German Tea Culture and Preparation

Tea is almost as big as coffee in Germany and much more ritualized than in the US. Dunking a tea bag in a hot cup of water will not be sufficient for most German tea drinkers. Instead, loose tea, "Tee Laden," "Kluntjes" and tea glasses instead of tea cups are common sights. Here are a few things to think about when brewing real German tea.

  • 01 of 07

    Tea History in Germany

    Dutch East Indian Company Transport Ship Reconstruction
    Dutch East Indian Company Transport Ship Reconstruction. Lou Gruber CC by SA 3.0

    Tea is consumed in Germany at an annual rate of 1.5 pounds per year dry weight (700 grams) with East Frisia, a northern coastal region increasing the average by using 5.5 pounds per year (2.5 kg). In Austria and Switzerland, they consume 2/3 of a pound (300 grams) to just under 1 pound per year (400 grams).

    Tea came to Germany through East Frisia via the Netherlands. East Frisian ships contracted with the Dutch East India Company and brought the first tea to German soil around 1610 AD. At first, it was only used as medicine, but within a hundred years, it became the number one drink of East Frisia, with the concomitant decrease in beer consumption. Even though tea was imported, it was less expensive than domestically produced beer, which concerned the Prussian monarchy.

    The Prussians saw the emergence of a trade deficit with Holland and tried to encourage the citizens to stop drinking tea by making a policy against it in 1778 AD. This led to smuggling, secret tea drinking, and civil disobedience. Two years later, the prohibition was rescinded.

    Tea was again a hot topic during World War II. Seen as a luxury, only 10 grams (1/2 ounce) were allowed per person per month. However, for a defined "Ostfriesischen Teetrinkerbezirk," or East Frisian tea-drinking section of the country, extra "Teekarten" were distributed, allowing additional tea rations.

    This extra tea was still not enough, so the citizens resorted to "Teetabletten" made from artificial flavors and sugar, and other herbs that were brewed into tea substitutes. Tea remained scarce for some time after the war and the East Frisians exchanged their butter for tea with people living in the Ruhr area of Germany. In 1953, the "Teesteuer," a tax on tea, was greatly reduced and the East Frisians could finally afford a "Köppke Tee" (cup of tea) any time they liked. 

  • 02 of 07

    East Friesian Tea

    Black Tea in a Cup
    Black Tea in a Cup. Anki64 CC by SA 3.0

    In East Frisia, tea is drunk two to four times per day. In addition to breakfast and dinner, one morning tea time is begun around 11 a.m. and another at 3 p.m. Three cups of tea per sitting are thought to be adequate and in East Frisia they say that "dree is ostfreesenrecht," or three is their right.

    Tea is also offered to every visitor upon entering the house, whether for a few minutes or a few days.

    The East Frisia mix is usually Assam and Ceylon tea leaves mixed in a two to three or one to three ratio. This brews into a strong, dark tea with good aroma. It is most often sweetened with a type of rock candy sugar called "Kluntjes" (pronounced kloont-yahs) and a bit of cream.

  • 03 of 07

    Tea Rituals - East Frisian Tea Ceremony

    East Frisian Tea Ceremony
    East Frisian Tea Ceremony. Ke.We. CC by 3.0

    Making tea the East Frisian way is complicated but not difficult. The "Teetied" (tea time) is prepared by placing a teaspoon of tea leaves for each glass and one for the pot in the bottom of a pre-warmed teapot. Water just off the boil is poured over the tea leaves to cover. This is allowed to steep for three minutes, then the pot is filled with very hot water and the tea is served.

    In each glass or tea cup, "Kluntjes" are placed and the hot tea is poured through a small strainer over the sugar "Kluntjes," filling to half. Often, a special spoon for the cream, called a "Rohmlepel," is used to carefully add a bit of cream to the side of the cup so that a white cloud in the middle of the black tea is seen. Traditionally, the tea is drunk without stirring and the drinker comes in contact first with the bitter tea, then the milky taste towards the middle and a bit of sweetness at the end. This may have come about when sugar was so expensive that, in order for it to last over several cups of tea, it was necessary not to stir the cup.

    As a guest, it is considered impolite to drink fewer than three cups of tea at a sitting. Placing your cup upside down on the saucer or your spoon in the cup signals that you are finished and want no more tea.

    An interesting bit of folklore asserts that tea brewed for three minutes is invigorating, while the same tea brewed for five minutes will help you sleep.

  • 04 of 07

    Kluntjes - Kandis - Sugar for Your Tea

    Kandiszucker or Kluntjes
    Kandiszucker or Kluntjes. Lyzzy CC by SA 3.0

    "Kluntjes" are a type of rock candy crystallized from a saturated sugar solution. Also known as "Kandis," they are now industrially produced and found in most, German supermarkets. Most "Kluntjes" are a cloudy, white color but it is popular to serve brown "Kluntjes," which are made from caramelized sugar. "Kluntjes" crackle when the hot tea is poured over them, which contributes to the sensory experience of drinking tea the East Frisian way.

    Continue to 5 of 7 below.
  • 05 of 07

    Teegeschirr and Teeglaser - Tea Things

    Tea Set Rood Dresmer
    Tea Set Rood Dresmer. Matthias Süßen CC by SA 3.0

    In the 17th century, porcelain came via the Dutch East Indian Company to Europe. By the 18th century, German manufacturers had found out how to make a similar product themselves. The East Frisians preferred the "Dresmer Teegood" (Dresdner tea sets) from the "Wallendorfer Porzellan" manufacturing company.

    Two different patterns were very popular, a blue colored pattern ("Blau Dresmer") and the famous, red peony (also called rose) pattern ("Rood Dresmer"). A proper set consisted of a cream canister, a teapot (Treckpott) , and cups ("Koppen"," Kopkes"). Early sets did not have saucers or handles on the cups. The cups are ribbed, to cool the tea quickly.

    Later improvements consisted of specialized teaspoons, cream spoons and sugar tongs for moving the "Kluntjes" or "Kandis."

    Outside of East Friesland, another typical dish is used, a "Teeglas" or tea glass. Imported from the east (Russia, Turkey), it is clear glass set in a metal or woven basket to keep the fingers cool. A thermal carafe to keep the tea and coffee warm is also extremely popular. 

  • 06 of 07


    Stoevchen with Tea Light
    Stoevchen with Tea Light. Nadine Schlonies CC by SA 2.5

    "Stövchen" are literally "little stoves." They are similar to rechauds and chaffing dishes, but specifically designed to hold a teapot or coffeepot. They are most often heated with tea lights (little, flat candles). They are made from clay, porcelain, metal or glass.

    Many East Frisians feel that their tea ceremony is incomplete without a "Stövchen" to keep the pot warm.

    In addition to the little stove, which comes from a Low German word for a space which can be heated, some teapots are kept warm with a "Teewärmer" or "Mütze" a fabric cover which fits over the teapot and insulates it.

  • 07 of 07

    Nets and Eggs for Tea

    Because Germans prefer loose tea, there are a great many gadgets that have been developed to keep the tea leaves out of the cups. While a strainer is used for the tea ceremony mentioned above, disposable and cloth filters are very popular, more popular than the metal tea balls you see in the US.