Way (way) back in time, my grandmother took me along to visit her brother in Germany (and carry the luggage!). Hazy recollections of selecting loose leaf tea in small shops and then sipping it from delicate tea glasses in my great-uncle’s cozy apartment later prompted me to wonder why we purchased loose leaf tea in Germany to bring home to the U.S. After all, the ubiquitous teabag was well entrenched in American culture.
Death By Tea?!
In looking into this, it turns out that Germany was a relative latecomer to the tea converts in Europe. While the Portuguese were the first to bring tea to the continent, by the early 1600s the Dutch had enthusiastically developed both a love for tea and a thriving trade center. Tea soon reached Germany—but couldn’t dislodge beer as the favored beverage. And the case for tea was certainly not helped by German physician Simon Paulli’s 1635 assertion that the act of importing tea to Europe changed its essence (and not for the better!):
“As to the virtues they attribute to it [tea], it may be admitted that it does possess them in the Orient, but it loses them in our climate, where it becomes, on the contrary, very dangerous to use. It hastens the death of those who drink it, especially if they have passed the age of forty years” (Tea, p. 45, by J. Shalleck).
Well! That would discourage me!
East Frisians Say What-the-Heck and Develop Their Own Brew
However, other—less dire—opinions eventually took hold and by the early 1700s, tea consumption in Germany increased, particularly in East Frisia, which borders the Netherlands. Since the Dutch were the major importers, the tea would, naturally, enter Germany through this northern region, so it follows that the East Frisians would be more likely to embrace tea.
Even today, East Frisians consume the most tea in Germany, and have developed a unique brew: strong dark tea (a blend that contains mostly Assam tea) poured over rock sugar, with a bit of heavy cream carefully added. East Frisian tea is never stirred, which allows the three distinct flavors—tea, sugar, cream—to individually shine as the beverage is drunk.
Even though I am generally opposed to adding anything to my tea, I tried this at home with TeaHaus’ hearty East Frisian blend of Assam and Indonesian teas, rock sugar, and heavy cream. Wow! I truly enjoyed this luscious combination! Because the sugar melts slowly, the first cup of tea has only a slight sweetness, which increases during succeeding cups (I’ve heard that basic politeness requires a minimum of three cups of tea), and the rich cream balances the strong brew nicely.
Tea in Germany Today: Upholding High Standards
Germany currently is one of the world’s top importers of tea, with the May 2014 Euromonitor International predicting that enthusiasm for tea will continue to grow as people discover its many varieties and numerous health benefits. Small shops selling high-quality loose leaf tea are common in the country (and not common here in the U.S.!)—which is why I was bringing tea home to the U.S. those many years ago, and why Lisa, who lived in Germany for many years, began TeaHaus here in Ann Arbor.
Germany also has some of the world’s strictest regulations for tea safety, ensuring that they contain no pesticides or heavy metal residue. The German suppliers that TeaHaus works with do not buy their tea from auction houses. Rather, they work with the tea gardens themselves, building personal relationships, promoting fair trade practices, and supporting sustainability for both our environment and the livelihoods of those working in the tea industry. Further, of the total annual harvest of tea globally, only the top 0.5% meets their standards.
So now I not only have my answer, but I have discovered Frisian tea.