“I’ll have a triple-shot-extra-huge-extra-skinny-lattechino” barked the woman in front of me in the queue in the world’s most famous coffee-chain-named-after-a-character-from-Moby Dick. The poor, overworked barrista smiled and set to work. Elaborate machines hissed and spluttered while the woman stomped over to collect her order.
Just over the road, but a million miles away I had a completely different caffeine experience.
In the Japanese galleries in the British Museum there was a kimonoed explainer revealing to a small crowd the delicate intricacies of the traditional Japanese Tea Ceremony. Like the coffee-house experience, there is a ritual that must be observed. Unlike the coffee house experience, the ritual here creates a calm, peaceful environment rather than a frenzy fuelled by caffeine cravings.
There is no unnatural noise during the tea ceremony; no phones buzzing, no music players humming, no contraptions hissing just the sounds of nature and conversation.
We had to take the explainer’s word on this, as the museum setting negated these aspects to a degree but she was able to create the picture for us.
It used to be typical that the tea-space was a separate space in Japanese homes and a sign of wealth. As Japan becomes increasingly western, the tea-space is disappearing. It is probably being replaced with the Moby Dick-Coffee-chain.
A shame really, as the ceremony places everyone participating on an equal level while the coffee-chain experience seems to encourage unhealthy competition in those that partake.
In case you were wondering, I was waiting to order a green tea. It was the closest thing on the menu I could find to the tea used in the ceremony.