A perfect cup of tea is one of life’s greatest simple pleasures, and some of the very best tea is cultivated in the cool hills of Asia. From the rolling landscape of Sri Lanka's 'Tea Country' to the grassroots teahouses of Myanmar - and from amber Ceylon to emerald matcha - we’ve picked some of the best places in Asia to sit back and relax with a good cuppa…
Sri Lanka epitomizes the classic image of tea culture, with plantations stretching across hillsides to the horizon, serious tea tastings, and leisurely afternoons spent on wide terraces. Jump into the landscape from a different angle with a train journey from Kandy’s ancient streets to mountainous Nuwara Eliya, at the apex of Sri Lanka’s thriving tea industry. The Tea Factory is an immersive world of tea and history, where you can eat, drink and live tea, and even pick your own, while Tea Trails has the full theatre of an indulgent old-world high tea. Breathe in the cool mountain air from the verandah as you refresh the senses with a pot of tannin-rich Ceylon.
In Japan, tea is more than just an everyday drink. Surrounded by ceremony and imbued with religious significance, the rituals of brewing tea have been central to traditional Japanese culture and Zen Buddhism for centuries, and remain at the heart of modern hospitality. Silky smooth green matcha, and its unground infused cousin sencha, are revered for their medicinal and spiritual benefits as well as their unique taste. Learn the symbolism behind every gesture from a tea master at a private tea ceremony within the walls of a machiya townhouse in Kyoto, and imbibe the grassy, fresh fruits of your labours with a few delicate traditional sweets on the side.
In the backstreets of Yangon, the ups and downs of everyday Burmese life play out in the city’s teahouses. Often no more than a few stools under a makeshift awning, Myanmar’s tea houses are places of sanctuary and debate, where you can enjoy a quiet cuppa in a corner, or engage in conversation with strangers and friends alike. The tea is served with ceremony from large pots carried between tables by waiters who pour from an exaggerated height to aerate and enliven the liquid before it hits your cup. Enjoy the swanky surroundings of the visitor-facing Rangoon Teahouse, but let our guides show you the real deal off the tourist trail, too.
In the cool highlands of northern Thailand lies a mist-shrouded landscape that could be the setting for a thousand stories. Within these quiet clouds, you’ll find a lush region where the simple life reigns and the daily rhythms revolve around farming in harmony with the seasons. Head into the tea fields around Fang to pick the fresh leaves, feeling their waxy surface against your fingers; lay the tea out to be dried on traditional trays, the warm leaves scenting the air; then wake yourself up with a cup of the freshest tea you’ll ever taste, which has the added deliciousness of knowing exactly what went into getting it into your cup.
Tea culture in Taiwan takes things up a notch, splitting this familiar tipple into a prism of variations from the ancient and ceremonial to contemporary and quirky. From when the first seeds were planted in the province in the 1800s, the varieties and processes have blossomed, and the teas produced remain among the highest quality in the world. Savour single estate oolongs brewed with precision in chic salons, clear your mind with tea traditionally brewed from coal-warmed water under Jiufen’s Ghibli-esque lanterns, and introduce your palate to the myriad combinations of cool tea and contrasting tapioca and agar pearls in one of Taiwan’s hippest exports: bubble tea.
If you’ve ever spent long summer nights wandering between marquees at a laid-back festival, you’ll probably have come across the warm, comforting infusion of tea, milk and spices that is India’s national cuppa: masala chai. Nothing beats a cup of this historic national institution sipped on its home Indian soil, and you can find it served everywhere. Each region, town and individual stall has their own variations on the recipe, which generally begins with tea leaves simmered with milk, water, sugars and various spices such as ginger, cardamom, peppercorns, star anise, cloves and cinnamon. Whether sipped from an earthenware cup at a busy railway station, or drunk with cake and laughter in the company of friends, this is the quintessential Indian drink. Experiment, and find your favourite…