Love drinking tea? Treat yourself in Serbia!
Tea drinking in Serbia
Hot or iced, drinking tea is a popular pleasurable pastime of many people in Australia, and around the world.
Traditionally, Serbs don’t really drink tea unless they feel unwell, wish to promote well being or it has a shot of rakija in it. There is a popular drink, called Šumadijski čaj or Tea from Šumadija. Don’t let the name fool you though – it is another way of saying, warmed up rakija (ie brandy) and is very much an alcoholic drink. I really enjoy this kind of “tea” in winter, after coming in from freezing temperatures outside. That’s pretty much the extent of mainstream tea drinking culture in Serbia.
In Serbia, coffee is still very much preferred when going out as well as in the home, especially when made “Turkish style” ie in a coffee pot (ǆezva) on the stove. Then it is known as “domaća” (pronounced, “doh-mah-cha”) or “domestic/local” coffee. Interestingly, along with espresso, Nescafe is popular in Belgrade cafes. In Australia, we reserve Nescafe ground coffee for a desperate moment (ie who forgot to buy the coffee beans?!) or when we don’t have access to a coffee maker.
Herbal teas are often viewed by Serbs as being complementary to modern pharmaceuticals, whereas in the West, drinking herbal teas for medicinal purposes is seen as being anecdotal, at best. There is no stigma attached to seeking out a ‘Travar’ or herbalist to help and most Serbs can recite a tea to drink for a particular medical complaint.
My own tea drinking ritual is traditionally Serbian in approach, and just before bedtime. I have a beautiful blend of lavender and mint to induce sleep and digestive wellness. This is what I will call, the “Serbian approach” to drinking tea. And I cannot see it any other way, no matter how hard I have tried. What you will find in my tea cupboard is akin to a herbal tea apothecary, with a tea for every purpose. You have a stomach ache? Have “nana chai”, or mint tea or “kamilica” (chamomile). There is even a specially formulated tea for kids, “dečji chai”. My grandmother brought me up on chamomile tea as a child, in my own sippy cup, as many Serbian kids are.
Being so close to Asia and being a former English colony, it shouldn’t be surprising that tea drinking culture is well established in Australia. Afternoon tea is taken as a break from work (whether it is tea or coffee, the name has stuck with us), and then there is the more fancy High Tea on a weekend. Tea houses and shops can be found in all major shopping malls with the emphasis that tea drinking is a ritual pleasure. Beautiful teapots and glasses are found everywhere. This was not found in Serbia, until 2003, when the first Tea House was opened. The best you could find before that was rosehip, mint or chamomile tea on offer at cafes in Belgrade. You would be hard pressed in finding a black tea, and if you did, the fact that you would want to put milk in it…well, that would give some odd looks! My father, quite progressive after living for over 40 years in Australia, still cannot understand the milk and tea combination and will scrunch up his nose every time I serve an Earl grey with milk. Compare my 90 year old grandmother, a staunch supporter of the English monarchy, who will happily offer milk with black tea despite being so traditionally Serbian in every other way.
Tea houses in Serbia
Times are changing in Serbia, and now in Belgrade and Novi Sad, there are a small number of tea houses which have opened in recent years, on a mission to try and bring a different kind of tea drinking culture to Serbs.
Kuća Čaja, Belgrade
The oldest tea house is in Belgrade, established in 2003, and it’s called “Kuća Čaja” or simply, Tea House. I haven’t been there yet but if you need your tea drinking fix whilst in Belgrade, I am told that this is one place to go. There are other locations now, but the original tea house is in an established Old Belgrade neighbourhood, Vračar.
Kuća Čaja is a smoke free environment, which is not always the case in Belgrade cafes (though most modern cafes only allow smoking outside), and boasts having over 50 types of teas, including the usual suspects such as Rooibos, Black Tea, White Tea, Asian Teas.
Address: Golsvordijeva 5, Vračar : +381 11 334 59 94
Kuća Dobrog Čaja, Novi Sad
Translated as “House of Good Tea”, this is the first speciality tea house to open in Novi Sad, the second largest city in Serbia. Opened in 2013, this tea house aims to bring the culture of pleasurable tea drinking to Novi Sad, using only the highest quality teas of the world. You will need to enable Page Translate as this site is only available in Serbian, but well worth a look – it’s a beautiful site, with photos to make a tea drinker feel right at home and craving their next brew.
Visit the website for more information (use Page Translate).
Address: Pavla Papa 36, Novi Sad, Serbia
Do you drink tea? If so, what’s your favourite?