Culture Shocks #2: Do You Take Milk With Your Tea ?

Err … what ? Hell No !

Tea … you wouldn’t understand the ‘extend’ of the Brits’ obsession for drinking Tea until you actually live for a while in this country.

I didn’t realize how much drinking tea were so integrated to the British life that, like football, cricket and rugby, it had become part of the culture, probably more than those 3 sports combined.  Nor little did I know that tea can have so many types, colours and tastes.

Tea Boxes

Tea Boxes

Before I came to England, the only references I got about English’s tea drinking habit were from English Period Movies, or English Novels/Children Books, mainly Agatha Christie‘s, Enid Blyton‘s.

And who can forget … Captain Jean Luc Picard :)

.. only when I got here that I could finally get how Earl Grey tastes like, and to tell you the truth I kinda like it.

Earl Grey

Earl Grey

Sure, from these ‘literature’ or from ‘what people generally says’ we could get some sort of assumption or at least some imaginations of how it was, but that was all. I (and probably many others) had always had this sort of assumption/imagination, that everybody in Britain would stop doing whatever they were doing at 5 o’clock in the afternoon, where they would sit down and sip their nicely brewed tea while eating some biscuits.  This was probably true … long time ago :)  In reality, the one that I’m living now, many people simply don’t have time even for lunch, let alone for a cup of tea.  It doesn’t mean that they stop drinking it though, they still do, just the time and the place that has changed. Instead of 5 o’clock, they do it whenever they want it, and instead of the ‘Drawing Room’ they do it where ever they want.

In Indonesia, tea is of course nothing new for the people who live there, after all Indonesia is one of only few places in the world where tea is grown (en-masse) and that 7% of the world tea exports comes from highlands of Indonesia.

Tea Picker

Tea Picker

As a matter of fact, according to history, Indonesia had played a quite important role in the process of introduction of tea to the European.
As you’ve probably have known, Tea (Camellia Sinensis in Latin) was originated from China and it’s been enjoyed by the Chinese for thousands of years.

Tea Species

Tea Species

During the beginning of the Colonial Age in the late 16th century, it was believed that the Portuguese was the first people that brought back and introduced tea from China and the Far East to Europe.  But it was not them who were the first ship tea commercially, it was the Dutch (who occupied Indonesia for about 350 years). By the turn of the century the Dutch had already established trading posts on the island of Java, and it was via Java that in 1606 the first consignment of tea was shipped from China to Holland.  From Holland, tea began to spread around European continent and eventually made its way to England.  You can read more about the history of tea in the UK Tea Council website.

Tea Plantation

Tea Plantation

Below is a photo of Cutty Shark, the ONLY remaining Tea Clipper Ship in the world. Clipper is a specialised ship with narrow hull and tall masts packing as many as 35 sails, they were very fast (25 knots).  They could sail from China to England in about 100 days or less (this is before they built Suez Canal, so they needed to go around the Cape of Hope).  Before Clipper time, the quickest journey using normal ship used to take 9 months!  Cutty Shark was ‘parked’ in a dry dock in London Greenwich.  Sadly it was ravaged by fire last year.  Fortunately I managed to take the picture below long before that happened.

Cutty Shark

So, in a way Indonesians have been known to tea for quite some times now, and we all grew up drinking tea since we were baby (some parents give their baby tea instead of milk).  We drink it hot, we drink it cold, we drink it in any occassion, in no specific time, and unlike the Japanese, we don’t have a special ritual to drink it (at least not that I know of).  One of our favorite tea is one particular branded bottled tea called ‘Teh Botol Sosro‘, it’s so ubiquitous that other products of bottled tea are called the same name (‘Teh Botol‘ – Bottled Tea) regardless of the brand (just like coke for Coca Cola). We would drink this bottled tea almost every time we have a chance to.  This is probably as close as we could get in regards to national obsession in tea drinking, though still not even close to the English’s.

Teh Botol Sosro

Teh Botol Sosro

One thing that was a culture shock to me was the fact the they drink tea with ‘milk’ !!!  What the **** ?! That’s exactly what I thought when I was asked whether I took milk with my tea.  Were they mad ? Not only that it looked disgusting … it tasted awful !  I couldn’t believe that there was anybody in their right mind would drink that thing !  Alas, it turned out to be that almost ALL of them drink tea like that :D  It took me quite a while to accept this, and as a matter of fact I had a chance (accidental .. mind) to taste it myself.  I am sorry, no offense to my British friends, but that was my first AND my last time I would drink ‘white’ tea.  Btwy, recently some studies discovered that putting milk in the tea would block the health gains :)

Another interesting thing I learnt in conjunction with this habit is the word ‘tea’ itself.  Here it doesn’t always mean the ‘drink’, it also means ‘dinner’, depending on the situation when you say it.  It took me a while too, to realize what my housemate meant by ‘having my tea’ while in fact he was having his dinner in front of him and not a cup of tea.  It turned out that, in the past people would have dinner very late, about 8 o’clock.  So they invented the tea drinking habit to ‘fill in’ the gap between lunch and dinner, which was around 5 o’clock and originally was the domain of upper class ladies in the drawing room.  Later on, the middle and lower class worker had also their ‘tea’ but with more substantial meal, around 6-7 o’clock in place of the late dinner.  The former is called low tea, because it’s served in a low table, and the latter is called ‘high tea’, because it’s served in a dining-table (higher).

These days, at least in London where I live, since everybody only come from work after 7 o’clock, not many people are having ‘tea’ anymore, instead we usually have dinner, or even supper (for even later).

There are many other things that we could talk about, such as the types of the tea, where they grow, or how to make a perfect brew, and so on and so on, but I am going to leave these for you as a matter of excercise :)

Ok, I’m going to shut-up now :) I was meaning to talk about drinking Tea with milk, and ended up giving a History Lesson :) Admittedly though, it’s been an eye opener when I was researching this post, I’ve learnt quite a lot of things these past few days, things that I took for granted.  Hopefully it’s been as entertaining for you as it has been for me.

‘Cup of Tea anyone?’

Related Post:

Culture Shocks (Intro to the Series)

Culture Shocks #1: The Queue Starts Here

Culture Shocks #3: I don’t Know Squat

You might also be interested in:

It All Began Like This …

13 Comments + Add Comment

  • sama kayak teh tarik donk, teh plus susu. but i personally like it, lumayan enak kok :-)

  • Yup, betul. Kalo menurut gue, Teh Tarik itu pasti dapet influence dari British habit, kan dulunya jajahan Inggris :)

  • That's weird, I always thought teh+susu taste is close to chocolate. :D

    • C'mon … it's nothing like Chocolate :) At all :)

  • Ok, I’m going to shut-up now

    No, you keep talking man, I'll be your loyal reader. Just keep posting that history or even just refer to specific related URLs that'll be good.

  • Wik. kalau aku, sukaaaaaaaa banget teh pake susu. Apalagi earl grey pake susu. Lebih enak lagi earl grey pake es krim vanila :D

  • [...] Culture Shocks #2: Do You Take Milk With Your Tea ? previous:Culture Shocks Next:Indonesian Bloggers Unite To Provide Media Coverage and Aid for Victims of Natural Disasters [...]

  • Understand the Brits obsession of tea (it's a good drink!) but still could not understand the Brits obsession with cricket… You've been there for 15 years, tell me – what is so exciting about that sport?

    • You want my honest opinion ? I haven't got a clue ! For me (and many Brits too), it's just a boring game. Though, as some of my friends are avid fans, sometimes I would play with them :)
      It's like Marmite (not sure if you know this thing), you either like it or hate it :)

  • i don't like it either. tapi lagi belajar minum teh pake krim :D and i am one of tea biggest fans, thanks for your post.
    oya, that famous5, it's my favourite edition!

    • Teh pake krim itu bukannya sama aja sama pake susu ?

  • beda dikit rasanya. tapi lebih enak pake lemon tentu.

  • Enak mana sama "teh telor" yang dijual di rumah makan padang ?

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