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Immerse yourself in local culture with traditional tea experiences around the globe

From Tokyo to Dublin and everywhere in between — discover traditional tea experiences around the world. | By Laura Burkehart | September 1, 2022 (Updated March 6, 2023)

The opportunity for immersion in local culture is one of the many benefits of international travel. While some Americans confess a devotion to coffee, other places in the world passionately claim tea as their ritual beverage. Whether it’s served morning, afternoon or evening, tea is the center of ceremonies and social gatherings around the globe. Experience the tradition for yourself by discovering:

  • The root of the matter: Learn about the fascinating history of tea in Asia and Europe to make your next cup taste even better

  • Fill your cup: From a formal affair to a casual cuppa, the bowls or mugs tea is served in are part of the larger ceremony

  • Words matter: Knowing what to say (and when to say it) will make your tea service more genuine and comfortable

Steeped in history

In Japan, the chanoyu (tea ceremony) of today has roots dating to the Momoyama period. Tea culture, which initially started as a form of social currency among the upper classes, shifted in the 16th century to include the wabi sabi aesthetic, translated as finding beauty in imperfection. Nowadays, tea rooms often display an eclectic range of vessels, from unglazed stoneware to chic Chinese porcelain.

Travel west toward Europe, however, and you’ll discover a completely different tea experience. In the United Kingdom and Ireland, social tea drinking was popularized during the 1600s. Catherine of Braganza, wife of Britain’s King Charles II, is credited with starting this trend when she brought tea with her from her native Portugal for the first time. Royal society began imitating her custom of enjoying the hot beverage and a light meal in the afternoon. Tea was hard to come by in the beginning — adding to its appeal — so locked tea chests became part of the decor in wealthy homes. A trend that comes to life today in the form of delicate china tea sets, often passed down as family heirlooms.

Tokyo: Past and future

Chaji, or formal tea ceremonies in Japan are an upscale affair, and Tokyo’s are no exception. The elements and rituals included today are chiefly meant to share Japanese culture and to ensure it continues in future generations.

Every year, Tokyo holds a Grand Tea Celebration over two weekends. One takes place in Hama-rikyu Gardens, just across the road from Conrad Tokyo. Several events and programs are held, including an outdoor tea gathering in English. Dive deeper at Shizu-kokoro, where you can learn to serve the full tea ceremony. English classes are offered to teach proper language and customary responses for those looking to perfect their ceremonial tea service etiquette.

For a different experience, make a reservation at Kyoto Maikoya to be served tea by the kimono-clad maiko — apprentice geishas in training. Absorb the harmony of tea rituals at Youwa-Kai, hosted by a descendent of an historic tea master. You can even enjoy your tea experience without even leaving your hotel. Conrad Tokyo’s TwentyEight lounge offers guests an elegant afternoon tea tasting — which changes regularly to take advantage of each season’s produce and bounty — complete with matcha tea, delectable sandwiches and scones and sweeping views of the city.

Osaka, Japan’s cultural celebration

You’ll find tea rooms both humble and grand everywhere in Osaka, including the quaint Houshou-an in Castle Park. Conrad Osaka boasts an enviable tea experience in the 40th floor Sky Bar & Lounge. Patrons are served savory bites on a patisserie stand that echoes the shape of the famed spiral staircase in the property’s lobby at Spiral Afternoon Tea.

If you’re visiting Osaka in October, don’t miss the annual Sakai Festival. Featuring a parade, food stalls and Nanban markets, the weekend celebration ends with a grand tea ceremony. Cultures collide at the UK-influenced tearoom in Umeda, conveniently located near Conrad Osaka. Enjoy a seasonal menu complete with scones and sweet teatime pastries on-site or take a picnic to savor in a nearby park.

Dublin: Lovely traditions

In Ireland, tea is a beloved and cherished social custom. The Irish brew up more tea than any other country in the world besides India, at four to six cups a day per person. High tea can be a fancier affair than the daily morning cuppa, however. Take tea in Dublin, where Assam, a variety of black tea from India, heavily influences Irish breakfast tea.

One of the best places for an afternoon tea is Lemuel’s in Conrad Dublin. Sample fruit tarts, scones with clotted cream and traditional Irish teacakes or opt for savory plates with roast beef and soda bread alongside Jing tea. Elevate the experience even further with a sparkling Champagne toast.

Whether you’re in Japan or Ireland, or anywhere in between, every tea tradition is, at heart, a convivial break in the day. Add a tea service to your itinerary for a time to chat with friends and family while immersing yourself in the atmosphere and history of your surroundings as you sip centuries of history in each cup.

Laura Burkehart is an editor and writer who loves travel as much as she loves writing about it. She splits her time between North Carolina and Northern California.

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