East Friesland or East Frisia, in northwest Germany, is a mixture of coastal mudflats, dikes with lighthouses, green meadows, woods, lakes, un-spoilt sandy beaches and heath land, where for centuries seagoing traditions, fishing and farming have influenced the way of life in both town and country.
There are castles, ancient churches, abbeys, villages built on the top of artificial mounds, old-fashioned windmills, canals and a wealth of flora and fauna covering the countryside, and throughout the region historic customs and traditions continue to be a part of everyday life. One of which is Friesentee (Frisian tea) and its tea ceremony.
Unlike the rest of Germany, where coffee is more popular than beer, the number one beverage for East Friesens is their tea. With an average of 290 liters (about 80 gallons) for each person every year, they drink twelve times as much of it as other Germans and have taken first place in the World Tea Drinkers Championship.
Coffee does have some fans in East Frisia, or Ostfriesland as it is in German, however anyone who spurns tea is known as a ‘Koffjenoese’, a coffee nose.
Tea is so firmly rooted in East Frisian culture that during WWII the East Frisians were the only Germans granted extra tea rations. Beginning with 20 grams per month for anyone over 35 years old, this ration was later increased to 30 grams as they complained it was not enough, and in addition they were also given ‘Teetabletten’, which are sweets made from sugar with tea flavoring.
The tea drinking tradition is based upon an old Frisian proverb ‘Drei is Ostfriesenrecht’ (‘An East Frisian has a Three), which means that there are three cups each break, and four breaks every day: from ‘wake up’ or ‘warm up’ early in the morning – one before noon, the ‘Elf’rtje’ – one in the afternoon around 3 pm, mixed with rock sugar and cream or, especially on a cold winters day, with Koem, a locally distilled rum – and in the evening after 8 pm, a tea which is often brewed with herbs.
When enjoying a warming cup of Frisian tea away from the ever-present North Sea wind, it is easy to imagine how the tradition grew amongst the wives of 18th century seafaring men, who left their cold and damp coastal homes to meet each other for a few hours during the hard winter days.
Tea was first brought to Europe by the Dutch East India Company in 1610. Freisland shares a border with the Netherlands and it was introduced to the Frisians at the beginning of the 18th century, who then drank it as an alternative to the alcohol which their Calvinist culture frowned upon, and also as a medicine.
The good health and long lives of the Japanese and Chinese, who the traders and explorers had met and described, seemed to show tea to be some type of magic herb which heightened resistance to disease and cured all ills, from headaches and stomach problems to stress. In addition, boiling water had proved to make it safer to drink, while as the area is at a low altitude and has a peaty soil, the tea disguised the salty, earthy taste of the local water.
‘Opwachten un Tee drinken’ is another of Eastern Friesland’s most popular proverbs, ‘Wait and see and drink some tea’, which sums up a way of life in which unhurriedness and gemuetlichkeit are valued, especially during the frequent windy and rainy weather.
Nevertheless the entire process of brewing and drinking Friesen Tea is almost like a sacred ritual, a tea ceremony filled with tradition, etiquette and superstition.
The traditional tea itself is a strong blend of black tea with a malty, spicy and aromatic taste, mixed to various ‘secret’ recipes, and mainly second flush Assam with quite small amounts of Sumatra, Java, Darjeeling and Ceylon teas. Each year, after the tea is harvested and has arrived in Germany, tea testers try up to 400 different varieties a day, all having come from different plantations and areas in the world, and generally choose between ten and twenty different teas to obtain the unique Frisian taste.
There is quite a ceremony involved in making a cup of tea in East Friesland, which is always served with special sugar and cream. ‘Kluntjes’ are large single clear crystals of brown or white sugar that are impossible to bite, difficult to suck, and are left to dissolve in the tea. The ‘lower classes’ could not afford to buy sugar in the early days of its European production from beet, however they collected the residue from the bottom of sugar barrels where the dregs of syrup had solidified during refining. These pieces of sugar, Kluntjes, were treasured and each small lump had to be used in several cups of tea, then anything left in the cup was given to children as a treat.
Finding cream was easy as most households had a goat, but today special cow’s cream not found outside East Frisia is used, although single cream makes an excellent substitute.
For a more in depth look at the detailed preparation of the Frisian tea, head on over to the source link listed below. In East Frisia, the littlest details are important to the whole experience, including the type of cup used and the special use of your spoon.