It was Elizeth, my Brazilian tea friend, who introduced me to the East Friesian tea culture. I had heard of the close ties between Germany and Darjeeling tea in trade but not in tea drinking—and not as a beverage more popular than coffee or beer.
Germany is among the top 10 tea-importing countries but East Friesland or Ostfriesland, on the North Sea coast, consumes almost all of it. The Frisians are a Germanic people from the coastal parts of the Netherlands and north-western Germany. Tea arrived there with the Dutch East India Company in the 1600s. Within a century, it had become the beverage of choice—probably because tea made water safe and a hot beverage in a cold country must have been rather welcome.
It continues to be the favourite beverage. Indeed, it’s said that if East Friesland was a country, it would rank as the highest tea-consuming country (nearly 300 litres per capita a year, according to The German Tea Association). Even a short-lived ban, from 1977-79, on tea drinking—the reasons attributed range from high taxes on imports to breweries pushing for a ban to encourage beer sales—couldn’t dim the fervour of East Frisians for their tea.
Not unsurprisingly, they have their own tea custom— one that’s listed as intangible cultural heritage by Unesco. If the British have afternoon tea, East Frisians have teetied, loosely between 11am-3pm. Any time is teatime, as Elizeth says.
Their tea of choice is a strong black tea blend—Assam with some Darjeeling and maybe some Ceylon thrown in. You can make your own blend with these two teas. The traditional East Friesian tea service includes a fine porcelain tea set with small cups—the Germans were famous for their porcelain teaware and the East Friesian rose is a popular pattern.
The joy of experiencing a custom is unparalleled. So gather a friend or two and take out your prettiest tea set. In the absence of a readily available blend, improvise with two parts Assam to one part Darjeeling black tea.
They use kluntje, or white rock sugar. You can use mishri.
Use cream, not milk.
Accompaniment: A pastry or something baked and sweet.
Heat water and warm the teapot with it. Make tea as you normally would—pouring hot water over the tea leaves, steeping for four-five minutes. Then add a piece of the rock candy (go with your preference for sweetness) to each cup. Pour the tea over the sugar—listen for a crackling sound. Take a spoon of cream and pour it from the side of the cup. The cream will meet the tea to create “clouds”, or wulkje. Elizeth issues a stern warning: Do not stir the tea.
For when you sip it, you first taste the rich creaminess, which creates a friendly opening for the slightly bitter black tea that follows, ending with a rich sweetness from the rock sugar. A spoon is to be placed on the side of the cup—not to stir but to signal that you are done by placing it in the cup. Because in East Friesland, teatime doesn’t stop with just one cup of tea.
Tea Nanny is a weekly series steeped in the world of tea. Aravinda Anantharaman is a Bengaluru-based tea blogger and writer who reports on the tea industry.