Hometown Tea Culture

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We are located in Southern California area as well. There are many bubble tea (boba) stores. Just to give you a visual picture, you can expect at least 2-4 boba stores from where I am currently living within a one-mile radius, which is pretty awesome. However, there is not that much tea retail stores around.

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New York City is coffee territory. Cawfee, or “regulah” (coffee with a hefty dose of milk and two sugars) is the standard breakfast drink. But right now, tea is enjoying a smidge of limelight, as an extension of the city’s flourishing and fickle foodie juggernaut. We’ve had obsessions with molecular gastronomy, barbecue, pickles, and even –- very briefly — poutine! I think one of 2013’s food trends, the “mashup” (see: cronut), indicated a fatigue from having to try the flavor of the moment…why not hitch up two or three together and multitask your gastronomy? Tea, on the other hand, is a refreshing return to something so ancient and simple that it trumps all food-as-fashion superficiality. People know that tea has been around so long that not one but many cultures have learned over centuries the best ways to cultivate and serve all kinds of teas. From my obstructed-view seat in the world of journalism I’d say that these days, a new, high-quality tea shop/cafe would catch a New York City food writer’s eye more quickly than a new gourmet coffee place.

You can count on one of the big, plush hotels to serve afternoon tea. Thing is, the preparation and quality of the tea itself in such places is unreliable; the management seems more concerned about the little sandwiches and scones, and since a High Tea in these hotels costs upwards of $40, it never seems worth it unless I have a very good old friend coming into town and we need time to catch up. In those cases I know I’ll enjoy the grub, and have a shot at getting a nice cup of tea too.

Back in 1993, Tea & Sympathy opened in the West Village (downtown Manhattan), and I think that opened the door to tea being taken seriously by New Yorkers as something to look forward to, to linger over and enjoy, rather than a paper cup of Lipton hastily gulped for a short dose of caffeine because the office coffeepot is empty. There are several English-style tea places in the city now, if you want “a proper cuppa.” Most of them serve an extensive food menu along with the tea, and the best of them offer house blends of straight black tea (as opposed to flavored black tea, which to my mind is a real crap shoot – very few places provide flavored teas whose base black tea is any good).

Over the last decade or so, serious Eastern-culture tea shops and tea rooms started opening around Manhattan, mostly downtown. These are the kinds of tea establishments that do not provide flavored tea; they focus on the flavor of fresh tea itself. Going to one of these places always feels a bit like you’ve done a meditation moment or visited a Zen temple in addition to drinking some tea. Really getting into tea like this is a spiritual delight and a learning experience.

I hope tea continues to enjoy some fanfare in NYC!

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gmathis said

Almost nonexistent in our little corner of Southwest Missouri, though the non is beginning to fade and it’s almost faintly existent: no place to sit down for a proper cuppa, but the selection is expanding in both mainline and indie retail stores. Coworkers sheepishly approaching my desk to bum a tea bag are becoming more frequent, especially after years of being teased about my beverage preferences.

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Amaryllis said

Does sweet tea count?! We don’t have much of ‘tea culture’ where I currently live. We have exactly one sushi shop in our area that sells bobba tea and not a lot of people around here tend to frequent it. We have one teavana that always seemed to be packed, and a Starbucks. Not very big on tea here.

But the second it hits 70 degrees…..boom! Pitchers of sweet tea as far the eye can see. And always the same type: Classic Lipton black tea brewed for way too long with too many bags at time (often boiled for ages bags and all INSIDE the pot for HOURS), too much sugar- if your making it right- a twist of lemon if your fancy, and left too cool over night before being stored in a pitcher with ice. This was what I, and every child in my neighborhood drank all summer every summer. And if you want variation just pour some gin or Jack in your sweet tea, add some fruit, mix in some lemonade and there you have it.

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There are I think two tea houses in my county. Then another, and some shops about an hour away. Lots more coffee shops here.

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Excelsior said

I lived in Tokyo for 12 years and am always impressed by the tea culture there. There numerous high class tea salons, Mariage Freres, Brooke Bond, Fortnum and Mason, Fauchon, etc., lots of tea specialty stores, Mariage Freres, TWG, Harrods, Lupicia, Twinings etc. If you are into Japanese teas, they are available in almost every Depachika (lowest floor of a department store) and there are a plethora of specialty stores. I met my wife in Tokyo and later found out she is certified in Tea Ceremony. In comparison, Southern California, specifically Irvine, where I live now, has a very limited tea culture. Thanks to the internet though, teas can be ordered from all types of teas from anywhere, well almost anyplace, in the world.

I miss the culture and for that, I go back twice every year.

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