One of the topics that came up a week ago in class was the gendered consumption of tea, and the perception in different places of tea’s proper role. It’s an interesting subject that I notice sometimes in my own drinking as well.
In Japan, for example, the tea ceremony now is almost entirely practiced by women, with some men involved. For the most part, it’s seen as a girly thing to do, along with ikebana and other womanly arts. When I visited Japan and had tea in any setting, I have never had a man prepare tea for me. This was obviously not the case a few hundred years ago, when tea was reserved for samurai. Anybody else practicing it was seen as intruding on an exclusive territory, and women were certainly not welcomed at least until the Tokugawa period. Something happened in the next three hundred years so that now, we have the complete opposite of what used to be.
I think a similar thing can be observed in China, although with a twist. If you go to public places, you’re more likely to find women in shops and stores to be preparing tea for you. However, among tea fanatics I’ve met in China, almost all were male. I’d say only about 10% of the true tea enthusiast in China are female.
What’s more interesting is that among Westerners I know, a similar ratio exists. There are, relatively speaking, fewer serious tea drinkers who are female than those who are male. Yet, in common perception, tea is seen as a drink that is more feminine, whereas coffee takes the masculine role. Whenever I go out to a restaurant with my wife and we both order something at the end of the meal, I sometimes get the coffee and she gets the tea, even though our preferences are the exact opposite. Waiters who don’t know often would assume that I am the coffee drinker, usually based purely on my gender.
I can’t quite explain why it is that the tea enthusiasts I know tend to be all male. I’m pretty indiscriminate in meeting people who are fans of tea, but the ratio of tea drinkers seem to hold up even if I account for people who I only know by reputation or online presence. I also wonder if the general perception that tea is “weak” or “feminine” has any real impact on its consumption and acceptance in the general public. I would imagine it must, but how that actually takes place is very complex and difficult to pin down. At any rate, it’s an observation that I’ve long held, and until now anyway, it still seems to hold up quite well.