Travel Germany - Enjoy a Tea Ritual in East Frisia

Can you guess who drinks the most tea per capita worldwide? East Frisia is a region in Lower Saxony in the north-west of Germany on the coast of the North Sea in the middle between West Frisia in the Netherlands and North Frisia in Schleswig-Holstein. It also includes the (in Germany famous and loved) islands Borkum, Juist, Norderney, Baltrum, Langeoog, and Spiekeroog.

The Bare Necessities

The Tea must be like Oil, the Rock Sugar like a Grindstone and the Cream like a Cloud

If you think of Japan you can’t help but think of sushi, with Italy it is pasta, with Australia it is coffee (or Pavlova), with France it is the baguette, with Greece it is feta … and the list goes on. If I think of East Frisia I think of tea. The tea culture is firmly anchored in the life of East Frisians. Typically, East Frisian tea, a mixture of mainly Assam varieties is sipped. Ceylon, Java, and Darjeeling are added. Overall, ten to 20 different types of tea are selected and mixed by so-called tea blenders who have good noses and a trained taste. The East Frisian tea has a copper-brown colour and a strong and aromatic taste. East Frisians say “the tea must be like oil, the rock sugar like a grindstone, and the cream like a cloud” when they talk about their favourite drink.

The Best Time for a Cup of Tea

Tea fans drink their cuppa at fixed times. The main time is at about 3pm. Wait, to call this the main time is not entirely true, because tea in the morning and a midmorning-tea-break are just as common. The time for tea in the evening is usually between 8 and 9pm.

East Frisian Tea. Layered not Stirred

There, it sounds a bit, James Bond. The East Frisian tea is not stirred (but it is also not shaken). It is enjoyed in three layers of tea, cream, and rock sugar. Three cups are East Frisian custom, cups are small and fragile. Only the host pours the tea, and there is no need to be offended if you are the last one to get it. This is to cover the rock sugar of the guest with the best. The teaspoon will be dropped (cautiously) in the cup to indicate that one had enough tea for the time being.

East Frisian Mariners Grew Tired of Beer

The beginnings of East Frisian tea culture date back to the early 17th century. In  1610 the first ships of the Dutch East India Company brought tea to Europe. Soon after that, likely by East Frisian mariners who worked for them, the first tea arrived in East Frisia. Tea was at first administered only as a medicine and by 1720 an extensive tea trade existed in East Frisia.

Before the introduction of drinking tea in East Frisia, freshly brewed beer was the drink of choice, but the tea was cheaper and people discovered it as a way to save money. The government in charge tried to tame this newfound love for tea and to hinder the money-flow out of East Frisia, they promoted beer consumption (obviously very different times). To no avail, to this day East Frisians love to drink their tea.

Who Drinks the most Tea per Capita Worldwide?

East Frisians drink roughly ten times as much tea as their peers in the rest of Germany. On average each one guzzles a whopping 300 litres of tea a year. Who would have thought that they have the largest tea consumption per capita worldwide? As I found out from the German Tea Association, the English each drink on average around 213 litre 0f tea a year.

The East Frisian Tea Culture is listed in the inventory of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of UNESCO.

Read here about one of my trips to East Frisia. Norderney: 20 things to do on an island in the North Sea. Trust me when I say it is heaven.  

And now make yourself a cup of tea, I know you simply have to. I drank three cups East Frisian tea while I wrote this. What is your favourite tea? 

Read Travel South Africa - Visiting a Rooibos Tea Farm in the Western Cape to see how the tea gets from the farm into your cup.

From Berlin with love