Monday, February 6, 2012

American Tea Culture? Is there any?


       When people speak of tea they think of Japan with their tea ceremony, Britain for their famous "cuppa" and scones, China as the master and birthplace of tea, and India for producing excellent black teas know for robustness and strength and the "champagne of teas" Darjeeling. But wait a minute, what of America? Is there anything this country know for in tea? Apparently since we have choose to close ties  with Britain, our only supply of tea and wares it came with took a dip in Boston harbor never to return. Its not only a symbolic closure of ties by culture but the taxes so heavily imposed on the few leaves we've got. Fast forward a bit two hundred years later, at the dawn of globalization, the peak of markets and capitalism, and fusion never seen a century ago we Americans still have not developed a culture of tea! Now why is that? We have Teavana stores all over malls, online tea suppliers,  and ethnic markets providing teas but why do we still lack a culture of tea?
      Answers abound and not easy to explain, but one of the key factors is that tea itself is an alien of a beverage as much as alien as a lifestyle ! Since when did us Americans have our parents, grand parents preform these intricate ceremonies or gathering around a kettle and cups? None since the 1700s, not including the ethnic groups who took their traditions with them to the new world who probably their children (though not all) will abandon their traditions for 7-ups, Pepsi, "TarBucks"  and  "Feebeans" and the sort popular nowadays. Its natural since we abandoned coffee, we turned to coffee for a fix and not looked back and whatever that was sweet and energetic we obsessed over. This reflects much in our current mentality, we want a fizzy drink over a cuppa with milk and sugar, we want a drum sized mug of coffee and sugar than bother with tea, we want fruity sugary drinks that bother with tea.
       If tea was ever in the minds of the modern American, one thinks of Arizona soda teas, super sweet more water than tea, or those tea bags that tastes awfully bad which is the reason why we abandoned tea in the first place. Tea is also such a niche market and so esoteric to any layperson out there to know about "jeeling" or" Dragonwell", even the thought of actually having tea outside of a bag is more disgusting than brewing a Lipton! Not surprisingly, tea and its industry has no such luck  with promoting in the mass scale as we have now been so removed from actual tea, so fond of sugary drinks, and to move around lugging drums of it than sit down and converse! To the tea industry,  its a waste of money and time to persuade a people already having their minds made up or closed to tea and its fineness 
      The root of the problem is what we have become as a culture to be as  greedy consumers that buys something for cheap at low prices, eat it up and think nothing about aftterwords! Now, what does that say about a proper sit down culture on us Americans? We would rather buy less expensive foods, eat and shut up together or alone. and go off in our own business. To us, when we gather, its about either in a formal occaisions like seminars, or semi-formals like parties, and casual like groups gatherings. Now, it does not mean we do not talk over our food or tea but we give little attention to it as its just another fuel to move around and talk somewhere else. There is no matter if the food tastes that damn good in the planet, or the fact it has been cooked Emeril Laggasse or Feran Adria!To us its nothing special as long we got a lot of it, for a cheap price and stuff our faces while we stick our faces on the telly while our medical costs rises! Think about why we used to have the "super-size" portions in Micky-D's, where everything has an extra scale: extra-large coffee, extra-large fries, extra-large pants and briefs, and extra-large everything!

              Example: Comparative to the standard MickyDs super large portions that shoots over the standard         2000 diet, the main entree in a Shakey's in the Philippines is considered a large tray than compared to U.S. portions. The plate was actually considered a combo plate but looks more to be a sampler plate that costed 200 pesos that is  4.67 dollars USD. That very same price can buy a combo nearly as large in any fast food establishments! Needless to say, that 10% service charge to the order demanded will not and shall not be paid! Just terrible!
                                                    This is another example that size does matter?
                                         Can you readers say this is a large cup of soda? Its not
                                          but in Philippines it is! At 45 php at 1 dollar stateside.

      The spell of over consumerism has definitely taken hold of our minds, that a tea pot that holds no more than 8 ounces to 32 ounces is not enough and therefore not enough for a person! Its not sugary, tastes weird like grass or leafy, not as energetic, sometimes expensive and the usual fifty other problems. Moreover, tea has been seen as the pleasures of rich, a threat to masculinity, and a hindrance to our mobile way of life. Its to expensive and time consuming to brew leaves in a pot waiting five or 20 minutes, having to put up with an ency group , and maybe a sign of femininity for the supposed drinker nowadays. In their minds they could have been spending time walking all over the places, buying something while keeping all the drama of their backs from their comrades while they downed gallons of  drinks before the 20 minutes are up for the tea!
        The deepest of all problems that is the changing traditions and norms of the more younger generation who have  never grown up in such practices of deep social gatherings and appreciation in the simplest of things. Such are the results of being born into the computer age where one appreciable item of fad can instantaneously be obsolete in the matter of days or months! One day it was Myspace and Christina Aguilera now its Facebook, Lady Gaga, and Uggs.  The vast flows of information and awareness can be raised in the individual in matter of hours and days where it could have taken months or years in the previous era devoid of a unifying exchange of information like the internet! Its of no surprise that slow faced traditions like the dinner table gathering is a dying concept  far from newer and newer traditions and conventions to keep alive.
  Why stay so dated?
         Even the inspirations of these youngsters who they listen to in music, watch on the telly or gander about in the internet does not emphasize a laid back culture.They would rather party, drink, play and if they do choose to sit back they would stuff their faces up while busying themselves texting, sleeping or watch the telly. This is of course the era of privacy, the era of the forums and facebook, the era of choices, add, deletion of friends as much as their ever changing culture. The new generation would rather be at home or be with a specific group who are liked minded  that love the same  foods, music, and beliefs without dealing with different people or "exotic" cultures they may find unappealing than face the  rigors of a highly social occasions like tea gardens or the dinner table that poses an insurmountable challenge to cope, adapt, and respond. If faced such a situation  of their disgust , they would often be cold, reserved, and often detached from other groups or persons in a social surrounding, and would be in a more awkward position if a curious and highly social individuals and groups approaches them. It seems that sensory overload of expressions, faces, feelings, mood is too much for a group so closed off that its not surprising many of them have a sort social ill and we as Americans are embracing that!
         I guess its not the problem of internet or their idols as they too have grown in a culture so far removed from uniqueness, suspicious of anything foreign than anything were used to, and quite the traditionalists in the sense of being stubborn. Whatever we Americans now follow throughout the eras, we have not made a shift in directions unless approved by an authority of society or idols!Its the opposite of what we Americans stand for: Freedom and truly our own sets of values but we tend to forget our values are foreign in itself. We have grown to be quite the followers of conformity that we have created so many groups of which people that want to belong or strive to belong that we don't ever stray from the defined groups and create ones from scratch. It we were to revive this tea culture and importantly to slow down , take our time, take a sip of tea...I think we  would never be stressed and so pressured to keep up with societies demands. Just all you dear readers take example of the great culinary cultures of Europe, Asia , Africa, and the Mid East and South America, do they rush like we do? Bloat themselves silly? Be stopped by social constrictions, and go through life like its a race or one large party to tend to every one? Yes and No! But surely there lives might not as be" perfect" as ours in a sense but as long they have been a country longer than America has ever been, they all went the down the same road we are now on but unlike us Americans  are just taking their time and appreciating what life really is. Beauty and all things simple!

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