learning about tea drinking habits is right up our street, so we've put together a few of our favourites from around the world for you - enjoy! 


Legend has it that this whole tea thing started in China around 2737 BC when Emperor Shen Nung was sitting near a Camellia sinensis bush and some leaves fell into his pot of boiling water. He liked the taste, and it didn’t take long for tea to become an essential part of Chinese culture. Not only did the cultivation of tea open China to plenty of trade opportunities, but its consumption trickled down into the finer elements of Chinese custom, paving the way for the tea ceremony.

China’s huge population and tea-drinking heritage has resulted in many variations on the typical tea ceremony, but there are certain steps that always remain the same.

The tea ceremony is referred to as gong fu, which translates to making tea with effort – and make tea with effort they certainly do…. 

- An ornate clay teapot is warmed with boiling water and the leaves are added.

- Hot (but not boiling) water is then used to rinse the leaves and is then discarded.

- More hot water is added to the pot.

- The teapot is intentionally filled to overflowing. Surface debris is scooped away and the lid is then replaced.

- The tea infuses in the pot for a period of time, often as short as one minute, before being poured in a continuous motion into cups that are arranged in a semicircle.


Despite being one of the largest producers of tea in the world, India is relatively new to the tea-drinking scene. Other Asian countries – such as China – have spent thousands of years honing their tea craft and making those ceremonies extra special. India, however, was only introduced to tea in the 19th century when the British started to establish large-scale tea plantations there. 

The go-to tea in India is chai: a strong black tea that is spiced with cardamom, fennel seeds, ginger cloves, and other spices. Chai is often served by street vendors and is readily available on pretty much any Indian street. 

Here’s how it’s prepared: 

- The vendor (or chai wallah, as they’re known), will prepare a spicy masala mixture that contains any of the following ingredients: cardamom, cloves, cinnamon sticks, ginger root, and peppercorns. All of these ingredients have been ground down to a fine powder.
- The masala mix is then placed into a saucepan of boiling water along with some strong black tea leaves for five minutes.

- Milk is added and the mixture is boiled for a further five minutes.

- Sugar is added for sweetness.

- The spices and tea leaves are then strained out.


Referred to as ‘the new gateway to Africa’, Morocco is separated from the Spanish mainland by a thin stretch of water called the Strait of Gibraltar. If it’s considered to be the entry point to the different cultures that can be found on the African continent, then it should also be considered the entry point to the different tea-drinking cultures that can be found there. 

Drinking tea is an important element of Moroccan culture, with people using it as a means of showing hospitality, socialising, and relaxing. Traditional Moroccan tea is usually a blend of Chinese green tea and North African nana mint. 

Here is the Moroccan tea-making process: 

- Small glasses are arranged on a tray.

- Chinese green tea is then mixed with some mint leaves and a lump of sugar in a teapot.

- The person making the tea will then pour hot water into the pot and allow it to infuse for several minutes.

- They will then pour the tea into the glasses from about 30cm above the glass (this might take some practice). 

- If you would like to get a taste for Moroccan tea but you don’t have any mint leaves to hand, you can use our pre-mixed green tea and mint tea temples.



Whether it’s the hospitable Moroccan customs or the serene Chinese ceremonies, each tea-drinking nation has its own little tea culture that says something about the sensibilities of the country where it’s carried out. 

Britain is no different. With 165 million cups of tea being consumed each day, there has to be some link to history that tells us why tea is such an important part of our daily routines. 

Tea had been popular in Britain since the 1660s, but it wasn’t until the mid-19th century that the concept of afternoon tea came about. It was normal in the 1800s to eat late in the evening, leaving a rather large gap in the day between lunch and dinner. In the year 1840, Anna – the seventh Duchess of Bedford – started to feel a bit fed up waiting to eat and decided to invite her friends around for tea and thinly sliced cucumber sandwiches. The trend caught on and it soon became a fashionable thing to do in high society. 

Traditional afternoon tea is usually a black tea from India, such as Assam, served with a course of small cucumber sandwiches and scones with jam and clotted cream. Nowadays, of course, we have all kinds of sandwiches and assortments of cakes, and our current favourite variation - boozy afternoon tea! 

Related articles