February 6th, 2011

Lady Gaga and the Queen

(6) Gaga for Tea

Elevation of Tea for the Masses?

According to the tabloids and the Internet, Lady Gaga is now the face of tea.  She has been seen and captured sporting a cup of tea during numerous occasions, and insists on drinking it in her own china before every performance or appearance.  The grand extent of her fame makes her a very influential celebrity, creating cult-like obsessions in gullible viewers over her lifestyle.  In fact, Time magazine lists her as one of the 100 Most Influential Celebrities in the World, and likewise, Forbe’s magazine lists her as one of the World’s 100 Most Powerful Women. No wonder many tea companies are making large bids to have Lady Gaga as a spokesperson for their brand. 

Tea companies like Twinings are trying their best to have Lady Gaga as the representative of their brand.  Twinings has even created an oriental flavor for Lady Gaga.  They offered her a multi-million pound contract with the intent that her tea promotion increases sales, especially by appealing to the youth who often indulge in popular culture.  But what is it about attaching a celebrity’s name or face to a brand that makes the product more marketable?

As I mentioned in my previous blog, people like to consider themselves as sophisticated or fancy, even if only by imitation.  I think consumers like you and I have an affinity for products that are well marketed, especially if it is supported by a popular figure like Oprah, because it looks more “legit”, as some would say.  We like to assume that products that are more costly, aesthetically appealing, and reinforced by well-known names are probably the best of its kind.  Though there may be a correlation, these attributes are not a reliable caliber because the popularity of products highly corresponds to marketing strategy.    

The irony to me is that, although Lady Gaga is a paradox, we still hold her in high regards and as an example to model.  People would say she exudes sophistication with her pose, glamorous outfits and tea-drinking habits, but what about her repulsive meat dress and new perfume that is said to intentionally smell like blood and semen? Surely there’s no class in that.  What are we thinking?

Strangely, Simmel’s philosophy of objects and our valuation of them become blurred here.  Fans hold Lady Gaga in high esteem, and certainly tea companies yearn for her endorsement.  So with her elevation comes the elevation of tea too right?  But the central goal of tea companies is to have their brand universally consumed to reap the most profits.  If Lady Gaga is to be a model exemplar through the media who can elevate the value of tea in the view of other individuals, does she necessarily need to be accessible and commonplace to bring tea down to a democratic value for tea companies to get the most out of their investments?  

Perhaps one resolution is that Lady Gaga fans will aspire to drink tea because they hold her in high esteem and want to model themselves after her.  And on the other hand, tea companies may not think of Lady Gaga as much more than an engine for their profits, effectively “lowering” tea value to a more affordable, aware fanbase that will purchase their products.  Tea thus may assume both a high and low value if Lady Gaga’s promotion will satisfy both her fans and her funders.

February 3rd, 2011

An interesting link to show how creative the industries have become.  They keep finding new ways to get us to buy their products!

February 1st, 2011
Today’s tea parties are definitely not like those portrayed in the past.  Nowadays, to be “cordially invited to a tea party” may suggest an event to wear sunflower dresses, large hats, and to drink tea out of Alice in Wonderland-like tea sets.  But these are simulations of the past and a fiction, for today’s teatime in Europe is most likely less decorated.  


Today’s tea parties are definitely not like those portrayed in the past.  Nowadays, to be “cordially invited to a tea party” may suggest an event to wear sunflower dresses, large hats, and to drink tea out of Alice in Wonderland-like tea sets.  But these are simulations of the past and a fiction, for today’s teatime in Europe is most likely less decorated.  

January 31st, 2011
Film still from the movie Pride and Prejudice.  I think images like this are definitely what today’s society associates with when thinking about the English teatime. 


Film still from the movie Pride and Prejudice.  I think images like this are definitely what today’s society associates with when thinking about the English teatime. 

(5) Fancy That

Media’s Distortion of Space and Time for the (Un)Willing Consumer

Our society seems to indulge in a false sense of sophistication.  We buy fancy shoes and clothing we can hardly afford to appear fashionable.  We buy purified water because we are convinced that drinking tap water is uncouth.  We buy, buy, and buy to attain a social stamp of approvable that delivers an irrational satisfaction.  Can we blame the media for our over-the-top cravings for things out of our league?  In one day, we see hundreds of advertisements, in which billions of dollars are spent toward warping social standards and values.  Media has elevated the simple things in life to the standards of the rich or famous to profit from our naivete.  As a result, we perform parodies and imitations of the things we perceive as fancy, which ironically emphasizes the social divisions between upper and lower classes. 

A great example is tea, which can be considered the universal drink of all social stratums as it is commercially accessible and relatively cheap off supermarket shelves.  However, with the depiction of teatime in movies like Pride and Prejudice, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, and Alice in Wonderland, drinking tea is still associated with the sophistication of the upper class.  Consequently, instead of brewing their own cup of tea, some people go to elaborate tearooms, like Mrs. Burton’s Tea Room in San Diego, that imitate the congregation of tea drinkers in the Victorian tradition.  Here, visitors would come dressed up in large flowered hats and gloves to have scones and tea on mismatched China.  The existence and continued business at these locales suggest that people seek the imitated refinement associated with the elite class to feel a distinction from the masses that is perhaps lacking in their everyday lives.

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.  

January 16th, 2011

(1) About this Blog

Hello!  My name is Carolyn, and welcome to my tea blog.  Don’t let the phrase “tea blog” mislead you!  This is not your average health or fetish tea blog.  Rather, my blog will explore through the example of tea consumption the intriguing paradox that commercialization and media has exerted on our societal and cultural values.  We appreciate less the beauty and refinement of certain objects because of their commercial accessibility.  As a result, their value in our eyes has lowered.  Yet, we unconsciously reconstruct these values by attributing false notions of sophistication to these objects.  Through its marketing and advertising strategies, media embellishes images of pseudo-sophistication to forward the fiction of tea’s refinement.  In my posts, I use tea as a vehicle of social analysis, incorporating elements of commodity teabags, tea branding, drinking habits, and fetishes to show that we are far removed from the elegance and sophistication of tea-drinking in the past. 

I’d like to add that I am not an avid tea drinker.  As a Chinese/Vietnamese-American, however, I am accustomed to the centrality of tea in social functions.  Tea plays an essential role in many Asian traditions such as the Tea Ceremony performed during weddings and the annual Day of the Dead, in which tea is served as a symbol of honor and respect.  On the contrary, I recognize the prevalent abasement of tea due to its cheap accessibility and commoditization.  For instance, tea is often served for free in rusted steel pots in many Asian restaurants, and Starbucks and other coffee & tea shops serve tea in paper cups.  Where’s the class in that?  This deviation from tea traditions has inspired me to explore the ways we have exploited this ancient and universal drink in parallel to our degrading societal values.

Moreover, my view on the negative effects of commercialization is greatly influenced by my art historical studies.  My area of research often deals with the questions: “What is art?” and, “What defines the value of art?”  I am greatly interested in the sociologist and philosopher, Georg Simmel, who authored both Philosophy of Money and Philosophy of Art.  He presents his theory of values and explains its formation as follows: humans establish an object and separate themselves from the object, and the distance in between the two is the measure of the object’s value.  In other words, the further something is away from us, the more we value it.  Conversely, the closer an object is to us, the less we value it.  I believe that this is applicable to our society’s perception of tea, and can explain the great deviation between the two ways we view tea: as a sophisticated, expensive drink of the elite as exemplified by the elegance of Victorian tea-time, and as an ordinary beverage made possible by its commodification. 

If you have any questions or comments, feel free to leave a note!  Enjoy!

- Carolyn