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.