by syaffolee

The Cultural Need for Hot Drinks

The culture of valorizing coffee addiction is something that I don’t quite understand. Whether one person got hooked onto this particular caffeinated beverage when they first took a sip as a wee tot or another gradually warmed up to it when they became an adult, there’s this thought that people should be proud that they’re addicted to it. People act as if they can’t wake up without it, can’t get through the day without it, can’t end a meal without it, can’t live without it.

Wimps.

I don’t drink coffee, if I have a choice. It’s not that I particularly dislike the taste (in fact, I especially love how it smells and I adore coffee ice cream) or that I’m not drinking it just to be contrary (although would you wear uggs just because everyone else is doing it?). I might feel left out of the Cabal of Coffee Consumers, but I’m not the sort of person who caves to peer pressure.

On the surface, it seems as if my preference for another hot drink, say tea, over coffee might be as simple as a choice between two similar vegetables–celery and carrots. Yet, I would choose both celery and carrots equally over time. Choosing one particular vegetable at one given instance would be due to random whim because I don’t attach particular significance to either. Choosing tea over coffee consistently is due less to these drinks’ objective properties (taste, smell, heat) than my cultural associations with them.

In some ways, as a tea drinker, I have some things in common with a hard-core purist coffee fan. I like my tea straight up, hot water and tea only. Adding stuff like milk and sugar turns it into a frou-frou drink. It’s like comparing vodka on the rocks in a motorcycle bar with a silly umbrellaed strawberry daiquiri served by a pool boy slathered in too much oil. And don’t even try comparing iced tea with the hot stuff straight from the Camellia sinesis plant. They’re not even on the same metaphysical plane. It’s the yeti to the silverback gorilla.

With tea, I have happy memories coupled with the cultural milieu I grew up in. One of my earliest memories is that of my grandmother, pouring hot water from a colorful thermos into a mug with tea. My mother always claimed that drinking tea–particularly green tea–“cleansed the palate” after eating something singularly greasy. Tea was always served in the fun and boisterous dim sum restaurants I visited on special occasions. And then there were those quiet, more contemplative times when I just sat in the kitchen with my parents on a cold winter’s day (much like today) sipping tea and consuming pastries. Considering this background, it’s no surprise that I don’t have the same relationship with tea as other people have with coffee. I don’t drink tea because I need to (I easily do all-nighters without it), but because I want to.

So the difference between these two drinks, for me, has nothing to do with the appeal to my physical senses. It’s more about the idyll of childhood versus morning zombies. Tough choice.

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