An energising cup of tea to kick start the day, a soothing floral one to end it – tea is a big part of the small moments of our daily lives. A makeshift street cafe, an official gathering of dignitaries, two friends catching up after a long time in their little intimate world—these are our everyday benign tea ceremonies today. But was this always so? 

From being a carefully guarded ancient secret in China where it was first discovered, tea has become a national drink in parts of South and East Asia. This exhibition highlights some forgotten histories of tea to reveal the matrix of political ambitions that catapulted tea to these dizzying heights.

Across South and East Asia, people developed their own local tea-drinking cultures, but the economic interests of colonisers – Japanese in East Asia and the British in South Asia – greatly influenced tea  production and consumption. Tea was grown on plantations across British colonies and traded to sustain Britain’s economy. Educational programs and campaigns served to cultivate a taste for tea in the local colonised populations. Through targeted advertisements and marketing, these imperial visions promoted the idea of tea as a fashionable item of everyday use. From growing tea to cultivating a taste around its consumption, a similar nexus of imperial power appears in the hybrid  contexts of East Asia. 

 

 

Explore the changing regional power dynamics around in the story map below.

Tea and Gender

Seeing Asia through Tea

Tea in Asia Today

Have you ever thought about the connection between tea and gender? In general, across Asian societies, tea is an expression of a woman’s care and love. When a wife, mother, or love interest offers tea to a man, this is viewed as an act of nurture. We see this throughout Asian society and culture: in literature, films, songs, and amongst family and friends. The objects below highlight this particular story of tea in different regions of South and East Asia.

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Tea and Gender

Seeing Asia through Tea

Tea in Asia Today

Seeing Asia through Tea

Tea is the world’s most popular beverage, and the way it is perceived has been changing for thousands of years. In Asia, where tea originated, it has supported the livelihoods of many people as an economic crop, but it is also a cultural phenomenon, associated with many unique practices and customs. 

When tea was introduced to the West, Westerners developed their own perspectives on these Asian tea cultures. Sometimes these views were positive, showing admiration for Asia or aspirations towards Asian culture. At other times, Asia was negatively and unfairly stereotyped.

No matter where you come from in the world, step into this time tunnel, and understand how Asia has been seen through tea.

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Tea and Gender

Seeing Asia through Tea

Tea in Asia Today

Tea in Asia today

Delve into the vibrant world of tea in East Asia and South Asia today; discover the hidden narratives and intriguing tales that surround this beloved beverage; unearth the intricate interplay between tradition and modernity. Indulge in the dynamic fusion of techniques and customs that have shaped tea-drinking practices in these regions, and understand just what makes tea such an integral part of East and South Asian cultures and heritage.

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