Tea is a caffeinated hot beverage, an infusion made by steeping the dried leaves or buds of the shrub Camellia sinensis in hot water. In addition, tea may also include other herbs, spices, or fruit flavours.
The word "tea" is also used, by extension, for any fruit or herb infusion; for example, "rosehip tea" or "camomile tea". In cases where they contain no tea leaves, some people prefer to call these beverages "tisanes" or "herbal teas" to avoid confusion. This article is concerned with the 'true' tea, Camellia sinensis.
Drinking tea is often a social event. Tea is also drunk throughout the day and especially in the morning to heighten alertness - it contains theophylline and caffeine (sometimes called "theine").
In India, the world's second largest producer, tea is popular all over North India as a breakfast and evening drink. Popularly called chaai, it is served hot with milk and sugar. Almost all the tea consumed is black tea.
In China, at least as early as the Song Dynasty, tea was an object of connoisseurship, and formal tea-tasting parties were held, comparable to modern wine tastings. As much as in modern wine tastings, the proper vessel was important; the white tea used at that time called for a dark bowl in which the tea leaves and hot water were mixed and whipped up with a whisk. The best of these bowls, glazed in patterns with names like oil spot, hare's fur, and tortoise shell, are highly valued today. The rituals and the traditional dark pottery were adopted in Japan beginning in the 12th century, and gave rise to the Japanese tea ceremony, which took its final form in the 16th century.
In Britain and Ireland, "tea" is not only the name of the beverage, but of a late afternoon light meal, called that even if the diners are drinking beer, cider, or juice. Frequently (outside the UK) this is referred to as "high tea", however in the UK high tea is an evening meal. The term evidently comes from the meal being eaten at the "high" (main) table, rather than the smaller table common in living rooms. Tea is served with milk and sugar. There is a tradition of tea shops in the UK which have declined in popularity since the second world war but still exist in small village communities. They usually provide the traditional fare of cream and jam on scones. Lyons Corner Houses were a successful chain of such establishments.
In Sri Lanka, tea is served in the English style, with milk and sugar, but the milk is always warmed.
There are several tea ceremonies which have arisen in different cultures, the most famous of which are the complex, formal and serene Japanese tea ceremony, and the commercial, crowded and noisy Yum Cha.
Specific tea culture developed in the Czech Republic in recent years, including many style tea rooms. Pure teas are usually prepared with respect to habits of country of their origin. Different tearooms had also created various blends and methods of preparation and serving.
Devonshire tea is the staple "tea ceremony" of the English speaking Commonwealth countries, available in homes and Tea shops throughout the United Kingdom, Australia, India and New Zealand. Devonshire tea is almost unknown in the USA.
In the United States, tea is often served iced; iced tea is a common meal-time beverage or hot weather treat in many parts of the country. It is sometimes served with a wedge of lemon, and may be sweetened or unsweetened, varying by region. Sun tea is brewed by leaving the water and tea with direct sunlight as the only source of heat; steeping times are necessarily long.
Cold tea is very popular in Japan as well. In cafeterias and lunch-type restaurants, the meal is usually served with hot or cold green tea according to the customer's preferences. Most of the ubiqutous vending machines also carry a sometimes excessive selection of cold bottled teas.
Recently, Boba milk tea from Taiwan has become an extremely popular drink
among young people. This Asian fad spread to the USA in 2000, where it
is generally called "bubble tea" or "pearl milk tea".