The folks at Lochan Tea Ltd. in West Bengal, India, is having an “Argentine adventure.” They are hosting a group of tea lovers from Argentina for about a month to help them learn more about tea (the kind made from Camellia sinensis leaves). This is such a wonderful occurrence that we wanted to repost our article here about tea traditions in South America. First, a look at that adventure and those eager students of “the leaf” …
Argentinean Group Tours Tea in India
Our thanks to the tour guide, Diego Morlachetti, and the folks at Lochan Tea Ltd. for permission to use the photos here. Click on each photo for more details (supplied by Rajiv Lochan, a contributor on our site, and from the Escuela Argentina de Té site, and used here with permission):
A great video promoting the trip from Argentina to India to learn about tea (click on image to open it in separate window):
Tea Traditions in South America
Tea enjoyment in South America has its traditions. They don’t just involve true tea (from the Camellia sinensis bush). They also involve two beverages made from different plants entirely: guayusa (pronounced gwa-YOO-sa) and Yerba mate (pronounced MAH-tay). (The locals and various tea vendors also call these beverages by the term “tea,” which can be a bit confusing.) All three beverages have to be considered when looking at tea traditions in that wondrous and varied continent.
Since the southern tip of South America (which is split between Argentina and Chile) reaches pretty far South, parts of the continent experiences the changes of the seasons, including Winter. I point that out because for some of us, South America is one big, steamy rainforest full of exotic plants and “critters.” Most of the countries down there were developed by the Spanish and Portuguese immigrants. Along with their languages and customs came tea.
Some customs in various South American countries – click on each photo to see details:
Tea (Camellia sinensis) is grown in Argentina, Brazil, and a bit in Peru. Formerly, Brazilian teas were mainly the Chinese varietal, but now are more Japanese and have a lighter flavor, being grown at lower altitudes on low rolling hills in the Brazilian Highlands. They are mostly machine harvested and used in blends. Most of the tea is exported, about 70% to the U.S. Similarly, Argentinean tea is mostly sold in the U.S. with a little going to the U.K. and Europe. It’s used for blending and making iced tea beverages.
Yerba mate is originally from Paraguay and is now enjoyed in Uruguay, Argentina, and southern Brazil on a daily basis instead of coffee. It uses the leaves and small twigs of the Ilex paraguarensis tree. The liquid has a slightly bitter edge and an intensely earthy yet refreshing taste. To be truly traditional, pour it in a small, round pot called a maté gourd and sip it through a wooden or metal filtered straw, called a bombilla. Take health claims with a grain of salt.
Guayusa is from a tree related to the holly tree and is a native of the rainforest in Ecuador, South America. It has 90 mg of caffeine in 8 ounces versus 120 mg in coffee, 70 mg in Yerba maté, 50 mg in a typical cup of black tea, and 30 mg in a typical cup of green tea. [Source: Runa.org] This relatively high level of caffeine made me pass on trying it a few months ago. The caffeine levels in tea don’t bother me, but switching to a beverage that contained almost double the amount would probably have me bouncing off the walls. Boing! Ditto for Yerba maté.
One final note: When it’s Winter here, it’s Summer in South America. A great place to head off to when the snows here get to be too much to take. Enjoy!
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