Beverage worthy of a king. Brewed in Poland since 1662

Two tea traditions reign in Poland: the English and the Russian. On the one hand we’ve got colonial style tea rooms with white china and teacups, on the other – after the Russian fashion – tea essence which is thinned up with boiling. Both methods are good – says Anna Brożyna, tea passionate and author of the book “Herbata. Odkryj prawdziwy smak najszlachetniejszego napoju na świecie” .

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In the same way, I too started my tea-drinking adventure when I was a little girl. Later, when I consciously learned the secrets of tasting and brewing tea, I also encountered this method while drinking tea prepared in a samovar. This is one of a dozen, if not several dozens of ways to drink tea. There are many, many more of such ancient and modern customs.

So let's focus for a moment on these ancient ways of drinking tea. What happened and may seem strange to us today?

We are used to drinking tea from large cups or glasses, which are at least 250 milliliters. Meanwhile, when we delve into the Eastern method of brewing tea, we will find much smaller vessels from which it is drunk. They use small cups, 30 ml in size. It is similar with the issue of teapots in which this tea is brewed. We most often choose several-liter kettles, each of which can pour tea, and those typical for the eastern method have about 200 ml, which is as much as our cup. With such a pot, we will not drink this tea too much, but we will brew it more often, which will allow us to discover its different flavors. In addition, its preparation will not take place in the kitchen, away from us, once an hour, but it will move to the center of our attention – to the table. Apart from the taste, it will also integrate people at this table, and if we drink it ourselves, it will be an ideal element of our meditation, stopping with a cup of tea in our hand.

In your book “Herbata. Odkryj prawdziwy smak najszlachetniejszego napoju na świecie”, it is said that history did not give Poles instructions on how to use tea. Is it really that bad with us?

Fortunately, it’s getting better. When I talked to my friends and asked how they drank or still drinks tea in their homes, older people talked about tea essence and glasses in wicker baskets, younger people – about tea in sachets, and some about loose tea. These are good generational changes. Two tea traditions reign in Poland: the English and the Russian. On the one hand we’ve got colonial style tea rooms with white china and teacups, on the other – after the Russian fashion – tea essence which is thinned up with boiling. Both methods are good but if you want to feel the taste of tea not being overwhelmed by the taste of lemon, sugar or milk, there are several ways that will be a much better solution. Tea does not have to be bitter or tart and it does not have to be masked with additional ingredients.

SIGN UP TO OUR PAGE In Poland, tea was first mentioned in 1662 in the correspondence between John II Casimir Vasa and his spouse Marie Louise Gonzaga. The king asked her to find out in France – where she came from – how much tea and sugar are needed to prepare the drink. Since then, tea has slowly entered Polish salons and tables. The demand for it was growing.

What happened, then, that we could not, and probably still cannot, brew tea and sample it properly?

In the 20th Century, tea was hard to obtain, it was considered a deli. Sometimes the demand exceeded the supply, and clever sellers cheated in order to reap a profit from it.


There were several such methods. Often the leaves of other plants were sprinkled, the tea was already brewed and then dried, more than the allowed 40% of stalks was used or the leaves of other plants or green tea were dyed with charcoal to pretend to be black. Today tea is common and cheaper, but that doesn’t mean it’s not adulterated anymore. It is true that the above-mentioned methods are no longer valid, but the quality of the tea is still inflated and sold for more than it is worth, or the poorer quality leaves are masked with a large amount of aromas. Today, the path to a fan of good tea often leads from tea in sachets, through the one in pyramids, to experiments with loose tea. In almost every Polish city there is a tea room where you can buy teas of better or very good quality and start your adventure. Often this goes hand in hand with a fascination with tea gadgets in which it can be brewed.

Before we talk about it, I wonder if tea, and the proper type of tea, should be drunk depending on the season?

In our country many people forget to drink tea in the summer. They abandon it in April and come back to it only in September. This is the complete opposite of what we meet in China or Morocco. In the latter country, green tea is often brewed with mint and lots of sugar. This hot drink serves the purpose to cool down. In summer, more and more people in Poland are reaching for tea prepared cold, such as cold brew or ice tea. What we find in store refrigerators is very sweet and you can do it yourself. It is enough to brew a strong, bitter tea essence, fill the whole jug with ice and pour this warm tea over ice, add various types of additives, such as lemon, mint or fruit. In the case of cold brew, the tea in a jug, made from a tablespoon per liter of water, is poured over with cold water and put in the refrigerator overnight. In this way, the leaves macerate and in the morning we have a delicious and refreshing drink.
Photo arch. Anna Brożyna
We forget about classic tea in the summer, and do other countries drink something else in spring and summer as opposed to autumn and winter?

Yes. Chinese medicine attaches great importance to this. It suggests which teas have cooling and which have warming properties. Green teas, which cool down the body, should be drunk mainly in summer, and black and dark teas – in autumn and winter, because they have warming properties.

Speaking of China, the legends related to tea probably also come from there. Do you have your favorite ones?

I mention one of them in the book. It is a story about the mythical Emperor Shennong who wanted to help his subjects very much. He wandered around the country, got to know various plants, studied them. His belly was transparent, so he could see what happened to them when he consumed them. One day he ate what turned out to be poison, his insides fought the toxic substances, and he sat down under a tree, boiled water in a kettle and, sipping it, closed his eyes. When he opened them, it turned out that leaves from the tree had fallen into the teapot. The infusion he received, the emperor noted, soothed his stomach ache and supported his body in the fight against the poison. This is how he discovered tea and from then on instructed his subjects to drink it. Legends say that he described as many as 365 types of teas.

Another myth I also like very much, although it is a bit drastic, is the story of a monk who tried to meditate. He really wanted to stay awake during this meditation, to be focused. To achieve this state, he cut off his eyelids and threw them away. These lids landed in the ground, and from them grew the first tea plant. The monk threw its leaves into the boiling water and thus an infusion was made which he drank. Thanks to this, he was conscious and since then monks very often resorted to this method of concentration and stimulation tested by him. This legend is a bit bloody, but it conveys the medical properties of tea, how it affects our body. On the one hand, it stimulates them, and on the other, it calms them down and allows them to concentrate. So the drink is perfect for meditation.

Is it fair to say that tea works almost like coffee?

Tea has less caffeine than coffee. It is said that coffee has caffeine, tea has theine, and yerba mate – mateine, but they are all the same substances, the same chemical structure is behind them. Caffeine was actually first detected in tea as theine, and then it was found in coffee. There is less of it in tea and it affects our body in a different way. There is no such drastic energy gap compared to drinking a glass of coffee. After all, we can drink tea one by one and nothing will happen to us, and in the case of coffee, and certainly espresso, which is currently popular today, it is not advisable at all.

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Aren’t there more coffee lovers than tea fans?

I would be tempted to say that every coffee fan is also, in a way, a tea fan. Why? There is a lot of tea in Poland. We usually drink it at home, but also in town. In the case of coffee, we often combine it with going outside, to a café, to someone. However, the coffee drinker also drinks tea from time to time, if not every day. Research has shown that tea is present in almost every Polish home. Statistics prove that we are the eighth country in the world in terms of tea consumption. We also have, as you might think, a lot of warehouses where tea is processed, packaged and shipped. There are many factories of well-known tea brands in Poland.

Why are we afraid of this bitter taste of tea and why does it even appear?

To our brain, a bitter taste usually means that something is unhealthy, it can be poisonous. We dislike that taste. In the case of tea, there are several substances that can make tea bitter. They are released if the tea has been overbrewed i.e. it has been brewed longer than it should, at a higher than optimal temperature or which has been flooded with less water than required. Substances such as catechins (polyphenols) and caffeine are responsible for this unpleasant bitter taste. Most often, catechins are responsible for this bitter taste, which “pulls down” your cheeks from the inside. Black and green teas usually have it most. An interesting fact is that, although unpalatable, they can support the digestive system, constrict blood vessels and facilitate tissue regeneration. Too much of them, however, slows down the absorption of vitamins A and B12 and iron.

What is to be done when we have overbrewed our tea and how to avoid it?

When tea is too bitter, the aforementioned additives come to the rescue: sugar or honey. Adding lemon, salt, or baking soda to your tea will do the same. What to do in order not to get the bitter taste effect? Just control the brewing time, limit it to three minutes, and use water at a temperature lower than 100 degrees Celsius. The latter option is highly recommended when brewing green teas.

What are the most common mistakes we make when brewing tea?

The most common mistake is to brew green tea with boiling water. Then it gets bitter, and we decide that it is definitely not tea for us and we will not drink it because we do not like it. The second thing is buying inferior quality teas. When tea novelties, such as matcha, become popular, they spring up everywhere. In discount stores and even fast food chains. Yes, their prices are affordable, but the quality really leaves much to be desired. Therefore, if we are intrigued by a novelty, it is worth taking a closer look at it, checking how it should be prepared, how it affects our body, etc.
Gaiwan with tea. Photo Teine Eulogists, arch. Anna Brożyna
What about tea bags? Is every one bad?

A sachet doesn’t equal a sachet. The flat ones will contain finely divided tea leaves or tea plant elements. As a result, they will infuse very quickly and overbrew. The aromas added to them obscure their natural scent properties. Better than tea in sachets will be the one in pyramids, it will give the tea more space to waft, so there is a good chance that the manufacturer will trap not tea dust in it, but pieces of leaves that will brew better, and we will drink good tea.

How to make a good tea then?

The easiest way to brew loose tea is to have a 250 ml mug basket. The best one will be one that takes up the largest possible surface of the cup, so that the leaves have plenty of space to swim, and we can easily remove it, put it away and drink the tea. We can pour about 3 grams of tea leaves into such a basket and let it brew for two or three minutes. After this time, take it out and drink tea. This is the Western way of drinking tea.

The alternative method requires less water, larger leaves and shorter brewing time. Then we pour about 5-6 grams of tea into the basket, pour hot, boiled water and keep it for about 30-60 seconds. After this time, take out the basket, drink it and we can pour these leaves again and brew for 1-1.5 minutes. Even with black tea, this method works very well, although it is better used with green tea. If we brew the latter kind of tea, the water should be around 70 degrees Celsius. When such a mug is too much for us, we can choose a smaller one.

For how long can such infused leaves be left and used?

We can even brew them several times, but let’s not leave them for half a day or for the next day. In such brewed tea, bacteria and fungi that like warm, wet tea leaves can grow.

And if the basket is not enough for us, what to brew in?

Then we have two options. The first that I discovered when I started to be interested in brewing tea was the purchase of a small glass or porcelain teapot, up to 200 ml. The leaves in it float freely and blend well. There are glass jugs on the market with a spring that keeps the leaves inside. You can pour tea from it into a larger cup or a smaller mug. Another interesting piece of equipment, more of a gadget type, is a small porcelain gaiwan. It is best to buy one that will be 100-150 ml. It looks like a small bowl with a lid. We brew tea in it by throwing leaves and pouring water over it. After 30 seconds to a minute, pour the brew into the teacup, holding the leaves inside with the lid. As if we were straining the potatoes.

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It's brewing, and how to buy the perfect tea? What should you pay attention to?

To take this first good step you just have to switch from teabags to loose teas. The second step is a trip to the teahouse, in which we will be guided in choosing the right tea for us due to the taste and additives contained in it. If we do not have such a store in your area, you can take advantage of the offer of these online The list of recommended stores, which I update on a regular basis, is available on my website

And if I already have a package of a given tea in my hands, what should I pay attention to? Should we look for any markings, information?

It's a bit more complicated. In the store, it is worth taking a look at what the packaging is next to. Tea is able to pick up odors and moisture. If it is kept close to spices, they can penetrate them. It is worth keeping it away from strong odors, away from moisture, away from heat sources, because temperature also affects the aging process. Tea is very sensitive to light, so it should be stored in a dark place and in a little airy packaging, because a large amount of oxygen will make the tea age faster.

Where are the most tea places in Poland?

In big cities, of course. We have access to chain tea shops there, which also appear more and more often in smaller towns. The appearance of a tea house is very different depending on where we are in Poland. In the south, we will find a lot of places in dark colors, stylized in the Far East. In eastern Poland, on the other hand, we can find English-style tea rooms with furniture, armchairs with heavy fittings, and English china. In the north and west of the country, these are colonial-style places with huge tea cans and white ceramics.

How does tea get onto our tables?

It all starts with the tea tree, far from us, where this plant is grown. There the leaves are collected and shipped to factories which process black, dark, oolong, white, yellow or green teas. After packing, it is sold further, usually to tea wholesalers. There are many such wholesalers in Poland. From them, teas go to tea shops and supermarkets, and then to our table. The road is quite long, but it happens more and more often that shops and tea shops bring leaves directly from the growers.

You’ve mentioned the tree, and yet in one of the advertisements of popular tea you can see how it is harvested from bushes ...

A tree is a natural form of tea, but for breeding purposes, trees are cut to form shrubs so that they are convenient to harvest. Harvesting, depending on the location, either lasts the whole year or from spring to autumn. The leaves can be harvested by hand or by machine. It takes five kilograms of leaves to produce one kilogram of tea. In India, one person is able to harvest 30-50 kg of leaves per day, in Japan – due to different standards and an 8-hour working day - only 24 kg. Due to the fact that young people do not want to collect it by hand, more and more is being invested in equipment for mechanical collection.
The weirdest tea you’ve had?

Japanese – in the form of pressed bricks. It’s the same tea, without any additives, which tastes like Christmas compote. Second: together with my husband we went to a restaurant in Berlin, where tea from a samovar was served with various hors d’oeuvres – cookies, sugar cubes, marmalade and ... a glass of vodka. The alcohol was supposed to clear the taste buds between tasting this tea with successive toppings. Unfortunately, in my opinion, it did not work out, because in my mouth I had mainly the aftertaste of spirit warmed up with sips of tea.

Speaking of alcohol, is it possible to get drunk with tea?

Tea contains substances with psychoactive properties. When drunk in large amounts, it can have various effects on our body. We can drink tea that is overbrewed, which in turn can have side effects such as nausea, vomiting, pain and dizziness. They occur especially when you are not used to drinking a lot of tea on an empty stomach. Besides, bitter black tea is often drunk after a meal to digest it faster, or when someone has a stomach ache.

But the “tea binge drinking” manifests itself differently. It is lighter and cheerful for us, we become stimulated and calm at the same time. Some people describe this state of mind as: “I can hear colors and I can see sounds”. If we’re not OK with that state, it can be changed very quickly by providing the body with proteins in the form of nuts.

Does tea, like coffee, have its festivals and holidays in Poland?

There are more and more of them. This year, for the eighth time, the Zaparzaj [“Brew!”] Tea Festival will be held in Poznań, on September 10-11. You will be able to take part in meetings, tea workshops, lectures, or do some shopping at the festival tea market. Everyone will find something for themselves. Moreover, in Poland there are also tea festivals in Cieszyn, Wrocław and Kraków.

–Marta Kawczyńska
–Translated by Dominik Szczęsny-Kostanecki

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Anna Brożynais a tea fan: she founded the Teina Singers group, organizes the Zaparzaj! Tea Festival and for years he has been conducting workshops and lectures on this subject. She also wrote the book “Herbata. Odkryj prawdziwy smak najszlachetniejszego napoju na świecie”, published by the publishing house „Znak”.
Main photo: Gaiwan with tea. Photo arch. Anna Brożyna
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