Comments on a cultural reality between past and future.

This blog describes Metatime in the Posthuman experience, drawn from Sir Isaac Newton's secret work on the future end of times, a tract in which he described Histories of Things to Come. His hidden papers on the occult were auctioned to two private buyers in 1936 at Sotheby's, but were not available for public research until the 1990s.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Return to the Tea House

Dolls for the Japanese Hinamatsuri festival at Minamoto Kitchoan in San Francisco, California (2015): The traditional imperial court doll festival and tea ceremony "arose in the Heian era when people used dolls to ward off evil spirits and ensure their daughters' health and happiness." As the Japanese cherry blossom festivals begin in March, tea parties mingle with spring rites on Hinamatsuri, or Girls' Day, celebrated on March 3 with saki and sweets; the day is followed by other celebrations. Image Source: C. Dorosz.

In the 1990s, coffeehouses became the stamping ground of professionals and hipsters. A great American adaptation from Central Europe and the Near East promised to invigorate North America beyond shopping malls and fast food chains. Within a decade, Starbucks became the kind of place where J. K. Rowling could write her first Harry Potter novel when she was broke.

At the global coffeehouse, the emphasis is no longer on cultural growth, despite what some undergraduates think. The coffeehouse sits on points on the grid along which the jolt-o-rama of Millennial life surges. We are always in an airport, always on the clock, always in a rush. You can travel around the world, and wherever you go, the same coffee haze and sticky chairs, misted with hazelnut syrup, will greet you. In the exhausting atmosphere of the coffee-information drip feed, it would be impossible even to digest your Grande, much less write a novel on your laptop while you're doing it. It is this fraught relationship with time, deadlines, with breathless seconds ticking by, which is driving people back to the tea house, where the rule of thumb is slowing down, not speeding up.

Starbucks original outlet, which opened in 1971 in Seattle, with the sign displaying the original logo. Image Source: Ad Week.

The story of Starbucks became one of corporate metastasis. Like Millennial conglomerates Apple and Google, Starbucks has morphed into a gigantic, dark version of itself. The coffee chain once charmed with its mystical occult logo, whose twin-tailed mermaid actually means, according to Cracked, "obsession, addiction, and death." The coffeehouse branding certainly refers to sea-faring symbols and power. The company is named after the first mate in Moby-Dick:
"Originally the company was to be called Pequod, after a whaling ship from Moby-Dick, but this name was rejected by some of the co-founders. The company was instead named after the chief mate on the Pequod, Starbuck
However, Bowker has a different recollection of how the company got its name. He recalls that the co-founders were desperately close to naming the company 'Cargo House' until Heckler mentioned that he thought words that began with "st" were powerful ones. That led Bowker to make a list of 'st' words, and somebody somehow saw the old mining town of Starbo in an old mining map.
Mythical history of the Starbucks logo, on water gods, goddess mythologies, Carl Jung and the spice trade. Video Source: Youtube.

In 2011, Starbucks spun a tale about its siren:
[S]he’s a muse –always there, inspiring us and pushing us ahead.

And she’s a promise too, inviting all of us to find what we’re looking for, even if it’s something we haven’t even imagined yet.

For people all over the globe, she is a signal of the world’s finest coffee – and much more. She stands unbound, sharing our stories, inviting all of us in to explore, to find something new and to connect with each other. And as always, she is urging all of us forward to the next thing. After all, who can resist her?
In 1999, Starbucks brass, aware of tea's great alternative, bought into that industry. But tea constitutes a whole other world, in fact, several other worlds. Coffee culture and tea culture do not merge all that well, because tea is emblematic of a completely different human relationship with time. In 2009, BBC reported that China's classic tea houses were being abandoned for Starbucks as the country was engulfed by modernization and a faster pace of life. But that faster pace has its costs. By 2013, Starbucks became known for coffee that was not as good as McDonald's Premium Roast, according to Consumer Reports, and for dodging corporate taxes. In the same year, the Guardian sniffed at Starbucks' tea ventures: "The company claims to be harnessing a '$90bn global hot and iced tea category by offering a variety of customer touch points with tea.'"

As the global coffee house has departed from its best form, there are caveats around tea too, since tea remains a badge of unreflective luxury in some places, and a reflective luxury in others. The renewed popularity of tea has also led to tourist tea house scams in Asia.

Regardless, business analysts expect tea consumption to climb in coming decades. Some of the videos below show how and why tea culture is making a comeback, through the Japanese tea ceremony's peaceful silences which allow the drinkers to harmonize with nature; the Chinese tea ceremonies which cement society; the Indian chaiwala street vendors, who once counted Prime Minister Narendra Modi among their number; and the weird comfort of English high tea'safternoon tea's, and cream tea's brittle etiquette. From France to Uruguay, from Mexico to Myanmar , from Canada to Cambodia, from Spain to Singapore, tea is becoming more popular than coffee because it is associated with a slower measure of time, which is today's biggest luxury. And luxury is big business.

Kyoto Tea in a Garden, 19 April © Windfall Films. The film examines tea as a unifying commodity with strong comforting traditions in east and west. Video Source: Youtube.

Tea At Koken: A Japanese Tea Ceremony By Joy Mari Sato in the Mountains of Colorado. Video Source: Youtube.

Japanese Tea Ceremony. Video Source: Youtube.

Chinese Tea Ceremony. Video Source: Youtube.

Tea scholar Didi Liu demonstrating Chinese Gong Fu tea ceremony in London (2010). Video Source: Youtube.

A Chinese tea ceremony (Lăorénchá) performed at the Geng Du Yuan Teahouse in Taichung, Taiwan. Video Source: Youtube.

Gongfu tea tutorial, steeping Bei Dou oolong tea. Video Source: Youtube.

This video shows the proper way to prepare the Chinese "Pu Er" tea. Video Source: Youtube.

A Chinese Tea Shop Experience in Beijing. Video Source: Youtube.

Tea culture in India. Video Source: Youtube.

Indian street tea shop. Video Source: Youtube.

Masala Chai in Jamnagar, Gujarat, India. Video Source: Youtube.

Indian Chai Wallahs. Video Source: Youtube.

Indian chai master. Video Source: Youtube.

High Tea at Elma's, Hauz Khas, New Delhi, India. Image Source: Facebook.

How to make Indian Masala tea. Video Source: Youtube.

Fortnum & Mason The Origins of Afternoon Tea. Video Source: Youtube.

Afternoon Tea at the Savoy. Video Source: Youtube.

BBC Hairy Bikers' Best of British: High Tea - with Keith of Afternoon Tea UK. Video Source: Youtube.

Afternoon Tea in Cheshire, UK: Winner of The Tea Guild's Top Tea Place. Davenport's Tea Room was featured on BBC Breakfast with Jenny Hill (12th April 2013). Video Source: BBC via Youtube.

In the remains of the British empire, High Tea remains a nostalgic tradition, from Melbourne, Australia, to Victoria, BC, Canada. This is Miss Molly's Tearoom in Medina, Ohio, USA, where you can find Anglophilia and nouveau Victoriana. Video Source: Youtube.

High Tea at Emirates Palace in Abu Dhabi, UAE. Video Source: Youtube.

Brewing tea Russian-style, with a samovar. Video Source: Youtube.

Tea: A Revolution Brewing (first part, 2014), from BBC Persian. Video Source: Youtube.

Hammam-e Khan Tea House, Kashan, Iran. Image Source: flickr.

The Dago Tea House, Bandung, West Java, Indonesia. Image Source: Bandung.

Millennial fusion tea rooms emphasize calm serenity and retreat from hectic lifestyles. There is even one if you want to get away from it all inside virtual reality. This is the Moonlight Tea House in Second Life (explore it here). Image Source: Second Life.

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