The humble cup of tea has long been a beverage of choice in many Asian countries.  It has been deeply embedded as an important part of the Asian culture for centuries.  Ever since the introduction of tea during the 17th Century, tea has also become a part of the Western culture, especially in France and England.

These days, there appears to be less interest in the traditional tea and tea culture amongst the younger generations. However, in recent years, with an increased focus on healthier diets and the search of natural remedies, as well as sweet tea beverages, a new kind of tea culture has slowly been introduced into modern society.

Many people see tea as just a beverage, no different to coffee or alcohol. Or, for the more health conscious, they may also look at tea for its medicinal benefits. Did you know, however, that tea also provides important social benefits?

Yum Cha – Tea and Its Social Purpose

Anyone who knows what yum cha is, would probably think of the little dim sums in bamboo steamers. If you love food and love yum cha just like me, you would definitely have a few of your favourite dim sum’s in mind, whenever you think about yum cha. However, did you know traditionally in China, yum cha used to be a community gathering with a community focus. Neighbours used to catch up on the latest news and local gossip over tea.

Because my mum’s side of the family are originally from the Canton province in China (where yum cha originated from), when I was younger, family gatherings normally involved having yum cha with the extended family. I still remember my grandparents telling us stories about how in the good old days, people would bring their precious birds in a cage, go to their local tea house, order precisely two types of dim sums and a pot of tea, and that would be all they have for the morning .

They would sit there with the rest of the neighbourhood for a couple of hours, just to catch up on the latest news and gossip, very similar to the concept of ‘brunching’ in Australia. The focus was more on the community and relationship building rather than food and getting fed.

Tea, High Tea, and Tea Business

During the 18th Century when high tea was first established as the hottest trend amongst rich socialites of the time, it was initiated by women as a gathering to discuss “tea business” while the men were out in gentlemen’s clubs talking about men’s business. Small amounts of finger food were served to fill the gap in the stomach before breakfast and dinner, but nothing nearly as substantial as they are in today’s high tea settings. It not only allowed women to connect with one another, while waiting for their husbands to get home, but also promoted a sense of community, belonging and information sharing.

tea and yum chaTea, Childhood Memories and Me

From a personal perspective, tea not only played an important part of my childhood but also connects me to many fond memories. It represents family gatherings with my cousins and feeling connected with my extended family. Tea reminds me of happy times over yum cha, and having desserts and sweets with my parents and grandparents on a Sunday afternoon. It reminds me of home whenever I feel alone, as a sip of tea brings back good memories and brings my family closer to my heart.

I find it interesting through my research that although half a world apart, tea actually used to serve the same social purpose across both Eastern and Western culture. Through writing this blog, it also reminded me how much tea actually means to me, and my childhood memories. How much it has actually influenced my relationship with food and experiences with food. Even until today, whenever I have an afternoon dessert, I have a cup of tea with it. It almost feels wrong to have afternoon tea without a cuppa. I think it is poetic in a way that tea actually serves a greater purpose than just a drink, or something that warms your body or something that cures a cold. Applied in the right environment, the humble cup of tea actually brings people together, warms your body, warms your heart, and warms your soul!

So next time when you feel a bit lonely, weary or tired, why not boil some hot water, and make yourself a cup of tea.