<%-- Page Title--%> Straight Talk <%-- End Page Title--%>

<%-- Volume Number --%> Vol 1 Num 141 <%-- End Volume Number --%>

February 13, 2004

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Tea Drinkers Unite

Nadia Kabir Barb

"Why is it that we never go out to a nice café for coffee?" I quizzed my husband the other day. "Well, it might have something to do with the fact that YOU HATE COFFEE," was the amused reply. I guess you could call that a slight (if not major) deterrent to the whole coffee drinking experience. Come to think of it, I have never really been a coffee person. Without wishing to offend the entire coffee-drinking population, I have to admit that though I always find the aroma of coffee an absolute treat for my olfactory senses, I cannot say the same about my taste buds. The actual taste of coffee for me is always rather disappointing. There really do seem to exist two very distinct camps in this world. On the one hand you have the coffee drinkers and on the other, the tea drinkers. Most people are firmly entrenched in one camp or the other. As always, there are some exceptions, a tiny population with a foot on both sides. Not that I am one of them, as I have both my feet firmly planted in the tea drinking camp.

To give you an example of these two opposing camps, it seems that despite the recent upsurge of coffee shops and coffee drinkers, according to the National Drinks Survey, April 2001, on average, British people drink approximately 3 cups of tea a day with about 70 percent of the UK population drinking tea on a regular basis. The same applies to Bangladesh, being a tea producing country; the vast majority of the population are tea drinkers. On the other end of the spectrum coffee consumption in the US seems to be at an all time high. According to some sources, more than 77 percent of all adults over 18 drink coffee on a daily or occasional basis. It really struck me that there should be such a gulf between the drinking habits of the two nations so I decided to investigate.

Once again returning to my old friend the Internet, I found that the popular consensus seems to be that coffee or "qahwah" was discovered in Ethiopia and Yemen approximately 1,000 years ago. During the fifteenth century, coffee was being cultivated in the Middle East, although its production was a closely-guarded secret. The export of raw berries or growing plants was strictly prohibited by the rulers of the time; only roasted beans were allowed to be taken out of the country to prevent germination. However, despite the embargo coffee seeds were smuggled out of the country and introduced to other regions of the world. Coffee soon became very popular in England, and in 1650 the first coffee house was opened here, surprisingly enough, long before tea established its hold on the British market. In the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries, coffee was introduced to the Americas, which today boast the two largest exporters of raw coffee -- Brazil and Colombia.

Tea is nearly 5,000 years old. As legend has it, a Chinese Emperor named Chen Nung discovered tea in 2737 BC, albeit accidentally. It was, however, not until 3000 years later that tea cultivation and processing began and that consumption spread throughout the Chinese culture, making tea a daily drink. Around 800AD, the first tea seeds were brought to Japan by Buddhist priests and the Japanese developed their own particular tea drinking culture. The first consignment of tea was procured by the Dutch and actually reached Europe around 1610. Soon the Dutch East India Company set up a regular shipment of tea to ports in France, Holland and the Baltic coast. Great Britain was the last of the three great sea faring nations to break into the Chinese and East Indian trade routes, first samples of tea not reaching England until 1652. Once introduced, tea quickly became Britain's most popular drink, largely replacing ale and becoming the source of many new tea customs, still in place today. (UK Vending Ltd) In 1765 Britain began to tax its American colony without its approval and the colonists were incensed. When the first three tea ships arrived at Boston a group of men dressed as Indians boarded the ships during the night of December 16, 1773 and they threw 342 chests of tea into the sea. This was the famous "Boston tea party". The American War of Independence was one outcome but the other was that tea never became as popular a beverage as coffee in the US.

Although I am personally unlikely to convert from being a staunch tea drinker to a coffee drinker, I have noticed with increasing alarm that in the last decade coffee shops have sprung up everywhere. Wherever I look there seems to be a Starbucks, Coffee Republic or some kind of shop of a similar nature. If I were a paranoid person I would think that Starbucks was trying to take over the world. It will not be long before they set their sights on Bangladesh! Now how many tea shops do you see? Not very many. If you say "tea shop" to the average person on the streets of London, their first thought will be of a quaint little shop in the countryside where you can get tea with scones and jam. It does not immediately conjure up visions of hip and trendy people sitting around savouring their lattes or young professionals rushing in for their daily "pick me up" beverage. Despite the fact that these days there are different types of tea i.e. Black, Green, Oolong there are also numerous flavours of teas, such as peppermint, camomile, lemon and ginger etc. But it just has not caught on in the same way. If you walk into any of these café/coffee shops, the vast array of choices is staggering. You can get everything starting from your usual cup of coffee to cappuccinos, lattes, frapuchinos etc. Not only that but you can add a shot of vanilla, almond, chocolate flavour to your preferred cup of coffee. Actually the whole tea shop concept is not yet perceived to be as fashionable as its counterpart. It does not really sit well with people's "street cred" to be seen saying "I could really do with a camomile tea" as opposed to "Let's grab a double espresso on the way to work"!

In spite of not being the "in" drink, tea has stood the test of time and is still a favourite with a huge following and I am of the opinion that soon more people will come around to my way of thinking and realise that tea is definitely the superior of the two drinks!



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