This is embarrassing. I’m writing this in a coffee shop. I am drinking a soy hazelnut latte. It is delicious. (EDIT: As I wrote this blog post I got to the end of the latter, and decided it wasn’t actually that great)I am a traitor.
I moved recently and have yet to settle back in, but this time I am very. serious. about creating an ideal tea space. We are going to have floor cushions, you guys. We are going to have a shelf devoted entirely to teaware. We are going to have more teaware, because dammit, I am not moving again until some cosmic gardener comes to uproot my feet and gently transplant me. Even then, I might put up a fight.
I want to talk about what it means to drink tea in America. Hoo boy, you say! That’s a lofty aspiration. Damn right it is, but is there a more perfect place to talk about tea drinkers in America than while sitting in a coffee shop?
Because coffee is our national drink. It sustains our cops and our grad students. It makes us tick. It’s a dessert, it’s breakfast, it has the highest number of addicts of any socially acceptable problem. Moreover, it is distinctly patriotic to drink coffee. You may remember a certain revolution we had where a tax on tea that we as Americans did not particularly appreciate, to the extent that we had a salty tea party in Boston Harbor. In what would now be called a slacktivist boondoggle (“freedom fries”, am I right?), the colonists switched to coffee. Each bitter sip was a middle finger to the monarchy. They opened a bunch of coffee houses, and the coffee house reigned supreme, and then Seattle and Starbucks happened, and here I am at Zeitgeist Coffee. It’s the default American drink, which is weird, because it is really damn expensive.
And as an American, coffee is my default drink. Honestly, it is still my default drink, in the sense that it is a means to an end, whether chemical or social. So how did I get to become an American who says to people, “I prefer tea.”?
Honestly, to be an American who drinks tea is to be a bit of an oddball. It takes effort. It can be a little like being a vegan or not owning a television–they will always tell you without being asked. It’s a kind of pretentious, deep-seated hipsterism. I’ve met plenty of tea drinkers like this. They want to be different. They want to be original. They think having an interest makes them interesting.
That is not to like disparage these lifestyle choices, especially as a vegetarian/person who does not own a television. But one can attest that there are usually a few try-hards ruining it for the rest of us, and tea has the same problem.
It’s hard for me to reconcile my own preferences with the snobbish and superior attitudes of people who make it a point to prefer tea. A lot of the worst offenders are on the Internet, bickering about water temperature and whose gaiwan is too big and who buys tea from Safeway. Wokka wokka wokka. BUT ask them if they realize how insufferable they are being and they’ll say, “Of course not! I just genuinely love this hobby, and want everyone else to enjoy tea too.”
Which is exactly what I would say, if someone asked me if I knew that I was being insufferable.
I think the people that do this are in a way getting off on the fact that they are different or more old world or unique or they get this idea in their head that tea is what refined people drink because they imagine British accents to also be refined. So how do I like tea without making it a Thing that I like tea? Without getting on my high horse about the superior taste being a tea drinker must give me, since I’m not like these crass Americans? Because there’s another element there that is in my humble opinion the worst part, a desire not only to embrace tea but to distance oneself from the norm of coffee and by extension one’s Americanness.
Honestly, I never meet these people in real life. It’s funny how they never turn out with their own tea shop or at a tea convention or as part of a tea club. They are mostly sad people from the Internet, so my answer to the above question is this: steep yourself in tea culture, not in tea-lovers culture. One is lovely, the other is about who can be lovelier. Do what you like! If you like it, it is (probably) good. That is all. We can go home now.