Tea or coffee?

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As an Englishman, it’s my patriotic duty to drink tea. I’m fine with that. The world is full of fine teas, from a full bodied English breakfast to a delicate oolong or an invigorating cup of Earl Grey. But, as my story Surprise Me (free to read now on the Daily Science Fiction website) hints, my true love is coffee.

What’s wrong with me? How have I stumbled so far from the true path of my forefathers?

Lets find out.

Look, coffee can be civilised too
Look, coffee can be civilised too

Buzzing like a bee

Like so many, my love of coffee started in university. Faced with the struggle to face early lectures after a late night, the coffee pot was the first thing I reached for every morning. Sure, as a history student ‘early’ meant somewhere around eleven o’clock, but there were some very late nights.

When it came to essays too, coffee was the way to keep me focussed. A cup of tea might freshen my reflective faculties, but coffee got my fingers twitching at the keys, frantically pounding out essays to meet neglected deadlines.

As a side note, one uni friend over-did this tactic while working on his computer science final project. He consumed so much caffeine that he was awake half the night unable to type from the trembling in his hands. Let this be a lesson to us all – computer science is not the answer.

A place to be

Part of it’s also about the difference between coffee shops and tea-oriented establishments.

Around here there are three types of places I can go for a hot beverage and to get some work done – cafés, tearooms and coffee shops.

Cafés are the sort of places you go for a greasy fry-up. Even as a vegetarian I love a greasy fry-up, but it plays hell with the keyboard. Plus those places are a bit too noisy for me to concentrate in, and lack the sort of high class teas and coffees that a gentleman, or worse yet a writer, wants to get him through the day. Instant coffee and PG Tips are not for me.

Tearooms also have a fond place in my heart. Laura and I spend a lot of our holiday time visiting tearooms, eating scones and drinking tea. They are a delightful novelty, a truly English way to treat yourself, and the place to be if you want Darjeeling rather than English breakfast. There’s a sense of ritual to them – stirring the pot, spreading jam and cream on your scones, using cups and saucers. Like the Japanese, when we English do tea properly it’s a matter of ceremony. It’s civilised and pleasant, but it’s not the pure uncluttered space I most often crave.

Which leaves coffee shops. They have comfy seats. They have clean, modern, undistracting décor. Most of them have plug sockets and wifi, essential for the ‘working’ writer. So it’s coffee shops I go for.

Yes, coffee shops also sell tea, many even have a range of teas. But it’s coffee that they do really well, so that’s what I drink. After all, you go to the zoo to look at the monkeys, however nice the trees are.

Another aside – England actually has a long tradition of coffee shops. It was in 17th and 18th century English coffee shops that insurance was invented, to the outrage of people who opposed gambling on others’ misfortunes. Looking at modern investment banking, I wonder if they were right.

An unsubtle age

Lets face it, I live in a less subtle age than my national predecessors. Sure, we can still do subtle and sophisticated, but even the English are allowed to express their emotions and opinions these days. Our culture is full of bright, shiny things that push aesthetics to the extremes – louder, darker, smellier. Amidst all that, is it any wonder that we’re drifting towards the more in-your-face flavour of coffee?

If you haven’t already, please go and read Surprise Me, my coffee shop story at Daily Science Fiction. Let me know what you think of the story, and what your favourite beverage is and why. After all, what are tea and coffee without a little conversation?



Photo by LWYang via Flickr creative commons.