February 26th, 2011
What Happened to Tea?
What is Boba Tea?  A drink called tea but is made up mostly of syrups, powders, water, and Tapioca Pearls.
After centuries of tradition, then commercialization, Boba Tea is one of the evolutionary products of tea.  In the early years of the 21st century, a Boba Tea craze swept the States, where hundreds of franchises bloomed to satiate the need for this “tea” drink. There are quite a few Boba Tea drinks that are actually tea-based, but many of these drinks are popular for their fruit slushy flavors, and more prominently their Tapioca Pearls.  
In Little Saigon (the area of SoCal with the largest Vietnamese population outside of Vietnam), this Boba Tea craze inducted hundreds of companies into the “tea” business.  Perhaps this has something to do with the prominence of tea in Vietnamese dietary and ritual traditions.  Yet, these Boba Tea “cafes” soon grew to the site of popular late-night hangouts for young adults, contrary to the old notion of sophisticated tea.  Now, after drinks and bar-hopping, many recoup from their nighttime adventures with a Boba tea drink.  Rarely does anyone actually order hot or iced tea from one of these venues.  
This is yet another interesting example of low tea- the diminution of cultural and traditional tea drinking to feed the market demand for tea products.

What Happened to Tea?

What is Boba Tea?  A drink called tea but is made up mostly of syrups, powders, water, and Tapioca Pearls.

After centuries of tradition, then commercialization, Boba Tea is one of the evolutionary products of tea.  In the early years of the 21st century, a Boba Tea craze swept the States, where hundreds of franchises bloomed to satiate the need for this “tea” drink. There are quite a few Boba Tea drinks that are actually tea-based, but many of these drinks are popular for their fruit slushy flavors, and more prominently their Tapioca Pearls.  

In Little Saigon (the area of SoCal with the largest Vietnamese population outside of Vietnam), this Boba Tea craze inducted hundreds of companies into the “tea” business.  Perhaps this has something to do with the prominence of tea in Vietnamese dietary and ritual traditions.  Yet, these Boba Tea “cafes” soon grew to the site of popular late-night hangouts for young adults, contrary to the old notion of sophisticated tea.  Now, after drinks and bar-hopping, many recoup from their nighttime adventures with a Boba tea drink.  Rarely does anyone actually order hot or iced tea from one of these venues.  

This is yet another interesting example of low tea- the diminution of cultural and traditional tea drinking to feed the market demand for tea products.

January 24th, 2011

(4) A Cup of Tea Solves Everything…Right?

Healthy Tea Drinking, a Friendly Capitalism, and the Results that Should Follow

There is nothing like waking up in the morning to a warm cup of tea.  It makes me feel happy even if I have to wake up early for Monday morning classes, or if I just woke up on the wrong side of the bed.  I like to think that it is the warmth of the tea in my stomach, and the soothing flavor that puts a little hop in my step, but there are actual health benefits from drinking tea.  Here are some interesting facts I found:

Tea is often considered a healthier alternative to coffee.  They both, however, have their own advantages.  A cup of tea has about half the amount of caffeine as a cup of coffee, which will less likely give you the jitters and a headache.

Tea is also a great source of antioxidants that act on free radicals in our bodies, and can help prevent diseases.  For those who want the most bang for their buck, white tea has the most antioxidants.  Moreover, studies have shown that those who drink tea regularly have lower blood pressure.  It also lowers cholesterol, which protects against heart disease.   There are also studies that show a correlation between tea drinking and the lowered risk of cancers.  Green tea is known to prevent against lung cancer –so for those who smoke a lot, get to the market pronto!  Tea also delays the onset of Alzheimer’s. In general, tea makes for a stronger immune system, which may explain the longevity of Chinese and Japanese people.  The oldest person to have lived, according to the Guinness World Records, is a Japanese man named Shigechiyo Izumi, and before him, Niwa Kawamoto, also Japanese.  Perhaps the two oldest people were produced from Japan because of their tea drinking culture.

Statisically, however, our country is responsible for one of the highest percentages of deaths due to heart diseases and cancer.  The public is led to believe that they are taking action by buying promoted healthier foods.  But why do I think of Diet Coke and “100 calorie pack” Chips Ahoy boxes when people mention healthier options?  And in vending machines, why not sell tea bags?  Perhaps America can improve these sad statistics by adopting the tea traditions so that everyone can have a little hop in their step, or at least take a hop down on the mortality rate.

For those interested, there are plenty of websites that list a wider and more detailed range of tea benefits.  Here are a few I found useful:

http://www.2basnob.com/health-benefits-of-tea.html

http://www.ivillage.com/top-10-health-benefits-drinking-tea/4-a-108301

http://www.revolutiontea.com/health-benefits.html

But what does this mean?  For all our grievances against capitalism and commercialization that feeds our deplorable mortality rates, does commercialization offer salvation through one of its products?  Perhaps this is at the heart of contradictions.  Whole Foods, organic foods, tea: Don’t they all posit the health and well-being of its consumers over the titans of bad health- the grocery store brands?  Yet they are themselves giants in commercialization.  If commercialization lowers tea to the standard of the everyday man and woman, is that necessarily a bad thing?  When I began to recognize the degradation of tea cultural values, I became somewhat disappointed that centuries of tradition and ritual could be reduced to a tiny tea bag in my cabinet.  But considering the health of Americans, perhaps this universality of tea drinking and its absence from high culture is a good thing.  

Or is there something else that is missing from the equation?  Perhaps even with all its affordability and accessibility, not only is it valued less, but maybe tea is ignored by certain consumers.  What if the “universal” nature of tea is really only concentrated within segments of the consumer populace?  And even these tea drinkers could simultaneously be our McDonald’s and TV Dinner consumers “balancing out” their bad diets with “healthy” tea.  Tea may only be part of the equation, and further from the answer.

January 18th, 2011

(3) Commercial Distress

It’s Not the Tea but the Branding that Gets You Buying!

                            

It is the beginning of a new year, so what better time to create more hopeful resolutions?  Mine was to make the conversion from coffee to tea to give my cholesterol levels a break.  I went to Peet’s Coffee & Tea in search of an alternative to my favorite tea- black tea.  I found that there were many different types which included green, black, white, oolong, pu-erth, formed or compressed tea bricks, flavored and herbal tea.  And within these categories were varying blends and preparation processes.  I stood there perplexed by the number of choices before me.  How do I choose which one I would like best without tasting it?  

I couldn’t ask the barista to let me try them all, and I’d rather not ask what he or she recommends based on their preference.  The more I thought about it, the more I realized that it was least likely to be the taste of the tea that will win me over.  Perhaps admitting my less-than-connoisseur convictions, I found myself drawn toward the appearance of the tea containers.  I noticed that each were differently advertised, interestingly based on the emotions they were to evoke.  There was a sign that said "Top Sellers" and below it were fancy names, sophisticated fonts and royal colors, and well-chosen rhetoric describing from which luscious land the tea was derived.  One was even titled “Assam Extra Fancy.”  Moreover, the store attempted to create a feeling of authenticity with wooden paneled walls and counters, and classical music as if to allude to the atmosphere of Great Britain tea houses.  

Here is a label example:

Jasmine Downy Pearls 
This green tea is rolled into pearl-shaped balls, then scented with jasmine flowers. The flavor is smooth with a light floral scent. 

This is a unique and beautiful tea from Fujian province, China. To make this tea, women selectively pluck only the youngest leaves, covered with a fine down. Three leaves are rolled together into a spherical “pearl” and then wrapped in silk mesh and dried by fire to set the form. Each pearl is streaked with the pale white down of the buds. Scenting the pearls twice with fresh jasmine flowers gives the finished tea its final character.

These signs, labels, and simulations of authenticity are all tactics prevalent in today’s market.  I believe it is no longer true personal preference, but merely predetermined decisions made by the manufacturing industries on which items we will purchase by controlling our visual perception through advertisements.  When I walk into a CVS next door, the reason I pick up Neutrogena’s facewash instead of the generic CVS brand that claims to have the same formula is unknown to me.  It is sad to realize that the commercial industries have successfully indoctrinated consumers like myself with such irrational ideas.  

These commercial ploys lead to some loss of culture and identity, as new traditions are no longer created but only old ones are simulated.  It is as if one were adopting a fake culture.  Perhaps it is very American to buy tea from any ordinary grocery store.  If I were to buy a hot cup of tea at Peet’s, I would be cognizant that I was paying for a prepared product and would go next door to CVS to pick up a box of Lipton’s to prepare at home.  But for some reason, the branding and marketing for these tins of tea convinced me that they were worth more and appended a “culture” to their products, causing me to feel like I was making a less “commercial” choice.  I ended up purchasing Jasmine Downy Pearls based on the description on the container.  Looking back, was this really a non-commercial product as compared to the cheaper boxes of tea at the grocery store?  A victory for Peet’s Coffee and Tea and their strategic appeal to buyer’s psychology.  The funny thing is that the advertising was right -the tea was amazing.