Tea has always had the element of the social about it. The Chinese tea ceremony originated around appreciating art and poetry in groups, the Japanese samurais adopted it and used it to come together and discuss tribal conflicts peacefully. All over the middle east tea is associated with hospitality and the welcoming of others in to your home.
Places purposely built to allow people to come together and drink tea have been around for centuries and played a crucial part in the finalisation of both the Chinese and Japanese tea ceremonies. The importance of tea houses has varied historically and geographically, but wherever and whenever you look you’re sure to find one lurking.
In the UK, we have a long tradition of tea rooms, the first of which was opened by Thomas Twining in 1706 and remains at the same address in London to this day. Glasgow was once known for Miss Cranstons’s tea rooms, a first step to a more welcoming and less formal kind of tea establishment in Britain. With their ladies rooms they allowed respectable women to meet in public with no fear of any of that beastly male interference which so plagued the rest of society.
In America, tea rooms were promoted during the temperance movement as sin-free gathering places for a polite ‘tea total’ society. In both Britain and the US, tea dances were a craze of the early 20th century, providing a forum for respectable, well-mannered fun. Tea houses flourished in that time as American and Europe went tea crazy. Even Hitler had a favourite tea house in the Bavarian Alps.
In the modern world in countries like Myanmar, tea houses are central to the street culture and play an integral societal role, with people settling in for the day to chat with friends and neighbours and spilling out in to the street to talk and be merry.
In Turkey, tea shops are springing up along side the traditional coffee shops, becoming ever more popular with the younger generation, and tea rooms are enjoying a huge resurgence all over the west. We may be on our way to a world where tea rooms take their rightful place along side coffee shops as centres for socialising and relaxing, something that has already happened to a large extent in Japan and China. They had a few centuries head start over the rest of us, so next time you’re trying to decide on a place to meet your friends, look for your local tea shop and we can see about getting caught up.
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