Tea Culture and Tea Traditions of South America


Tea Drinking Culture in South America
Tea History of South America
South Americans were introduced to tea by the Portuguese and Spanish in the 17th century. This time period marks the use of slaves. Tea trade was flourishing in Argentina and Brazil due to this manpower. Once it was terminated in 1888, tea business also diminished only to pick up later.
Argentina is the 9th largest producer in the world today, even their tea farming started only 60 years ago. Brazil grew a variety from China first, and after a short while moved to a Japanese version. It has a lighter taste as it’s grown in lower altitudes.
In 1920s Russia introduced a non-native tea to Argentina. Few years later, government requested their farmers to test out a tea imported from China. In 1952 new tea estates were set up which resulted in better quality tea.
Types of Tea consumed in South America
In addition to the tea from Camellia sinensis plant, tea from “yerba mate” is very popular in South America.
When it comes to the traditional tea, from the Camellia plant, Argentinian tea is the one used more frequently by the South Americans. However it is not very popular with others in the world, because it is used for blending. Colombia, Bolivia and Brazil also produce a bit of Camellia sinensis tea.
The yerba mate on the other hand is quite unique to South America. It can be considered as an herbal tea but it is definitely more than just a tea. It has a powerful cultural bond to the day-to-day life of South Americans. It could be considered as a national drink of many South American nations such as Paraguay, Argentina, Bolivia and Brazil.
In addition to these two main beverages, a cascara or “coffee cherry tea” is consumed in South America. It is a type of a coffee but it’s named cherry tea.
Cascara is a dried husk, and there’s another similar variety, the cacao husk. Both of these have lots of similar characteristics. The Acai berry tea is produced from a dark blue-purple fruit, which has a somewhat bitter flavour. Guayusa and coca leaves are also used to make beverages which are called “tea” in South America.
Tea Customs of South America
Both North and South America are regions of settlers. People from England, and other European countries immigrated and settled down in these continents and later countries were divided and flourished.
“Once” is the tea time in Chile which occurs between 5 and 9 pm. They couple tea with many types of bread, jam, avocado, cakes or a variation of pâté.
Argentina has a custom of tea houses which are of Welsh tradition, started by the people from Wales who settled in Argentina. Welsh tea customs are similar to those in England and Ireland. Tea is served around 4:00 in the evening and it is mixed with milk and sugar rather than having it black. Served alongside the tea are pastries and cakes out of which the most popular is the Welsh black cake.
Brazil also has tea rooms and tea houses which serve buffet meals and of course tea. In Rio de Janeiro there are tea rooms which serve British afternoon tea with cakes, toast, jam, croissants and pies.
In contrast to family gatherings in the Middle East or Asia, in South America tea is more consumed in the tea rooms and restaurants. The yerba mate on the other hand is a native drink and consumed during breakfast as well as in the early evening with pastries, sandwiches and other snacks. Mate is usually drunk with friends and it has now become a social ritual.
Brazilians love their sweets and consume many with tea or coffee. Some common tea snacks are carrot cake glazed with chocolate, brigadeiros or its coconut version beijinho, famed milk pudding pudim de leite and tea infused, custard-made quindim. Argentinians like themselves many snacks such as sweet croissant medialuna, with their tea.
Tea ceremonies in South America
Once is an important tea ceremony for the Chileans as that is the time the family gather for tea and a chat. In Argentina and Brazil, more than tea from Camellia sinensis, native yerba mate plays a significant role in tea ceremonies. Other teas such as Guayusa for example have traditional events related to it as well. The “cupping” of Guayusa is one such event. A group of people will sit together and enjoy a shared brew. This tea is also prepared similar to black tea with boiled water and having the leaves brew for about 5 to 7 minutes. Brewing time depends on how strong the tea has to be.
The yerba mate is drunk at a ritual group event which has the same name, “yerba mate”. A special sort of a straw which includes a filter, known as “bombilla” and boiled water are required for this. A dried gourd also called a “mate” is filled with hot water and yerba mate leaves. After it is properly brewed the bombilla is inserted to the gourd and it is passed to the participants.
These sort of gatherings are a way for the community to come together. There are several traditions in these tea ceremonies. One such is the host having the first sip which is also the bitterest one as a sign of hospitality. It is considered rude to turn it down or leave before the full circle is completed. Each time one takes a sip the gourd is filled with more hot water.
Teaware of South America
Yerba mate is carried out using a hollowed out gourd and the straw known as bombilla. These two items - the gourd also known as mate, and the straw are made using many different raw materials. It could be wood, ceramic, bamboo, stainless steel or silver. Each person's mate could also be decorated or painted on, to make it unique.
The teapots and other teaware of South America come hand-painted and carved by the early enthusiasts.
In one of the well-known cafes in Argentina you get a full teapot with a large teacup and a saucer. You are also given a little hourglass to time the brewing of the tea. These are some new traditions that are added to the South American tea customs.
Although the original cup used for the mate ceremony is a hollowed out, dried gourd, today it is made from various materials in the same shape and size. There is a good market price for unique mates (pronounced Maah- Tes). Their outer decorations show-off the creativity of the South Americans.
Colombians prefer coffee and hot chocolate to tea. Their hot chocolate is stored in a metal pitcher, known as chocolatera which is used for boiling and pouring. A stick-like item with protrusions at its end called “molinillo” is used to stir and make froth in it.