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Caffeine Scene

Tea and Coffee Cultures Around the World

The world consumes 2.25 billion cups of coffee and 8,000 tons of tea every day—and each cup is a cultural journey unto itself.

Roam a downtown street in almost any major city and you won’t get far before coming across a place to stop for a coffee or a tea—or a Frappuccino, flat white, bubble tea, or any number of other concoctions spawned from the world’s two most popular drinks. Coffee and tea have been a part of the world’s daily routine for centuries—and our love for them continues to grow.

Serious coffee and tea lovers don’t just sip, they pay tribute: Great Wall Tea Co. in New Westminster, BC, is known for its must-see mosaic wall of tea tins; comedian Jerry Seinfeld’s Netflix show Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee just dropped its tenth season; Shanghai artist Hong Yi creates artworks from the ring-shaped stains left by the bottom of coffee mugs; newsstands stock both Roast and Caffeine magazines; and designer and illustrator Chris Santone created an entire book—Matcha: A Lifestyle Guide—as an homage to the finely ground green tea leaf powder that had every trendy coffee shop buying a bamboo whisk.


Caffeine magazine; Matcha: A Lifestyle Guide

Ray Oldenburg, an American urban sociologist, calls coffee shops a “third place”—not home, not work, but a public social space where regulars can relax, interact with one another, discuss politics and hear the latest news. That’s been the case since the first coffeehouses appeared in the Middle East and Europe 500 years ago, although today news and discussions are more apt to be spread over a Wi-Fi connection. For some, cafés teeter dangerously close to becoming a first or second place. Laptop-tapping freelancers who spend the better part of the day using their table as an office, all for the price of a single cup, are so widespread that, in 2016, the Glass Hour in Brooklyn started giving its coffee away for free and charging for seating by the hour.


Café Tomaselli in Salzburg, Austria, was frequented by Mozart

Coffee’s first wave in North America started in the late 1800s, almost 250 years after coffeehouses began springing up in French and Italian cities where the invention of café society was already in full swing. European cafés have always been places of cultural exchange, from the historic Café de Flore in Paris to Café Tomaselli in Salzburg, Austria, where Mozart was a regular. Originally, though, java was a drink consumed by cosmopolitans and intellectuals, but during the American temperance movement of the early 20th century, a sober nation turned to caffeine as its stand-in for alcohol.

For decades, North American coffee drinkers weren’t particular about where their coffee came from or how it tasted. In the 1970s, a movement to regain the specialness of coffee began, known as coffee’s second wave. “People started to drink a better quality of coffee, and they started to patronize quality coffee establishments,” says Peter Giuliano, chief research officer of the Specialty Coffee Association, an international trade organization.” One city that embodied this second wave in the US was Seattle, and one of those shops was Starbucks, which opened its first location in 1971. Today, it has more than 27,000 worldwide.

But where would the coffee bean be without its life partner, the tea leaf? While teatime is generally neck and neck with the coffee break, its origin couldn’t be more different. According to legend, tea was invented in China in 2737 BC, after a light breeze blew a tea leaf into the emperor’s cup of hot water. And ever since, teahouses have been frequented to socialize and share news.


Artist-architect Red Hong Yi created this portrait of a tea vendor using 20,000 stained tea bags; Hong Yi’s coffee portrait of singer Jay Chou

Drinking tea is still a big part of Chinese culture, even among the younger generations. Heming Teahouse in People’s Park, Chengdu, is one of the country’s most popular spots, and a great place to see the fascinating long-spout tea ceremony.


Pastel shades abound at Dubai café Boston Lane; Heming Teahouse in People’s Park, Chengdu

After China and Japan, there’s probably no country whose national identity is as tied to tea as England. Tea arrived in Great Britain in the 1600s, originally as a medicinal drink. By the 1800s, the British government was growing and importing its own tea from India, and the drink eventually became a common touchstone among all social classes.

A British duchess started the tradition of the light meal known as afternoon tea, a tradition the working class also embraced. This civilized custom has now come to include delicate finger sandwiches, pastries and sweet treats. The tradition has also become a noted lure for tourists.

Fairmont hotels have totally tapped into the tea-sipping scene. In London at The Savoy, A Fairmont Managed Hotel, afternoon tea is served in the Thames Foyer beneath an art deco glass dome, complete with a live piano performance. Visitors can also head into the hotel’s American Bar for a tea- or coffee-infused cocktail or two. British Columbia’s Fairmont Empress has been in the high tea business since 1908, offering 21 varieties, featuring its original blend and the rare Tong Mu Phoenix Lapsang Souchong. The Empress’s tea tradition continues to be a hit with both locals and tourists alike.


The Savoy, A Fairmont Managed Hotel, offers one of the finest afternoon teas in London. In the Thames Foyer, guests tuck into a variety of goodies, including finger sandwiches, seasonal cakes and pastries.

The tea programs at Fairmont’s North American properties were recently upgraded with Lot 35, a collection of 26 loose-leaf teas (and six iced teas) sourced by the Metropolitan Tea Company, Fairmont’s longtime partner. “Our teas come from all over the world: Sri Lanka, India, Africa,” says Máiréad Murray, Director of Food & Beverage for Fairmont for North and Central America. “In designing the program, we went to visit some of the tea estates to really understand what goes into quality tea.” Facilitators were careful to make the selection of teas correspond to the tastes of the communities from which they came, mirroring the destinations themselves.


Many tea leaves harvested for the Fairmont Lot 35 tea collection come from Sri Lanka

The tea programs at Fairmont’s North American properties were recently upgraded with Lot 35, a collection of 26 loose-leaf teas (and six iced teas) sourced by the Metropolitan Tea Company, Fairmont’s longtime partner. “Our teas come from all over the world: Sri Lanka, India, Africa,” says Máiréad Murray, Director of Food & Beverage for Fairmont for North and Central America. “In designing the program, we went to visit some of the tea estates to really understand what goes into quality tea.” Facilitators were careful to make the selection of teas correspond to the tastes of the communities from which they came, mirroring the destinations themselves.


A traditional Japanese tea service is the epitome of elegance; Demlique at Fairmont Quasar Istanbul

Tea or coffee—there’s no need to choose. These global traditions continue to step into the future just as much as they draw on the customs of the past. Globalization might be letting coffee drinkers cut in on some of tea drinkers’ territory but, happily, there is enough caffeine in the world for everyone to enjoy. 

 

By Conan Tobias

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