The Old Teahouse Revival
Updated: Jan 10
I have to be honest, I don’t like the concept of the Victorian High Tea, and I’m actually slightly offended by it. Not sure why, I just am.
Tea is a cultural drink. It’s not just the pouring of hot water on tealeaves.
There is a political and cultural history of tea, representing different things to different people depending on what part of the world you’re from.
The concept of the Victorian High Tea, to me, represents a colonial worldview, exploitation for commercial gain; tea for the elites, often served by a subordinate of some sort.
Tea, the old Chinese medicinal drink was first recorded as far back as 59 BC and later exported to the west. It became fashionable amongst Britons in the 17th Century.
The Britons started mass-producing tea in India, bypassing what was commonly a Chinese monopoly at the time.
The British escapades into India and the commercialization of the tea plant brought with it a certain class structure.
Today, we can still enjoy Victorian style high teas at fancy hotels, making us all feel nice and pretty. But where have all the old teahouses gone?
Teahouses have been around for centuries, in Britain they emerged as part of the temperance movement in the 1830’s.
In Japan, teahouses are often reference to private dwellings where tea ceremonies are held.
In China and Nepal teahouses are commonly meeting places for the young and old, a place to hang out.
The old teahouses took even a greater meaning in the Middle East.
The teahouses in Fez, Damascus or Jerusalem were commonly indicative of the political climates of the time. They were meeting places for thinkers, artists, poets, musicians.
A hub where people connected, ideas were spawned, topics hotly debated.
They were animated places – water boiled on an open flame, smell of wood or gas was often infused with the smell of fresh herbs. There were no Lipton’s tea bags (with staple included), only fresh tealeaves.
The energy and vibrancy was reflective of a life lived.
Not always pleasant, but always something happening, someone to meet, idea to share or topics to debate. You met people; some friends, some foe’s and you knew that round two was only a sleep away.
The concept of the old teahouse at the heart of a bustling community seems to have long gone, particularly in the west.
People these days are generally mobile; never stay around long enough to forge a sense of community, particularly in the big cities. Political correctness doesn’t allow for the discussion of the big ideas, the ideas that often seem to lurk on the fringes.
You can book yourself in for a Victorian high tea and the price itself is indicative of the class structure tea has come to represent.
Tea is the common mans drink; it’s a drink, which represents good health, community, the sharing of ideas and the courage to challenge the establishment.
Let’s recapture the spirit of the old teahouse and drink the revolution.
Change the way you see the world.