1. Masala chai, India
Fashion-forward Mumbaikars, frazzled Delhi commuters, roadside marigold sellers – they all cock their ears at the call from a chai wallah (tea seller). Masala chai was originally brewed as a tonic to boost spirit and mind, comprising cardamom, ginger and other spices steeped in hot milk. Black tea became part of the recipe when the British East India Company introduced it to India in the 19th century. Today blends vary by region: clove, green tea, rose.
2. Mate, Argentina
For Argentines, sharing mate with friends is a national obsession. Locals gulp down more mate than they do coffee – and they love their coffee. Dried yerba mate leaves are shaken into a gourd and topped with hot water. The bitter infusion is sipped through a metallic straw, or bombilla, which also sifts out the herbs. The gourd is passed from person to person as a gesture of friendship, so sip away if it’s offered (and don’t hang on to it for too long). It’s not only the social experience that will make you smile, mate is vitamin rich and teeming with antioxidant properties.
Curious to learn more? Posadas and Tigre both have museums dedicated to mate.
3. Sbiten, Russia
It takes a fortifying beverage indeed to melt the grip of a Russian winter. Luckily sbiten has been thawing Russian noses since the 12th century – and boasts healing powers to boot. Honey, berry jam and pounded spices (often clover and thyme) are boiled with water in a shining copper samovar to make sbiten. The drink’s health-boosting qualities are renowned, promising everything from a sturdy immune system to mental agility. Coffee may have replaced sbiten in Siberian thermoses in recent decades, but this bracing tipple is making a comeback; Russians even sip a chilled version during the warmer months.
Note that some sbiten recipes contain a splosh of vodka or wine.
4. Mint tea, Morocco
Most visitors to Morocco see their first cup of mint tea poured from a dramatic height. A drop is seldom spilled, and the grand display helps to cool the tea before it reaches the cup. This intoxicating nectar is made by bringing tea leaves to a furious boil with fresh mint and generous amounts of sugar. The glasses in which mint tea is served – often brightly coloured with metallic tracery – attract as much praise as the drink itself. And serving this thirst-quencher is a byword for hospitality, with many Moroccans considering it impolite to refuse a second cup.
5. Bubble tea, Taiwan
From humble teahouse beginnings to a global craze, bubble tea has enjoyed a wild ride over its 30 years of existence. It began as a blend of condensed milk and hot black tea with a dollop of tapioca pearls, the ‘boba’ that gave it the ‘bubble tea’ name. Today you can find it in flavours from watermelon to chocolate, and in a rainbow-defying palette of neon colours. Bubble tea graces menus everywhere from London to Hong Kong. It’s also billed as ‘pearl milk tea’, featuring irresistible guest ingredients like flavoured jellies and fruit, and served chilled.
6. Api morado, Bolivia
Bright magenta, soupily thick and irresistibly sweet, api morado is a truly unique breakfast drink. This blend of purple corn, cinnamon, cloves, sugar and hot water is a prized way to perk up in the frosty Andean air. Today it is blended with lemon, pineapple or other fruits and served with another Bolivian breakfast favourite, flaky empanadas. Api has an ancient heritage, and has been warming bellies since the days of the Inca Empire. As modern scientists learn more about purple corn’s anti-inflammatory properties and excellent health benefits, it seems the Inca were on to something.
Don’t limit yourself to purple api, steamy white corn drinks are also popular in Bolivia.
7. Po cha, Tibet
No traveller wants to wince in the face of hospitality. But for many people, po cha is an acquired taste. Creating ‘butter tea’ is a labour of love: black tea is steeped for hours before being churned with butter from female yaks and stirred with salt. This staple drink of the Tibetan mountains is perfectly suited to the high altitude: hugely hydrating and fattening enough to fortify labourers against the chill. But its earthy pungency can shock the taste buds at first. Imbibing it is highly ritualised, with hosts expected to top up a cup after each sip.
Po cha not to your taste? To avoid a refill from your host, wait until the end of your visit and gulp the tea down in one.
8. Sahlep, Turkey
Sweet Turkish coffee turbo-charges many a visitor around the palaces and bazaars of Istanbul. But Turkey’s preferred winter warmer is sahlep, hot sweet milk infused with orchid root powder. Orchid-based drinks have a long history, used as an aphrodisiac by the Romans (who took the suggestive shape of the root rather literally). But while notions of sahlep’s romantic effects have been all but abandoned, the creamily nourishing beverage – with the faintest of floral notes – is enjoyed across the Middle East, sometimes sprinkled with orange blossom water, coconut or raisins.
Ask a local where to find authentic sahlep in Turkey, as cheap cornflour-thickened imitations abound.
9. Tieguanyin, China
Drink tea in China and you’re partaking in an ancient tradition that remains a cornerstone of social interaction. One floral oolong variety in particular, tieguanyin (iron goddess of mercy tea), has a myth of origin placing it at the heart of China’s sacred tea culture. Stories say that a poor farmer prayed for the means to repair a temple to the goddess, and dreamt of treasure. Awaking, he discovered a single shoot which brought forth the finest tea in China, restoring the temple’s fortunes and thereafter being named after the merciful goddess.
Fill your neighbour’s cup before pouring Chinese tea for yourself. If someone pours for you, indicate thanks by rapping your finger on the table.
10. Anijsmelk, Netherlands
When winter freezes lakes and canals across the Netherlands, the Dutch reach for their ice skates. And a spin on the ice is traditionally accompanied by a glass of anijsmelk. This sweetened milk drink is infused with aniseed, giving it a smoky herbal note. For the Dutch it’s a nostalgic flavour and those who want a fuss-free anijsmelk fix buy aniseed-flavoured sugar cubes. But it’s best on a frosty Amsterdam evening, fragrant steam curling under your nose and fresh poffertjes (mini pancakes) warming your hands as you watch skaters swirl across the canals.
The love of liquorice flavours doesn’t end here, the Dutch consume more than four pounds per person annually, mostly in the form of salty drop sweets.