Recently Hillary and I spent a couple weeks in Florida visiting family and having our son spend some time with his grandparents. As usual we brought our own tea. During a break we visited a well-known tea house which featured a wide selection of over sixty teas as well as serving salads and sandwiches. Hillary selected an Earl Grey and Jasmine blend while I selected an oolong described, in part, as rare. The tea itself tasted great but I felt the tea house left us short. Specifically, the tea infuser was removed from the pot before it was brought to the table. We had no option to examine the tea leaves nor have a second steeping. So is it that odd to expect an institution serving premium tea to provide access to the infused leaves? And this begs a larger question. How does one define “American Tea Culture”?
Culture can be defined as “the sum of attitudes, customs, and beliefs that distinguishes one group of people from another.” (Dictionary.Com, 2014) We are dominated by a coffee culture in this country now, but that hasn’t always been the case. Early in our history we were primarily tea drinkers, dating back to the early days of the nation and beginning the transition to coffee with the Boston Tea Party at which point it became unpopular to drink tea, lest you be seen as supporting the British. Over time came wars involving Asia, further eroding the tea as a part of the American way of life.However, tea didn’t fully fade away, and throughout our history we have opened our doors to large numbers of immigrants, a number of which were displaced from their homelands during political upheaval. For example we helped relocated nearly a million people from Vietnam in the 1970’s after the fall of Saigon and the end of the Vietnam War. Immigrants from Vietnam moved primarily to Southern California but also Houston, TX, the Washington DC suburbs and a variety of other cities. The Vietnamese brought with them their language, beliefs, and consumption of hot and iced tea. (Peter Cody Hunt, 2002)
Today the American Tea Culture is hard to pin down, involving a variety of different things. On the one hand we have tea in a restaurant atmosphere. We have a growing number of tea houses with fancy tea pots and cups as well as light fare or coffee & tea establishments offering a trendy atmosphere where you can get coffee, tea, bagels, and other food from a counter to sit in or take out.
There is sweet tea, iced tea, and sun tea. As far as tea in the United States goes it is overwhelmingly iced. Iced tea is featured nearly everywhere in the south and served up for breakfast, lunch and dinner. In some parts it is sweet tea with a good helping of sugar or sweetener added, while in other areas its straight black. For Hillary, growing up in Arizona only a few miles from Mexico, her favorite was sun tea made simply by adding a few teabags to a jar of cold water and setting outside in the Arizona sun. A few hours later simply pour over ice and enjoy!
An alternative for many in this country is tea as occasional “get well” drink, often from grocery store teabags, including tea, lemon, and honey to relieve a sore throat, or herbal remedies purported to help overcome sickness. In fact America, being the melting pot that it is, sees different uses based on different cultural backgrounds. For many Hispanics “traditional practices include using home remedies (e.g., drinking herbal or spiced teas) and seeking care from relatives, neighbors, community members, or traditional health care providers.” (US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2012) Haitians “drink lots of water and homemade fruit juices, coffee in the morning, and tea only when sick.” (Jessie M. Colin) And there is a significant Asian population in Southern California with shopping catering to the population and bubble tea shops for younger generations. (Medina, 2013)
We have portions of the population who seek benefits from green tea in the form of food ingredients, dietary supplements, facial masks, and a whole host of other uses.
Lastly, there are those of us who enjoy loose leaf tea, the myriad varieties, the historical significance, different brewing methods, blends, scenting, baking, and more. We can get our fix from specialty tea shops sprinkled throughout the country, online, and regional festivals ranging from the Pacific Northwest and Los Angeles International Tea Festivals to the NYC and Philly Coffee and Tea Festivals.
In the end I’m not sure one can really pin down “American Tea Culture”. Like America there are options for everyone and plenty of room to explore, no matter what your preference. Is one aspect wrong and another right? Is one a more worthwhile aspect of tea on which to focus? What is your preference? Did we leave out your favorite aspect of American Tea Culture?
Tell us what you think and share this blog with another tea lover…
Dictionary.Com. (2014, 01 22). Culture | What is the dfinition? Retrieved from Dictionary.com: http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/culture?s=t
Jessie M. Colin, P. R. (n.d.). Cultural and Clinical Care for Haitians. Betty Hastings, LCDR US Public Health Service, Indian Health Services.
Medina, J. (2013, April 28). The New York Times. Retrieved from New Suburban Dream Born of Asia and Southern California: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/04/29/us/asians-now-largest-immigrant-group-in-southern-california.html?_r=0
Peter Cody Hunt, M. (2002). An Introduction to Vietnamese Culture For Rehabilitation Service Providers in the U.S.
US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2012). Building Our Understanding: Cultural Insights – Communicating with Hispanic/Latinos.