World Thirst: 5 Exotic Teas and Coffees You Should Try Culture / Food / Inspiration / Lifestyle

 
Anyone with not too weak a stomach disposition will probably agree that sampling exotic local fare is an integral – and one of the funnest – parts of travel.

It is also a passion and favourite writing topic of all kinds of bloggers, and there are so many articles out there about the world foods you should try! But when I think about it, for some reason, it’s more often the local drinks than the food that I get addicted to on my travels (as I was recently reminded of in Malaysia, where my first move upon reaching Kuala Lumpur late at night was to look for a place where I could have my much-missed masala tea!).

With that realization, I decided to dedicate some space on this blog to quenching my – and your – world thirst!
 

Camille drinking tea from big mug


My fascinating background story


Anyone who loves coffee or tea (or both!) will know just how satisfying a good drink can be – sometimes, at least as much as a meal. I fall into the ‘both’ category, although that is a fairly recent development. Whilst I have been a tea addict for some years now (what can I say, you cannot live in the UK for 9 years and come out of it unscathed!), here’s a shocker: eight months ago, I had never drunk a full cup of coffee! In fact, I hated all about it: the taste, the smell, the pretentious Italian names… And oh, people who described themselves as ‘coffee lovers’ or ‘coffee addicts’ pissed me off. Big time.

And then: one day, a well-intentioned Korean colleague of mine bought me a caramel latte from a Caribou coffee shop. I was of course too polite to refuse so I forced myself to drink it, and surprise! once I had drowned it in milk and sugar, it was almost drinkable! So I repeated the experiment the next day, and the next, and the next, growing bolder and bolder each time, and lo! after eight months of slowly cutting down on milk, sugar, and caramel, I think I can say I am now an eclectic and well-rounded coffee drinker (or ‘coffee lover’?).

Phew.

But enough about me. Without further ranting, I bring you 6 types of teas and coffees from around the world that you absolutely must try! (Disclaimer: this is not intended as a comprehensive or authoritative list of the world’s best drinks – just the ones I am totally obsessed with!).

1. Mint tea in Morocco


Mint tea from Morocco

If you haven’t tried Moroccan mint tea before, consider yourself on a mission to taste it ASAP! This sweet, very flavourful and warming drink has to be mentioned first not only for being my absolute favourite, but also the first drink I truly fell in love with when I travelled to Morocco, at the tender age of 13! It is no exaggeration to say that it changed my life! (Or, well, maybe it is. Slightly.)

What is it made of?

It is essentially a green tea prepared with spearmint leaves and sugar.

How is it made and served?

This is the interesting part. Although there are different traditional methods of making and serving mint tea, all are equally complex and particular, involving brewing, infusing, and pouring the tea in a very specific manner. This includes separating the liquid obtained from the different stages of infusion and isolating the ‘spirit’ of the tea, as well as serving it by moving the teapot up and down in order to make sure the mint leaves are well distributed in the glass!
 
Mint tea drinking set in Morocco
Actually, one of the great things about mint tea is what it is served IN. The adorned teapots and finely decorated, colourful small glasses you sample it from are little pieces of art in their own right, and they definitely add to the overall experience!

Moroccan mint tea glasses

See what I mean?

Surprisingly, while women are responsible for food and household duties in Morocco, tea is associated with hospitality, and as such it is mainly a man’s job!

Best place to try it

Ideally, you will be invited into a touareg’s home (read: tent) to take a break from your desert camel ride, or into a Marrakech souk merchant’s shop to conduct further haggling negotiations around a ‘cuppa’ (or a ‘glassa’?). Failing that, mint tea can also be found in other countries of the Maghreb (Tunisia and Algeria) or in countries with a strong Arabic/Moorish influence, such as France or Spain. Failing that, just look up your nearest Moroccan/Middle Eastern/Arabic restaurant and run there. Like, NOW!

What to have it with

At meal times, mint tea makes a perfect treat after a typical Moroccan dinner of tajine and couscous.

Typical Moroccan food

At tea time, or indeed any other time (because, you know, you’re gonna want it all the time!), pick amongst the vast range of delicious Moroccan cakes and pastries to enjoy it with!

2. Flavoured coffees in Bali


 
coffee-and-cocoa

So maybe I lied when I said I’d never had a full cup of coffee eight months ago! To my coffe-hater’s astonishment, I discovered in Bali that there was a type of coffee that I not only tolerated, but actually LOVED: and that miraculous drink was coconut coffee.

Sure, it is sweet and might not please those who like it black and strong, but it is the perfect beginner’s introduction to coffee, and it can even be appreciated by coffee connoisseurs if they approach it as a different drink altogether.

If you don’t fall for coconut coffee like I did, don’t worry, you have plenty more chances of finding your new favourite hot drink in Bali: other flavours on offer include ginger, vanilla, and lemon grass. And oh, let’s not forget that Bali produces what is considered the world’s best and most expensive coffee, kopi luwak. Now tell me that doesn’t sound appealing!

What is it made of?

Hummm, that’s pretty straightforward: coffee beans and extracts of whatever flavour you choose! Well, except for kopi luwak, which is made of… you know what, I’ll let you look it up! Nicely enough though, the coffees you can taste on Bali are all made of local ingredients grown on the island.

How is it made and served?

Again, I’ll refer you to the kopi luwak Wikipedia page for an account of the process!
 
Bali_009_-_Ubud_-_tea_and_coffee

Best place to try it

There is really only one good place to be introduced to Bali’s flavoured coffees, and that’s at a Bali coffee and tea plantation! Most guesthouses and tour agencies in Bali can organise a visit to one of them, and even include a stop as part of a day trip. The plantations offer cheap tastings: choose your favourite(s) flavour(s) and head to the adjoining shop to stock up on the goodies. Bonus? You will normally receive a quick tour of the plantation beforehand and an explanation of how kopi luwak is made (in case you still haven’t clicked on that wikipedia link!). Second bonus? The tastings usually take place in beautiful surroundings, so relax and enjoy those views.

What to have it with

Start the day with your new-found coffee bestie and a typical Bali breakfast of fresh fruit and banana pancake!

3. Masala tea in Malaysia (and India)


From my little story above, you may have gathered that I really, really like masala tea, a.k.a. chai tea or masala chai! Although this is an Indian drink, I have only ever tried it in Malaysia so I can only comment on the Malay version. And this is my comment: it’s good!
 
Masala chai in Indian restaurant in Malaysia

In fact, this drink’s combination of sweetness and bitterness and the strong flavour that comes from its mix of spices is so good that on my first visit to Malaysia, I bought some masala tea powder to bring back to my mother. She now loves it, but as nothing compares to the on-site version, I wish I could just fly her here so she could try the real thing (Mum, you down?!)!

What is it made of?

This yummy, thickish beverage is prepared by brewing black tea with a mixture of aromatic Indian spices and herbs, including green cardamom pods, cinnamon sticks, ground cloves, ground ginger, and black peppercorn.

How is it made and served?

Masala chai is made through decoction, by actively simmering or boiling a mixture of milk and water with loose leaf tea, sweeteners, and whole spices. Depending on the method, the ingredients may be combined together at the start and the mixture brought to a boil; or, the tea leaves may be brought to a boil first and the spices only added towards the end.

Authentic masala tea is served in a metallic cup with a saucer-type container base holding the excess liquid that boiled over: once you’ve emptied your cup, pour the contents of the saucer into it and enjoy your second helping!

Best place to try it

Although masala tea can now been found in tea bag, instant powdered mixture, or concentrate form in supermarkets all over the world, there is nothing quite like trying it directly in India or in Malaysia – or in a traditional Indian restaurant elsewhere -, where the correct recipe and preparation method will be followed!

What to have it with?

You know the answer to this: indulge in a big Indian feast alongside your cup of masala tea: curry, naan, dosai, chapati, or sweet biscuits – it goes with anything!
 
Masala tea with Indian meal

4. Chaksol or chugno tea in South Korea


When I signed up for a half-day Temple Life experience in Korea, I must admit I didn’t expect much from the tea-tasting part of the program. I mean, green tea… it’s not like I hadn’t had it hundreds of time, and I can’t say I find it overly exciting! Although I was aware of the cultural importance and popularity of traditional Korean tea ceremonies, I couldn’t imagine what all the fuss was about: can you really make green tea anything more than ‘quite good’?

Well, the answer to that question turns out to be YES! The tea I was served at Bongeunsa Temple was truly something special, both uniquely flavoursome and delicious. I ended up asking for as many refills as possible (within the limits of temple etiquette, of course)!

What is it made of?

The ‘chaksol’ and ‘chugno’ green tea varieties are the most popular types of teas to be served at tea ceremonies. However, chrysanthemum tea, persimmon leaf tea, or mugwort tea may also be served at different times of the year. Although special ingredients such as ocean-salted leaves from Jeju Island are sometimes used, the secret to Korean green tea’s exception lies mostly in the extremely elaborate way it is prepared.

There is a perhaps disproportionate amount of meaning attached to tea in Korea: the varieties served at ceremonies are believed to combine the 5 different tastes of bitterness, sweetness, astringency, saltiness and ‘sourness’, which are experienced in layers, and to evoke four kinds of thought for Korean Buddhists: peacefulness, respectfulness, purity and quietness.

How is it made and served?

The Korean Tea Ceremony, or Darye, has been around for a few thousand years. To give you an idea of its importance and complexity, it is considered an art in South Korea and is studied in dedicated schools.

The strict preparation and serving of the tea follows a synchronized choreography performed by two women in traditional attire and involving a to-and-froing between teapots and different bowls. The tea is poured from a certain distance above the warmed cups or bowls in order to create bubbles that are supposed to bring good luck.
 

Korean Darye

Tea ladies in action

If you’re intrigued to find out more, the ceremony is detailed in pictures and videos on this site.

Best place to try it

I’m afraid this one may require a trip to Korea! Once you’re there, many tourism offices and cultural associations, such as Seoul’s Korea House, offer lifestyle experience programs that will allow you to try the subtle flavours of chaksol and chugno, and might even initiate you to the art of Darye!

For an even more authentic and propitious setting, taste the tea among the monks for whom it was initially destined as part of a Temple Life (half-day) or Temple Stay (overnight and longer) program. This scheme, which was designed to let those interested in Korean traditions and Buddhist practices experience daily life in a Buddhist temple, is now widespread across the country: the only difficulty will be to pick a temple out of the many inviting listings on the official Templestay website!

What to have it with

Your tea-tasting experience will normally involve a number of vegan, plant-based biscuits, including lotus root ones, which are likely to come as another pleasant surprise. At least they did for me!

5. Cha yen in Thailand


When you’re in Thailand and it’s 35° outside, you might not be too keen on the idea of a hot cuppa. Well, rejoice: probably non-coincidentally, Thailand’s drink specialty happens to be…an iced tea! Along with the many fresh juices, smoothies, and shakes on offer, Thai iced tea, or ‘cha yen’, is the perfect drink to quench your hot-weather thirst.
 

Thai iced tea

What is it made of?

Although traditionally made from strongly brewed Ceylon tea, a cheaper and more popular version now uses a locally grown variety of Assam known as ‘Bai Miang’. Other ingredients include added orange blossom water, star anise, crushed tamarind seed, or red and yellow food coloring, with condensed milk and sugar on top.

How is it made and served?

The tea is sweetened with sugar and condensed milk and served chilled. Evaporated milk, coconut milk or whole milk is generally poured over the tea and ice before serving in order to add taste and a creamy appearance. However, in Thailand, the correct recipe involves mixing condensed milk and sugar with the tea before it is poured over the ice and then topping it with evaporated milk. The brew is poured back and forth at heights of about 4 feet.

Best place to try it

Where best to grab a glass of Thai iced tea than in the alleys of a street market or at a roadside food stall? Alternatively, it’s bound to be on the menu at your local Thai restaurant!

What to have it with

Combine cha yen with a choice of market snacks – from fishcakes to spring rolls, satay kebabs, pad thai, papaya salad, or, if you’re really adventurous, grilled insects. If you have a sweet tooth, why not savour it with Thailand’s most addictive dessert, mango and sticky rice?
 
 
Have you tried any of these drinks? Which one is your favourite or sounds most appealing? Did I leave out any beverage you love? Let me know in the comments below!

If you would like to follow the rest of my adventures, consider subscribing to the blog to receive all updates by email, and connecting with Camille in Wonderlands on Facebook, where I regularly post snapshots and musings that haven’t made it onto the site.
 
 

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Camille

Ex-French girl. Reader, writer, editor, and world traveller. Digital nomad. Aspiring filmmaker and poet. Into lifestyle choices, culture and the arts. Passionate about passion. Risk-taker. Occasional ranter!

Comments

  1. What a beautiful post! I have to admit that I’m a coffee and tea barbarian – I love to drink both but I know very little about the traditions and proper ways of preparation, so your post is a great insight on that :)

    • Thanks for your lovely comment Patricia! I’m not a coffee- or tea-making expert myself, but, like you, I love drinking both and I find it fascinating that there can be such intricate preparation methods and rituals attached to them in certain cultures… I’ve really enjoyed trying some of these drinks and learning about them on my travels! :)
      Camille recently posted…What To Do in Yangon, Myanmar: 8 Things Not To MissMy Profile

  2. I agree with the first comment, beautiful post! I am a slave to coffee and my only requirement is that it be caffeinated, but I also love trying different version of coffee and tea everywhere I go. You would probably love Vietnamese egg coffee! It is a dessert that is made by beating egg whites, coffee and sugar until it is a warm gooey cup of coffee merengue. It’s is more of a dessert than a drink and I loved it as such, though I normally drink my coffee hot and black :)
    Jenny @ Till the Money Runs Out recently posted…El Sabor Zapoteco, Traditional Oaxaca Cooking ClassesMy Profile

    • Thanks Jenny, I’m intrigued by Vietnamese egg coffee… although surprisingly enough, I tend not to enjoy coffee so much as a food flavour (I don’t like tiramisu, for instance!). But I should be able to try it for myself soon as I am planning more travels in South-East Asia, including Vietnam. :)
      Camille recently posted…Exploring NZ’s Waitomo Caves, Kiwi-styleMy Profile

  3. I’ve never realised it before, but it is often the drinks in a foreign country that stand out in my mind too – apple tea in Turkey, pear lemonade in Georgia and fizzy vodka in Hungary all spring to mind! The Moroccan mint tea and Thai iced tea sound right up my street :)
    Catherine recently posted…Adventurers Past & Present: Sarah Von BargenMy Profile

    • It sounds like you’re more of a tea person Catherine! In that case you definitely have to try the Moroccan and Thai versions. And oh, apple tea sounds delicious, thanks for putting something new on my must-try list..! I might do a follow-up post (or two) on alcohols/other soft drinks, so stay tuned! :)
      Camille recently posted…Feeling Like Indie in AyutthayaMy Profile

  4. Great post, Camille! I was obsessed with Masala Chai when I was in India- it’s so delicious! Moroccan mint tea sounds amazing, and it’s the first thing I want to try if I ever make it to Morocco.
    Ashley recently posted…Why I’m Afraid to Return to EdinburghMy Profile

  5. Christine (Mum) Says: May 6, 2015 at 8:34 pm

    Oui Camille, c’est toi qui m’as fait découvrir le thé Masala et je t’en remercie. J’aime beaucoup son goût épicé.

  6. Great post! But we can’t believe you’d never drunk a full cup of coffee until recently! To tell the truth, Janice prefers her coffee with loads of hot skim milk (more a little coffee with your hot milk?), whereas George can happily drink 8 cups of coffee a day. Hot chai tea is great too, but sometimes it’s a bit sweet for our taste. And here’s something we learned about hot English tea – a good strong hot cuppa really does cool you down and is refreshing when traveling in tropical countries (though you’d think you should go for iced tea instead).
    Sand In My Suitcase recently posted…Snorkeling Koh Tao: Where are the fish?My Profile

    • Haha I know, it’s hard to believe isn’t it?! I’d resigned myself to the fact that I would never like coffee… and now I need at least one a day! I guess that shows that anything can happen :)
      Yes I’ve heard that about black English tea…although in the end, both tea and coffee are dehydrating drinks, so probably not the best refreshments in hot weather!
      Camille recently posted…Easter Island Magic: Moai Don’t LieMy Profile

  7. Great list of teas, I am a coffee lover like many others :) but will have to pass this list on a good friend of mine who really enjoys her tea!

    Thanks for sharing ox
    Annie Tong recently posted…Doi SuthepMy Profile

  8. Thierry de Maisons Says: May 8, 2015 at 9:21 am

    En priorité, j’aimerais goûter le coconut coffee de Bali car j’adore la noix de coco. Mais je goûterais volontiers d’autres cafés parfumés. Autre priorité, le thé glacé thailandais. Je connaîs déjà le mint tea, j’en ai bu à Marrakech. Je l’aime aussi et j’en bois parfois en France.

  9. I love tea. Well, I’m from Yorkshire so of course I love tea. But I really like trying teas in different places, and seeing different attitudes towards it – I would love to try mint tea in Morocco!

  10. I just did a tasting of those coffees and teas while I was in Bali last weekend. I was thinking that your photos looked familiar! Seriously, I had no idea Indonesia had so many different coffees and teas before then. Some of them were delicious! Did you try the luwak coffee? Because it was actually really good…I just had to consciously not think too hard about what I was consuming 😉
    Justine recently posted…The Many Sides of Bali…In PhotosMy Profile

    • It was a discovery for me too, Justine! I loved some of them, especially the coconut coffee (basically because I hated coffee at the time, and it’s so sweet it doesn’t taste like coffee!). I didn’t try the luwak, not because I was put off but because it was more expensive and I was a poor backpacker at the time… haha, silly me!
      Camille recently posted…Blown Away at Torres del Paine, ChileMy Profile

  11. I’m a MASSIVE tea and coffee drinker (just a caffeine addict in general!), so I basically drooled my way through this post. Those flavoured coffees looking amazing – I want!
    Lizzie recently posted…4 Tricks to Help You Fit More Travel into a Freelance LifestyleMy Profile

  12. Masala chai and Thai iced tea are two of my favorites! Would love to try those flavored coffees in Bali!!
    Jennifer Ryder Joslin recently posted…Maya Bay, Thailand: Living Life by a Bucket ListMy Profile

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