Tea or coffee?

Posted: March 18, 2014 in release
Tags: , , ,

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.

  1. I wasn’t going to read Surprise Me, because it’s science fiction, and I don’t generally read science fiction. That was my mistake – it’s really very good.

    I drink coffee at work, and tea at home. When I was still doing LARP, my character (and a good chunk of my group) ran on coffee (and beer, until he became tee-total).

    I started drinking coffee during a Twin Peaks marathon. We were watching the film and all episodes back-to-back, and I decided I should try a black coffee, since it has such a large part in the programme. I’ve been drinking it ever since 🙂

    • Thanks Russell – I feel doubly proud that I got you to read a story outside your usual tastes and that you enjoyed it.

      I have to admit that I’ve never watched Twin Peaks, being just a little too young when it was first out and never having got round to it since. The excuse for much coffee might get me round to it though…

      • Twin Peaks is very … odd. Personally, I really like David Lynch’s films, and I’d recommend Twin Peaks to anyone that likes David Lynch films, but if you don’t like his films, you’ll hate Twin Peaks 🙂

        • Haven’t watched many of his films, but I do like weirdness. Whether I get round to Twin Peaks will probably be down to time, given how much other good TV there is at the moment. Just finished season 2 of the American House of Cards, which was pretty stunning.

  2. glenatron says:

    Very good story, I enjoyed it.

    I am a big fan of both- it turns out I like coffee in a south-east-asian style, fairly strong with a slight graininess too it. Here I usually make it in a cafetiere.

    After a time when I drank a lot of coffee, these days I have cut down to two cups per day, three occasionally. I figure that is enough for enjoyment but not so much that I will put excessive strain on my body. For everything else, there is tea.

    “My cousin will bring you some qahveh, which you will dislike until your taste is formed.” – Pawn In Frankincense

    • Thank you, glad you liked the story.

      Coffee making tools are part of the ritual pleasure, aren’t they? I’m a recent convert to the stove-top espresso pot, despite also trying to stick to two or three cups a day. I like the bubbling sound as it finishes, announcing that coffee’s ready.

  3. Lynda says:

    I had to read it twice to figure out what was going on (showing, not telling, v good 😉 ) but that’s probably because I’m sleep deprived. It’s a lovely neat little vignette.

    And I hate coffee, as you may know, but I love the smell. In fact, now I think about it, I do miss the smell of proper coffee on a weekend morning. James just drink instant at home which doesn’t smell nearly as nice. And then wants to kiss me with coffee-mouth. *shudder*

  4. Dan says:

    Coffee founded modern western political discourse.

    Tea destroys things

    Coincidence? I think not.

  5. everwalker says:

    Lovely, simple and sweet, with a nicely oblique view on an every-day situation. Would that make psychologists baristas?

    I drink neither tea nor coffee, which probably means I should hand in my British passport immediately. When I shared a house with the Belgian, though, the exotic smells that came from the cafetiere every morning were enough to get me out of bed.

    • Psychologist barristas, eh. I hadn’t fully thought through the consequences of this setup, but I’m looking for more modern fantasy ideas…

      [grabs notebook, starts scribbling]

      Thanks! You are an inspiration as always!

  6. John Moley says:

    I find that my tastes vary with the climate. As well as a much increased appreciation for olives, seafood and beer, my time living in Greece saw me drinking at least one large coffee every day. If I tried that in the UK, I’m sure it would play merry hell with my mood, focus and digestion, but in the lazy heat of a Mediterranean afternoon it was more than pleasant… it was civilised.

  7. petrosjordan says:

    I drink coffee to wake up, and (noncaffeinated) tea to relax. I think I’m pretty unusual as an American who enjoys tea, it seems my country moved swiftly away from that habit ever since we threw it in Boston Harbor… But I think I’m much more of a Brit at heart.

    Great to see that ‘Surprise Me’ has been posted, and I can finally read it now!

    • I approve, glad to know there’s some civilised tea drinking across the Atlantic. And the minute I saw ‘American who enjoys tea’ I thought of Boston Harbor – I’ve been listening to the Revolutions podcast, which is currently covering the American revolution, well worth a listen if you’re into history.

      Hope you enjoy the story.

  8. petrosjordan says:

    Bravo on the story, I liked it very much! Science fiction is most appealing to me when it focuses on the day-to-day lives of people, and real human emotions, not just new technologies. I thought it was very well-written and it used a novel concept to retell a classic trope, that of the anticipation and anxiety of new love.

    • Thanks Petros, glad you enjoyed it.
      I totally agree about the need to connect to people and emotions, not just technology. It’s the people who make or break a story, who make us care or drive us to indifference.

  9. I confess I like coffee best, most, and always at hand. 🙂 I drink tea as well, and love English Breakfast Tea, but don’t consider it until the coffee pot is empty. Then again, in the southern U.S., we drink LOTS of cold tea. 🙂

  10. Michelle Mueller says:

    Wonderful story! I loved the dichotomy between coffee and emotions. A simple concept with a dose of the fantastical. It was a fun read.

    I’m a coffee drinker, too. Nothing like the first cup of coffee in the morning.

    I experienced the British love of tea in the States, actually. A couple British friends were visiting for a road trip They were so worried about the tea situation that they actually flew across the ocean with a travel kettle. It was a handy travel kettle though — I will say that.

    • Glad you enjoyed the story Michelle, and thanks for saying so.

      I admire your friends’ forward planning – having once been on a road trip through the states with my parents, I can see how the vast open spaces might make a Brit fearful for their ability to get a timely cuppa. But it’s well worth that risk for some of the spectacular scenery.

  11. malwen says:

    Loved the story. I will be sure to have this in mind when next in such a coffee shop. Indeed, if I can find just such a one, I would be daft to stick with making my own coffee and would take a suitable emotionally charged one every time. Great story idea!

  12. […] click here and tell him what you thought of […]

  13. ittimin says:

    I really enjoyed it. 🙂 Thank you.

    Usually I relish stories which tell me why and how things work, but actually this one was just perfect with no explanation at all. Any explanation would have taken away from it I feel.

    I also liked how close to reality it is – you really do have to summon an awful lot of emotion energy to give good customer service…. and that can mean being happy when actually you may not be at all. And it is surprising how a small thing can give us emotional energy back sometimes.

    I very rarely drink tea or coffee. Coffee tends to make me lightheaded and dizzy, though I adore the smell. However, recently I had a coffee in a south american style restaurant which was in a shot glass and was half coffee, half condensed milk… now that I could get used to!

  14. Thanks, Glad you liked it That closeness to reality was exactly what I was after – using the magic to express something people often feel.

    And that half coffee half condensed milk thing? Totally trying that later, it sounds awesome.

  15. skudssister says:

    Loved the story – as a bookseller/barista it is scarily accurate…..
    I enjoy the process of making the coffees – I particularly like making a macciato for some reason – but don’t drink much of it. Tea is another matter entirely. We are planning to start serving loose leaf teas in our cafe soon, which I am looking forward to. When you are next over in Yorkshire you really should drop in and I’ll stand you a coffee (or tea) and I may even run to cake….(and of course we do have Wi-fi!)

    • I love loose leaf tea. It’s a bit more hassle to make, but it feels like making a game of the whole thing – like using cups and saucers or using chopsticks when eating Chinese. And I imagine that’s part of the fun of working with those big coffee machines – the hiss and the whoosh and process of it all. I’ll definitely come and test your tea making skills at some point – we’re hoping to move east into Yorkshire later in the year, so I might even become a regular fixture!

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