Over spring break, my sister-in-law, Elisa, came to visit. Elisa has quickly become a world-traveler and has spent a fair amount of time traveling outside of the United States.
While she was visiting, we sat down over a pot of chai and I got to hear some of her stories and adventures. I asked her question after question about the cultures she visited and how tea plays a part of those cultures.
This is what she had to share about her time in central Asia.
“Tea is so much a part of the culture there, that to not drink tea is unimaginable. Typically, they drink plain green or black tea. They always have tea around and is drunk with meals, in between meals, and with dessert after meals. They do not have “tea time” like we know in western culture, but they do almost always have some sort of dessert or sweet thing with tea.
The tea to drink for special occasions or holidays is called Tashkenski Chai. To make this, they steep black and green tea together with lemon and honey.
The tea cups they use in the area of central Asia I was visiting are called Pialas. They are a little bowl: round, shallow, and wide with no handles. The pialas and other tea paraphernalia are really beautiful. Blue and white patterned ceramic is the most common style or look.
Something else to know is that the most eligible, unmarried woman always serves the tea. It shows that she is “ready to be a wife”. It seems to be an unspoken rule, they just know which woman is going to serve the tea. She doesn’t always sit at the table, sometimes she does. But she always serves the tea. It’s an old, old tradition.
When you share tea with someone you never fill the tea cup all the way up. A filled tea cup is not only rude, but it says “leave”. Instead they fill the pialas half-full tea, which says “please stay”. Because of this, they are continually filling the cup with more tea.
Having tea with someone, or making a pot of tea, really allows time to develop relationships. It show that you value friendship and a depth in that friendship – you chose to spend time with them by refilling the tea cups over and over. The people there are pretty blunt and not overly warm at first, but once you sit down with them you see the space to create a deeper friendship. They have a handful of deep friendships, you know a small group of people very well.”
Learning how much of life revolved around tea, and how different some of their traditions are, in that part of the world was intriguing to me. I absolutely loved getting to get a glimpse into Elisa’s experiences there and I hope you did too!