What If Tea Was More Popular Than Coffee in America?

Today, I’d like to address the coffee drinkers. Hello from the other side!

Chai Tea Chick; coffee drinkers
Photo by chichacha / CC BY 2.0

As the majority in America, you guys have it good. There are 100 million daily coffee drinkers in our great nation, and coffee is like the life blood of our civilization. Every workplace has a pot of coffee; every street corner has either a Starbucks or specialty coffee shop.

For tea drinkers like myself, those luxuries don’t exist. Tea is growing in popularity, but it is still firmly number two behind coffee. I’m not sure you understand just how good you have it, so today I’d like to take you on a hypothetical journey that will show you what it’s like from the tea drinker’s perspective—what it’s like to live in a world where you favorite hot beverage is the less popular choice.

Imagine you wake up one Monday morning, groggily hitting the snooze button and barely able to get out of bed. The only thing that motivates you is the promise of a refreshing cup of coffee. When you get to the pantry, though, you notice all your coffee is gone, replaced by canisters of loose-leaf tea.

Tea is fine, but it’s not going to give you that extra boost of caffeine, and you don’t really know how to make it anyway. You quickly get ready for work and decide to make a pit stop at the nearby Starbucks.

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Photo by Ivana Di CarloCC BY-NC-SA 2.0

You get in line at the shop, already knowing what you’re going to order, but as you stand there, you start to realize something’s off. You sniff the air and notice the familiar smell of freshly brewed coffee is gone. Then, you start to listen to people’s drink orders, and they aren’t Venti Caramel Macchiatos or Tall White Chocolate Mochas. No, they’re ordering Gingseng Oolong Lan Gui Wren, Pu-erh Loose-Leaf, and Lapsang Souchong. These words sound like gibberish to you.

In doubt, you ask the barista for a Venti Americano.

“Oh,” he says, the judgment clear in his voice, “we only sell a regular coffee brew and iced coffee latte.”

You order the regular coffee, but as you gulp it down, you really wish you were drinking the espresso-flavored goodness of an Americano.

Later in the day, you go out to lunch with your coworkers at your favorite Cuban restaurant, which usually serves the best espresso in town. After the entrees, everyone is ordering tea with their desserts. You, of course, still desperately want an espresso, but you’re feeling unsure after this morning, so you decide to just order regular coffee. You know they must have that.

The coffee they give you is so bad, though, that you almost spit it out. It tastes burnt and stale, as if it had sat neglected in a corner for hours. You swirl the coffee around, and the scorched smell infiltrates your nose, almost as if the coffee is mocking you with its scent. Meanwhile, your tea-drinking friends each have individual pots of freshly brewed loose-leaf and are sipping their tea with delight.

“This isn’t fair,” you think as you scarf down the rest of your disgusting cup of coffee, “This is madness.”

So, coffee drinkers, how did that make you feel?

Yes, as nightmarish as this scenario seems, this is the reality for people who only drink tea in America. In our coffee culture, we face limited options, we often have to drink low-quality tea, and we are looked at suspiciously for wanting to have tea instead of coffee. Tea culture is small, practically nonexistent, in America, and tea drinkers just have to learn how to live in a world of coffee.

One day I hope coffee and tea will reach a balance, and that you will be able to order your Venti Americano and I, my Lapsang Oolong, and we will share lattes with love in our hearts.

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Photo by protographer23 / CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Until then, consider yourself lucky, and make sure you hug the next barista you see.

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Find Your Tea Happy Place

Chai Tea Chick; Cozy Tea
Cozy Tea shoppe in Jacksonville, Fla.

I love drinking tea (I know, not breaking news). But if there’s one thing better than drinking tea, it’s sharing the experience with  family, friends, and fellow tea lovers.

One thing I always urge new tea drinkers to do is find a tea “happy place.” By that, I mean a community where you can enjoy tea with other people. That happy place can be almost anything—a tea shop, tea room, restaurant, online chatroom, or a group of friends. What matters is that you’re enjoying and exploring tea with others.

For me, my tea happy place is a tea room and shoppe in Jacksonville called Cozy Tea. I went there last weekend with my parents and, like always, it was a great experience.

Chai Tea Chick; Cozy Tea

One reason the Cozy Tea is my happy place is because the tea is so good. The shoppe, which is family-owned, has a wide variety of loose-leaf and serves the tea in individual teapots. It also has a great lunch menu and the best scones this side of England.

The other reason is that I associate Cozy Tea with my grandma, who first took me to the shoppe. When we went together that first time, I ordered a cranberry-orange scone. My grandma saw the warm scone, with jam and fresh cream on the side, and immediately had to get one herself. After that, we went to the Cozy Tea almost every time I visited.

My grandma passed away last year, but my family and I still go to Cozy Tea. And I always think of her when I visit. At the time I hadn’t realized it, but our ritual of drinking tea together was our way of bonding.

I talked two weeks ago about how tea, along with being a beverage, is a lifestyle, and my point is similar here. One of the great things about tea is that it is a communal drink. Throughout history, tea has been a source of connection for people. For example, China continues to have a very strong tea culture, where drinking tea with others is a fundamental and respected aspect of society.

You can find that same community in America; you just have to dig a little deeper. And, don’t worry, we’ll keep the kettle on the stove until you find us.

Quiz: What Type of Tea Should You Drink?

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Deciding what tea you should drink can be difficult, but like everything else now, there’s a Buzzfeed quiz to help you make that  choice.

The quiz, called What Kind of Tea is Perfect for You?, selects the type of tea you should drink based on your personality and lifestyle choices.

I know, I know, posting about a quiz makes me look like that distant second cousin of yours on Facebook. You know, the one who’s always posting her results from inane quizzes, like What Kind of Cookie Are You and What Disney Ride Are You (I’m Space Mountain).

But I think this quiz is actually pretty good because the result I got is one of my favorite teas: Earl Grey.

After you finish the quiz, it gives you some information on your perfect tea and a funny blurb on your personality. As an Earl Grey drinker, apparently I am “beautiful, well-dressed, and confident” and have an inherent sense of style. Not too shabby.

My one caveat to the quiz, though, is that you can’t base what tea you drink on personality alone. You may get a result of green tea and hate it. Taste will always be the most important factor.

Now, take the quiz, tell me what results you get, and then go buy that tea (or else).

Gift Idea: Make Your Own Tea Bags

A few weeks ago, I wrote in length about the “tea-bate” between tea bags and loose-leaf tea. I ultimately decided loose-leaf is better because of the taste, but you can’t beat the convenience of tea bags.

Weirdly enough, I had never considered a third option until last week when I was doing my usual traveling around the Internet:  make your own tea bags using loose-leaf tea.

DIY tea bags…of course.

It seemed so obvious after I realized it, but I had never really thought of it before.

For tea drinkers like me, who love loose-leaf but are incredibly lazy, this could be a game changer. I have all the tools contraptions to brew loose-leaf tea, which I’ve discussed in a previous post, but I often drink so much tea that I run out of them in a matter of days.

Homemade tea bags could also serve as a great gift idea. If you’re giving your tea-drinking friend loose-leaf this season, create a more personal touch with them.

I got the idea from Nellie Bellie, a blog that has a tutorial for coffee-filter tea bags. Directions and an instructional video are located here. Basically, all you have to do is cut a coffee filter into a square, put tea in, fold it, and staple a string to it. Voila! You have your very own tea bag.

Here are the results of my crafting experiments:

Chai Tea Chick; DIY tea bags

I used an undyed coffee filter from Publix (which is better for the environment than regular tea bags) and filled it with my delicious new Cochin Masala Chai. I also added a paper label at the end of the string, which is a great way to give the tea bag extra flair.

Making the tea bags is very easy, but the real question is whether it actually works.

The verdict?

Chai Tea Chick; DIY tea bags

Yes, the DIY tea bag makes a perfectly delightful cup of tea. This may finally solve the great tea-bate, which has torn many a family and nation apart, and bring peace to the realm.

 

Start Living the Tea Lifestyle this Holiday Season

Chai Tea Chick; tea lifestyle
Photo by Peter Hilton / CC-BY-NC-SA 2.0

Frantic sales shopping, elaborate turkey dinners, eggnog-fueled family drama—yes, it’s the most wonderful time of the year. And the most stressful.

Stress is a part of all our lives, and it’s even worse during the holidays. We stretch our budgets, searching for the perfect gifts or trying to bake Martha Stewart’s hand-stenciled gingerbread cookies. For students like me, this time of year also brings the extra stress of finals.

So, there’s no better time to reduce your worry by starting to live the tea lifestyle.

Chai Tea Chick; tea lifestyle
Photo by Martin Phox / CC-BY-NC 2.0

“And what exactly is the tea lifestyle, Chai Tea Chick?” you ask skeptically, your eyebrow raised.

To answer that, I’m going to have to go a little philosophical. I’ve spent most of this blog explaining and examining tea as a drink. Tea, of course, is delicious (and I wouldn’t be able to function most mornings without it). But it is more than that. Tea can be a way of life.

The tea lifestyle is one that embraces simplicity, peace, and balance. By making, drinking, and enjoying tea, you slow down the  pace of your life, so that you can appreciate the smaller pleasures and beauty in the world. It’s about finding harmony with others and yourself. Drinking tea is meant to be a time for self-reflection—in a way, it’s like a form of meditation, but with a delicious drink rather than with “ohms.”

To the stressed-out mother shopping for three, or the worried college student cramming for a test at three, I say, “Doesn’t that sound nice?”

The idea of tea as a lifestyle isn’t new. In Japan, it even has a name: Teaism. This lifestyle is best explained by Okakura Kazuko in his 1906 essay, “The Book of Tea,” which is available at Project Gunteberg. Kazuko, a Japanese scholar, explains that Teaism is a type of aestheticism that adores “the beautiful among the sordid facts of everyday existence.” Kazuko closely links Teaism with Zen because they both advocate simplicity over complexity.

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To get started on the tea lifestyle, do something simple. Take 15 minutes out of your day to make and drink tea. Don’t spend that time playing Candy Crush or watching Dr. Oz on TV. Just drink tea.

At first, you should actually time those 15 minutes. Most of us are on such a hectic schedule, especially during the holiday season, that it’s easy to chip away at this “free time.” But, remember, this isn’t free time. It’s mental-health, reduce-stress time. Let yourself self-reflect. Even better, just try not to think about anything at all.

Really, wouldn’t the world be a better place if we put aside the complications and stresses and just drank tea? It might seem silly, but tea really can bring people together. As Kazuko said, “Strangely enough humanity has so far met in the tea-cup.”

Happy holidays, and hold on to your teacups!

What Not to Do at a Tea Party

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a woman, at some point in her life, will be invited to a tea party.

It could be for a little girl’s birthday, a bridesmaids’ luncheon, or tea time with the Red Hat Society, but undoubtedly it will happen. (For men, I can’t say tea parties are quite as inevitable.)

And tea parties can be stressful. There are dozens of rules, spoken and unspoken, that you are supposed to follow. All of a sudden you’re faced with an alien dining situation that can make you feel less like a lady and more like an exasperated Alice in Wonderland.

Chai Tea Chick; tea party etiquette rules
Illustration by John Tenniel

All these rules were a mystery to me until I was a senior in high school and took several etiquette lessons for a club I was in, including one by etiquette expert Jacqueline Whitmore.

Tea etiquette may seem silly, but one day that tea party invitation will come, and you’ll probably want to know at least the basics. Don’t do the following things, and you’ll look like a tea-etiquette pro.

Don’t eat dessert first.

Chai Tea Chick; tea party etiquette rules
Photo by Adam Wilson / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Your mom was right all along. You shouldn’t be eating your Little Debbies before dinner. When she slapped your hand as you reached for a Swiss Roll, she was just teaching you proper etiquette.

As tempting as the marble macarons, chocolate cream puffs, and strawberry scones may be, you’re supposed to start your tea party with the savory and sour. That means salads, sandwiches, quiches, and soups.

Just think of it like this: you’re saving the best part of the meal for last.

Don’t raise your pinky finger.

This is the greatest misconception about tea etiquette. Someone who gently raises her pinky as she sips from a teacup may think she is being proper; in reality, it’s the number one way to show you don’t know what to do at a tea party.

The “pinkies up” school of thinking actually started in ancient Rome, where the elite ate with three fingers and the commoners with five. In the 11th century, this etiquette was misinterpreted and eventually led to a mistaken belief that you should stick your pinky out. Ever since, etiquette experts have been desperately fighting (and failing) to rid the world of this misconception.

The best way to handle a tea cup is what you would do naturally. You don’t need to loop your finger through the hole. Just hold it on the side. And make sure your pinky doesn’t get a mind of its own and stick itself out.

Don’t clink your spoon.

Chai Tea Chick; tea party etiquette rules
Photo by scoutjacobus / CC BY-NC 2.0

Everything is going well at the tea party. You’ve primly poured your tea, avoided the desserts, and your pinky is staying down with the rest of your fingers. Then, in a quiet moment, you add sugar to your cup and stir it in, and the loud clink, clink, clink of your spoon grazing your cup fills the dead air.

Although I don’t think it’s a huge deal, etiquette experts stress that you shouldn’t hit your spoon against your cup because it can be disruptive and, worst of all, unladylike (gasp). When you stir tea, do it slowly in little circles and pay attention so you don’t make too much noise.

Don’t lift the saucer (unless you’re standing).

Saucers make me nervous. A whole plate whose sole purpose is to hold a cup? Seems fishy.

When I started going to tea shops, my instinct was to pick up the saucer each time I took a sip, probably because I’d seen it done in movies before. Don’t go through the extra hassle, though. The saucer can stay on the table. The only time you need to lift it is when you’re standing up.

Now, I’ve said a lot of DON’TS here, so I want to end with a DO—and the best one at that.

Do eat with your fingers.

Sometimes we feel we should use utensils because it’s “proper” and “classy,” but they’re called finger foods for a reason. The actual proper way to eat a scone, for example, is to break it into small pieces with your fingers. A sandwich can be eaten with utensils or your hands.

scone;Chai Tea Chick; tea party etiquette rules
Photo by Stacy Spensley / CC BY-NC 2.0

Really all these tips show that you shouldn’t overcomplicate your conduct at a tea party. They may seem intimidating, but most tea parties aren’t “mad” like Alice’s was in Wonderland. Yes, there are certain rules, but if you act intuitively and don’t worry too much, you’ll have a great time.

Why I Don’t Shop at Teavana

Chai Tea Chick; Teavana; Teavana criticism
Photo by Mike Mozart / CC BY 2.0

Teavana is quickly becoming the face of tea in America. The chain has more than 300 stores in 46 states, and it was acquired by Starbucks last year, which plans to use the chain to create “tea bars” across America.

While that’s a lovely idea, I think Teavana needs to re-think its marketing and sales strategy if it wants to ultimately be successful in the tea industry. Why? I’m a huge tea lover, I live right by a Teavana store, and I never shop there.

It’s not that I don’t want to shop at Teavana. The store has some interesting tea blends and good quality tools, like the tea maker I mentioned in a previous post. Teavana should be a must in my life.

But I don’t go there for two reasons: uncomfortable upselling tactics and pricing.

Chai Tea Chick; Teavana; Teavana criticism
Photo by Pavel Trebukov / CC-BY-NC-SA 2.0

Teavana is constantly engaging in upselling strategies designed to get more money out of customers. The most commons tactics involve trying to sell you more expensive products and add-ons.

If you want to buy a tea infuser for $15, they’ll try to sell you a steamer for $30. If you want to get the chai tea that is $7 per ounce, they’ll try to make you blend it with another $10 chai. If you want 2 ounces of tea, they’ll put 2.5 ounces in the bag and ask if it’s OK that they went a little over.

Going into Teavana can make you feel like a bug that has unknowingly flown into a spider’s web. The first time I went to one I was so excited. A tea store that only sells loose-leaf and a bunch of cool tea products? Sounds awesome. When I left the store, though, I wasn’t sure I ever wanted to go back.

I started my Teavana experience by trying the tea samples at the store front. Quickly I was approached by an employee with an overeager smile, who steered me toward Teavana’s many expensive appliances, even though I told him I was only interested in a certain chai tea.

After I turned down all those products, he moved me over to the Wall of Tea, where he spent 10 minutes waving aromas of the most expensive teas in my face. I only wanted a cheaper tea, but he made me feel so guilty that I ended up spending $30 on four ounces of tea.

Speaking of price, which is my second main reason for not shopping at Teavana, I was shocked by how expensive the tea was. In my experience, loose-leaf is generally not that pricey. Teavana’s loose-leaf costs about $7 to $9 per ounce, while the tea I buy from a local tea shop costs $7.50 for six ounces. 

As I was writing this post, I went online to see if anyone shared this same experience, and I am not alone. Reddit’s tea community dislikes the store for its pushy sales tactics and overpriced items. I also read this eye-opening post from an ex-employee of Teavana that showed the store is focused on high-pressure sales and trains employees to essentially trick customers into buying more.

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Photo by Inhabitat Blog / CC-BY-NC-ND 2.0

I think Teavana can do better, and I hope Starbucks changes how this chain is run. As a public relations student, I think the store is poorly managing both its customer and employee relations. Not only do customers often feel uncomfortable there, but I’m sure employees dislike the constant push from management to upsell. This is what I think Teavana should do instead:

Drop the high-pressure sales. Focus on what each individual customer wants. Be our friends. Give us advice. Show us your fancy gadgets, but don’t push them on us. If you build up trust with tea drinkers, we will be your loyal customers and engage with your employees willingly. The bottom line: when it comes to tea, it’s all about community.

This strategy may not lead to the immediate sales created by a pressured environment, but it will foster relationships that will generate more revenue and goodwill over time. And if Teavana becomes a more tea-friendly store, you might just see the Chai Tea Chick perusing its shelves once again.

What have your experiences been like with Teavana? I’m curious. Let me know in the comments.

An online tearoom for tea drinkers and beginners