Tuesday, 31 August 2010

be careful typing 'tea' into a web search

That the American Revolution began with the symbolic rejection of tea in Boston Harbor, in other words, makes perfect sense. Real revolutionaries would naturally prefer coffee. By contrast, the freedom fighters of Canada, a hundred years later, were most definitely tea drinkers. And where was Canada's autonomy won? Not on the blood-soaked fields of Lexington and Concord but in the genteel drawing rooms of Westminster, over a nice cup of Darjeeling and small, triangular cucumber sandwiches.

from Java Man by Malcolm Gladwell

There's much more in this essay that I want to talk about, but this seemed like the easiest place to start. In addition to writing of different teas I like and their origins, I've talked about religion and sex in relation to tea. I did this partly because I knew it'd attract readers, but also because the topics really interested me.

Something I've purposely avoided thus far, though, is politics. Not that I don't have opinions regarding politics, but I just thought it had no place here. It is a bit frustrating that most searches with even the mention of tea will send you to tea parties and all the politics that I'm veering away from talking about.

I'm sure I'll mine this Gladwell essay for much more material. It's a treasure trove of ideas not just about caffeine but about the difference between tea and coffee. So many people writing about tea want to fight this image of it being a drink for emasculated intellectuals. I've written about the stereotypes of tea drinkers, and been surprised that not many people came to our defense.

So I'm opening it up to debate here again. Would coffee really attract true revolutionaries? Is tea truly better paired with quiet drawing rooms and hushed conversation?


  1. Not really. It is a cultural issue.
    In China, tea houses are the equivalent of our coffee houses, those where people would gather, read newspapers and talk about politics and such.
    The coffee houses were there first and this means they enjoyed more success but bring tea some 50 years earlier and tea houses would have the reputation of the coffee houses of old.

  2. Without going into too much depth - the image of coffee to me goes with quick jerk ractionary 'revolutionaries' whose adrenalin only sees them through for a day. Tea on the other hand, according to me, symbolises systematic revolution that brings about long term change.

    Glad to know Darjeeling Tea played a role in Canada's freedom :)

  3. Is this the Malcolm Gladwell of The Tipping Point?

  4. I have been suffering some angst over High Tea. Over the last few months, every High Tea advertised in my home town, particularly one-offs and charity events, are being sold as a "girl's Day Out".
    It suggests a gender divide that really isn't there.

  5. Ice, I've thought the same thing, but still I like to ponder the differences between coffee and tea drinkers. Possibly very contrived.

    Thought that you Darjeeling fans would like that tidbit DTExpress.

    Same Malcolm Gladwell Alex.

    My point exactly Robert. Or at least that was my next point. Like I said, there's quite a lot in the essay to keep talking about.

  6. I'm not sure there's a character difference between coffee and tea drinkers because many people like both.

    However, someone like me who doesn't drink coffee at all, am I different from the bean-boys and girls? I don't know. Indeed, I wouldn't throw tea in the waters, unless the water's going to be boiled.

    Either way, I (think) I understand that tea was the drink of the time during the revolution, and so maybe too much tea got them riled up. Je ne sais pas.

    I'm going to have another cup and ponder. Perhaps that clearly identifies me as a tea drinker. ;)

  7. Of course, historians are always quick to point out that the intellectual renaissance which occurred in Europe only happened after the discovery of the Americas and the subsequent influx of coffee back to the continent.

    Even Neal Steaphenson highlights mentions it in his Baroque Cycle. The caffeinated intellectuals probably caused that thing France where it became popular to cut the heads off of kings...

    Perhaps coffee is the supporter of violent revolutions while tea is best suited for more genteel political overthrows. Gladwell certainly appears to be on to something.

  8. By the way - for those who missed it, here's a link to Gladwell's article: