Thursday, June 2, 2011

Down with Starbucks; what America needs are tea houses

Ashlynn J Designs on
Coffeehouses are noisy. The never-ending whirr of blenders, the yakking on the cell, the click of acrylic fingernails on keyboards. Everyone has to hear what everyone else ordered because it’s announced every few seconds like Ben Stein calling the roll on Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.
Predictably present in each coffeehouse is a faux living room, which only serves to reinforce the type of slob behavior best left unobserved and usually acted out while wearing ratty pajamas at home.
Teahouses, in contrast, are steeped in ceremony. Ever notice how ceremony comes with copious amounts of quiet? In Japan, drinking tea is considered an art; etiquette governs how to serve it and receive it. The preservation of civilized society depends not on domestic oil supplies nor on constant vigilance against terrorists, but on a reliable cause-and-effect system of performing to expectation and being rewarded for it.
When I was in college, we had a shipload of Japanese cultural exchange ambassadors visit campus every year. Reciprocating the hospitality, they invited us to spend an evening aboard, culminating in a tea ceremony. My first year, I must’ve been grinning like a fool, because one of the people assisting in pouring the tea gently chided, “No smiling.” This was quickly amended to “No smiling with teeth showing” to allow for my youthful exuberance. At least I learned what was expected of me. 
The Brits and the Japanese have something in common: they’re reserved, at least in public. Most Americans are anything but. If there had been a shadow of doubt about it, Jersey Shore long ago dispelled it. It’s all good, except when you’re married to an American, with all the behavioral baggage attendant to that, and you hail from the reserved end of the spectrum.
We shan’t go into painful detail about it. Suffice it to say that, um, on more than one occasion, rather than the ubiquitous coffeehouse on every block, I’ve wished for at least one decent teahouse per metropolis.
Phizzychick on
A teahouse in every city would guarantee at least one beautifully landscaped garden in which one could seek refuge from the surrounding squalor. A teahouse, after all, never just springs up like a toadstool in the midst of urban decay. It arrives with its dowry, which usually includes a few needle-leafed maples, several gnarly pines, lots of smooth round river rocks and some weathered stone lanterns.

I also advocate the inclusion of tea ceremony instruction at grade school level. This would most certainly take out a large chunk of childhood obesity, what with the reduction in dependence on soda brands for one’s social standing and relief from nutritional boredom. Not only that, but we could begin to salvage the few from the younger generation who have not completely ground themselves down into a permanent state of uncouthness.
But who are we kidding? The coffee drinkers would secede before they ever convert. Tea houses would never gain a foothold on the market. The lines are as irrevocably drawn as those between PC and Mac users, vegans and meat eaters, and people who install their toilet paper roll to dispense from above or under.
Never mind what America needs. I need a ticket to Japan.


Click here to enjoy this treasury of tea curated by Scrollwork
Tea infuses our lives. We inhale its fragrance, bathe in it, and build rituals around it. We create nuanced shades by immersing objects in it. A culture that lags in tea drinking lacks refinement. To be invited to tea is proof of social acceptance.

Some people have wine cellars; our wine rack is bare. But the tea cupboard runneth over. Among the green teas, we have Mango, Ginger Peach, and Blueberry. Among the white teas, Jasmine and Lychee; among the black teas, Maple Pecan and Chai Spice. There's an excellent Cranberry Blood Orange plus something called Get Lost to curb sugar craving among the red rooibos. Finally, we have the functional teas—Linden tea to quell stage fright before a performance or job interview; Chiro Klenz for detox after holidays or anytime we eat at a Mexican restaurant.

My current favorite is Mangosteen Superfruit. What shall I pour for you?

P.S. A recommended book to go with your tea! 

"In Samantha Sotto's high spirited debut, a young widow travels to a remote and distant island to answer the question, what price do we pay for eternal love. It is a mesmerizing journey transcending time and continents, all to remind that there are many ways to live on forever and to immortalize a marriage. Note to readers: Curl up with jasmine tea and savor the warm, rich writing, as delectable as the recipes for love found within every enchanting page."  -Saralee Rosenberg, author ofClaire Voyant

UPDATE 10/23/13
The teahouse is coming! The teahouse is Manhattan tomorrow, then Seattle around Thanksgiving. Starbucks bought Teavana and will open tea bars—"at least 1000" according to the story in USA Today.


  1. Oh dear, I could never be invited to tea, if one of the prerequisites was to smile without teeth showing!

  2. We all need a break sometimes ...the tea ceremony sounds great. You actually made me want to go to Japan

  3. Locke, they make those lip-shaped pacifiers that could serve as a disguise!

    Muriel, there's always The Last Samurai to rent in the meantime ; )

  4. Love this! As coffee will NEVER touch these lips. I drink 3 cups of green tea a day, religiously... :)

  5. Randi, you will outlive all of us!

  6. I totally agree with you! A cup of tea sounds fabulous right about now!

  7. Megan, come over for a cup (or two, three) and show us how to make your gorgeous paper flowers!

  8. Wonderful post! When my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer, she received the recommendation that she drink green tea, and lots of it! At the time, I was not a green tea drinker, but I joined her in solidarity. Drinking tea became a favorite shared activity between my mother and I. Now, we only see each other during the summer, and immediately break out the tea box! Ginger tea is one of our favorites!

  9. Bella, so grateful to hear she's a survivor. What a wonderful tradition to share with your mother! And there's always iced tea for the summer months.

  10. I love Starbucks coffee but it's usually a pain to sit in such a busy, loud environment if I just want to read or write! Great post.


  11. Angela, I'm with you on that one. Some people seem to like the hum of humanity, like a big "white noise" machine they find relaxing. You and I are not one of those people. My husband is. Occasionally I put up with the vexation and sit with him. Ah, love.

  12. Jersey Shore, Scrollwork? Give us a little more credit than that! :D I like both coffee and tea. I usually alternate between the two from day to day. But, I avoid Starbucks. ;)

  13. Instruction in the tea ceremony as part of the curriculum - love it! But when would all the test prep happen?

  14. Kenya, you're the beverage equivalent of bilingual! Good for you for bucking Starbucks. The worst of the worst (reality show) is what usually represents a culture abroad—does that feed into people's nationalism, to feel superior to another nation in a way they could never achieve in reality?

    Ms.Hap, I imagine test prep would take place during recess on rainy days. When the weather's nice, the parlor chairs could be set up in the playground and teddy bears would be invited from home. Boys would be required to participate (the only way to get them to do so)! Couthness must be seeded in both genders at an early age, I decree.

  15. I visited a lovely little secondhand bookstore/tea house in Paris once. It was called Tea and Tattered pages. I'd trade a few branches of Starbucks to have a place of this sort in my neighborhood.

  16. Sam, you're a seasoned business person in addition to being an acclaimed novelist—how about opening such a place in my neck of the woods, hmm?

  17. I love a cup of tea when it's cold outside and I can curl up of the sofa holding my cup of Earl Grey or LapSang Souchoung. Chai Spice is one of my favorites, too.

  18. Delicious choices, Julie. By the way, hats off (and teacups raised!) to your recent dogwood painting sale! Inspiration flows out of your artist's soul in so many ways—your pottery, painting and garden, to name a few.

  19. I love tea, but for some reason I just can't make a good cup. I've researched it, bought tea pots, and tea cups, but it never tastes just right. I think I just need someone to make it for me, as in a tea house.

  20. I've always been the tea drinker among my friends and family and always get the weird look when I pull my Egyptian Licorice baggie out of my shirt pocket at a restaurant (when I know that a "tea opportunity" is a possibility). I even have one of those stainless steel tea balls, as well as one in the shape of a little house and I even know what a tea infuser is (I'm not the typical heterosexual male, I guess). I can't wait to share a pot of tea with you Scrollwork.

  21. Connie, I think you're employing the strategy husbands use to get their wives to do something for them: "I'm just no good at it, honey, you do it." Busted!

    X, do you wear a pocket protector so your Egyptian licorice bag doesn't stain your shirt? hehehe—don't get back at me on the dance floor! I'll know.

    I think you're what my daughter used to call her ex: metrosexual. I'm down with that, luv. Anyone with a house-shaped tea strainer is fabulous in my book.