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Coffee Break or Tea Time?

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Hot drinks such as tea and coffee have been a part of human history for thousands of years. Whether it's sharing a drink after a meal or during a business meeting, bonding over a shared beverage is part of many traditions and is an important daily ritual for many. While drinking a cup of coffee seems simple, there are a million variations. Understanding these nuances can make doing business easier no matter where you are.

Businesspeople throughout the United Kingdom enjoy hot tea and coffee. Your teammates will always be sure to offer to have a cup of tea and exchange small talk. Helping to prepare the drinks or arrange the afternoon bites for everyone is greatly appreciated, as tea time is a communal ritual. The polite conversation during tea time will help establish a strong foundation for business negotiations later.

In the United States, coffee is viewed as a necessary start to the day. You may find that each individual is very particular about their “perfect cup of coffee.” Some people brew coffee as soon as they wake up in the morning, but others wait until they arrive at work for their first cup. Standing around the brewing coffee pot is one of the best times to catch up with coworkers.

The Swedes participate in a daily “fika.” Although the word itself means “coffee,” the meaning is translated to be much more than a warm beverage. It is a time to regroup and slow down with your coworkers or friends. People in Sweden may take a long or short break, in the morning or afternoon (or both). Light snacks such as cookies or buns may be shared. During this break, they catch up on projects accomplished and goals for the rest of the day.


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The Japanese Tea Ceremony, or Way of Tea, is a culturally revered tradition that demonstrates respect through grace and good etiquette. The ceremony can last up to four hours. If you are invited to a tea ceremony, consider it a great honor to you and your organization.

Chai is the favorite hot drink in India. This fragrant tea is enhanced with spices and herbs such as cardamom, pepper, ginger, and mint. Milk and sugar are also added. Your host may have their own special blend of chai and complimenting the flavors you like is a great conversation starter with your host. If you are interested in trying some, check it out here.

Tea is the preferred drink throughout the Middle East, although many countries also have special preparation methods for coffee. At meetings in Middle Eastern countries, the tea is served in narrow glasses. The host will always ensure that your cup is never empty, which is a tribute to the importance of hospitality in this region. As tea is shared, the group will get to know one another more and more with every cup. The relationship moves from stranger, to guest, to business partner, to family member. Expect to accept tea whenever it is offered and observe how others take their tea to determine the proper behavior.

Simple traditions like coffee breaks and tea time differ greatly around the world. Each custom is unique and is a fun way to participate in a local practice each day. As an international business person, having proper cultural awareness is essential to enjoying that morning latte or afternoon cup of tea with your coworkers.


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