Mostly considered as a relaxing drink, tea is a progressive trend in Finland. And forget the big brands, we are talking about real tea. With its first written registers from the 3rd century AD, in the Yunnan region of China, the tea culture began in the same province many years before the medical manuscript, since 2737 BC.
Made from green Camelia sinensis leaves and valued for its therapeutic properties, tea was used in Yunnan as currency to barter, and with time its culture spread to other provinces of China as demand increased. At this point, tea was seen as an art form with elaborate ceremonies for the wealthy. But still, it was a popular drink. The difference was in the quality.
During the Ming Dynasty, tea was irreplaceable to the daily diet, so the trade was essential. In 1557 the Portuguese were the first to spread the word of "chá" to Europe. And in the early 17th Century, a ship of the Dutch East India Company brought the first green tea leaves to Amsterdam from China, and dispersed to other cities, reaching France by 1636, and England and Germany in 1650.
In Russia and the Nordic countries, tea trading also started in the 17th Century, one part by the Asian influence on Siberia, and another part from the Danish and Swedish East India Companies with three Indian colonies. During this period, the Companies imported a significant amount of tea but has fallen under the Napoleonic Wars.
The history of colonialism in Asia has influences on tea consumption until present days. England, one of the leading traders, and also consumers of tea in Europe, had tea as a social grader. As tea houses were the meeting point of the upper classes, the way someone drank their tea was more than a taste preference. The use of sugar and milk was linked to lower classes, as to improve the harsh flavors of a low-quality product.
In present times, the UK is the top consumer of tea in Europe. Ireland comes first drinking four cups in a day, and England with almost three. Before them comes Turkey, with an impressive 3 kg of black tea per person, more than the famous Turkish coffee. In Finland, the scenario is the opposite, as coffee is still number one mainly considering the rise of specialized stores. "This new 'hype' of the tea in Finland started behind the new fancy coffee roasteries in Finland. I think in both cases it is connected to the quality, awareness of where your drinks and food is coming from, supporting more local businesses and in case of the tea to the healthy side of it," says Kirsi Pullinen from Demmers Teehaus.
Indeed, Finland is seen as a growing market for high-quality tea and infusions. The retail tea market is still dominated by Twinings and Lipton/Unilever, with the Finnish companies Nordqvist and Forsman in 3rd position. But consumers are more aware of quality, searching for small companies with online shops and products they couldn't find in the supermarket.
But is tea still a social grader? Now, more than a symbol of refinement, tea is a social responsibility weapon, with transparent organizations and labels. Also, tea became part of the wellness trend, especially amongst younger generations. As black and green tea are full of polyphenols, organic products are getting more attention for the healthier aspect. As Mikko Nygren from Old Tea Shop says about origin "organic and fair-trade tea comes mainly from India and Africa. Some organic tea is also grown in China. Taiwan produces many nice organic oolongs. In Japan, they mostly produce traditional tea and not organic or fair-trade tea. Fortunately, I have managed to find good contacts to buy organic tea from Japan."
Finns are mostly consumers of black and green tea, like most of the world population. In a country so dominated by coffee, it's good to see tea - the number one hot beverage in the world - growing in people's attention. Hot or cold, with sugar, milk, or plain, it's a treat to savor a good tea (or chá).
Photo: Alice Pasqual on Unsplash