12 Tea Etiquette Tips from Around the World

tea traditions of the world

Across the globe, tea is a celebrated drink that plays an integral role in daily life and social rituals. And although the simple pleasure of enjoying tea unites us all, each country has its own unique tea culture, traditions and etiquette.

Traveling for tea? Be sure to follow these guidelines to avoid making a cultural faux-pas!

  • Hong Kong: Tea culture revolves around the guest here, so be sure to never pour tea for yourself. And, when being served, tap your outstretched pointer and middle finger on the table to express your gratitude.
  • Turkey: Black tea – and a lot of it – is served in small, curved glasses with plenty of sugar. To avoid odd looks, avoid adding milk or cream.
  • Argentina: Don’t use the bombilla (or straw) to stir mate, the national drink made from a type of native holly. Rather, the leaves floating at the top of your drink should stay dry.
  • Japan: When drinking tea in Japan, especially during the traditional Japanese tea ceremony, do so by holding your cup or tea bowl with two hands. It’s also socially acceptable to slurp your tea; doing so not only cools the brew, but makes it taste better, too.
  • Kenya: You should always accept offered cups of tea, even if you only put the cup to your lips or simply take a few sips. Your cup will always be refilled if it is less than half full.
  • Morocco: When sipping tea with a shopkeeper (a traditional national custom), don’t talk prices – or business of any kind, for that matter – until the glasses are emptied.
  • England: No visit to England is complete without enjoying a proper afternoon tea. Remember that when stirring your tea, you should avoid making any clanking noises with your spoon. After stirring, place your spoon on the saucer behind the cup, its handle pointing the same direction as the cup’s. And keep those pinkies in to avoid coming off as pretentious.
  • China: If you find yourself at a business meeting in China, chances are you will be served tea at some point. Do not take the first sip, as the Chinese wait for the senior host to do so.
  • India: It’s likely you’ll be invited to enjoy a cup of masala chai at some point during your visit to India. Follow etiquette by politely turning down the invite at first, and accept when your host insists.
  • Russia: To serve tea in Russia without a snack (such as cheese, cured meats or sushkie, bready cookies) is a huge social faux pas, and is actually quite rude. Similarly, it is also considered somewhat impolite to not accept the food when it’s offered.
  • Egypt: When dining in Egypt, be mindful of whether or not your neighbor's tea cup or glass needs refilling. If it’s less than half full, refill it for them. If your glass is less than half full, your neighbor or host is obliged to refill it, but if they do not, indicate your need by pouring a little more drink into your neighbor's glass, even if it doesn't really need it.
  • Tibet: When your host hands you a cup of tea (which will likely be butter tea), take it with both hands to demonstrate respect and appreciation. A good guest will never completely drink out his/her tea bowl because the host will always add more tea to make sure that your bowl is not empty.

Happy tea travels!

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