“Tea Room,” “Tea House,” or “Tea Shop” – what’s the difference? In the world of tea, words swirl and float and often have no firm shape. They are like clouds and mist instead of something solid and definable like a mountain or a car. As a result we have herbals being called “herbal tea,” Rooibos being called “red tea,” terms like “brew,” “steep,” and “infuse” being used interchangeably, and the name “Tea Room” being attached to establishments that get no closer to tea than that dust-in-a-bag stuff (sort of like they said, “Oh, yeah, we need some of that ‘tea’ stuff on hand” and rushed out to the nearest grocery store to stock up). And so, we see tea rooms, tea houses, and tea shops popping up all over, often having little discernible difference between them. Thus, I posit a few thoughts and observations here for your perusal.
It’s a room where tea is served. Sounds pretty obvious. But these days a tea room can be a house where several rooms are set up to serve tea and various foods laid out in delicate fashion. Sometimes, a tea room is a corner of a hotel’s regular restaurant and is only used when they are serving that event called “Afternoon Tea” or the misnomer “High Tea.” Sadly, “tea room” is also often applied to places that are merely cafés.
It’s a house dedicated to serving and enjoying tea. These are more common in some Asian countries, especially Japan where tea is so vital to their lives that it’s part of their emergency supplies (a practice which I personally find quite sensible). The chashitsu is all about tea – no distractions. If you want food, go to a restaurant. But these days “tea house” and “tea room” have become synonymous.
It’s a place where you shop for tea. And teawares. And books about tea. These days, they also serve tea and are often called by what “the young crowd” relates to more: a tea “bar.” (Side note: anything hinting at the consumption of alcohol seems to appeal here, so we get terms like being “tea drunk” and drinking the “tea liquor.”)
Don’t go by the name. If you want to know which style the establishment is, you’ll need to do a bit of checking. It seems that these days anything goes!
See more of A.C. Cargill’s articles here.
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