Sharing a Cup: Black Tea in Emirati and Japanese Culture

February 17, 2019

The art of tea is a practice that transcends culture, connecting traditions throughout the world. Drinking a cup of tea is a full sensory experience that reaches across cultural lines. While rituals and histories may differ, the love of tea is ubiquitous across borders and oceans, uniting tea drinking nations. Though Japan and the United Arab Emirates may seem worlds away, these two ancient cultures are connected by the rich tradition of tea. A love of black tea - known as red, or crimson tea in Japan - link Japanese and Emirati culture, steeping these two worlds together into a deep, strong brew.

Though Japan may be known around the world for its light, refreshing green teas, there is also a significant place for black tea in the country’s tea drinking culture. In Japan, what is called “black” tea in English, is actually more closely translated to “crimson” or “red” tea. The Japanese often prefer to drink their crimson teas ‘straight’ - without additions - though the adding of milk or lemon has been made popular in recent history by outside influences including British visitors and American companies. Black tea is a relatively new addition to the ancient practice of Japanese tea drinking. It was first produced in Japan during the Meiji period (1868-1912), when Japan first opened its ports to international trade. Black tea stays fresh longer than green tea, and thus was ideal for export.

In the UAE, black tea is one of the most popular warm beverages, and indeed the most in-demand types of tea available. Over 90 per cent of tea sales in the UAE are in black tea, with loose leaf being the preferred style. Emiratis sometimes enjoy their black tea without milk or lemon, but the most popular styles are Sulaimani tea, and its milky counterpart Karak tea. While these two styles are now a cornerstone in Emirati culture, both are a result of the UAE’s rich history of trade with India. Introduced to the country by South Indians decades ago, Sulaimani tea combines warm spices, cardamom and cinnamon with strong black tea. Lime, sugar and saffron are often added and the result is an aromatic brew that echoes a history of the spice trade. Karak tea also begins with a hit of spice, combining black tea and crushed ground cardamom. As with Sulaimani tea, sugar and other spices like ginger, or cinnamon can be added to the user's taste. Then, milk is added and the tea and spices are boiled again, leaving a hot, creamy pick-me-up that has earned the meaning of its name - strong tea.

The island nation of Japan and the expansive deserts of the United Arab Emirates may seem too different to have any commonalities. However, when everything is stripped away, Japanese and Emiratis can always share a warm, comforting pot of black tea.