Who would ever have thought that Seattle, the birthplace of the parasite known as Starbucks, would be establishing itself as a tea town? I have to admit I was happily surprised to read an article that concludes that tea has a future in that land of a “Starbucks on every other corner, and a Starbucks on that other corner, too.” While Starbucks is not to be admired for its predatory expansion practices, it is remarkable how each store manages to be a very comfortable place to enjoy the company of friends or to be content and simply alone (not lonely!). If tea rooms were less about lace and more about big windows and comfy sofas, there would undoubtedly be more people, young and old, enjoying tea as part of a day’s shopping.
Under thoughtful examination, however, it is less surprising. My first coffee experiences were strictly of the diner variety. In the Northwest, that meant Boyd’s coffee, drip grind, served out of a glass carafe. (A coffee snob of the 1960’s drank Yuban.) A cup was usually ten cents, refills a nickel. Like all things, that same cup went up and up in price until it was a dollar the last time I was forced to purchase one. The price changed, but the coffee didn’t. Sometime in the mid 1970’s, whole bean coffee became the rage, giving birth to an ever-expanding market of mechanical and electric grinders; paper and cotton filters; drip pots; percolators; stove-top espresso makers; French-press contraptions; and elaborate forced-steam machines costing more than – and taking up as much space as – a new car. But wait, the coffee itself was mind-boggling in its variety: you could find beans from every time zone on the planet, roasted and blended a hundred different ways. But it didn’t stop there! Coffee houses sprung up like mushrooms, some offering their own brand of roasted coffee and endless ways to enjoy it, from the familiar espresso/cappucino/Americano to Double mocha latte skinny shazam with a shot of vanilla.
In those same 1960’s, the tea drinkers of my childhood drank Red Rose. (A tea snob drank Tetley’s.) The only whole leaf tea drinkers I knew of were Peter Rabbit, who was given a chamomile tisane as punishment for losing all the buttons on his coat while raiding Mr. MacGregor’s garden, and, there were the Bumsteads, of Sunday comics fame, who drank tea and read their tea leaves on a biannual basis.
While tea drinkers enjoy more choice in tea varieties than ever before, making a cup of tea is as simple as it was five thousand years ago: heat water; steep leaves; deeply inhale fragrant steam; drink. With that in mind, when do you suppose teahouses will pop, ubiquitous as cleverly named coffee shops, up in a city near you?