Gendered consumption of tea

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.


Comments

Gendered consumption of tea — 19 Comments

  1. I’m sure you’re right about the imbalance between males and females among tea fanatics.

    But I think it isn’t only tea. I see it in other pools whose deep ends I hang out in: computer programming and Western classical music. (Maybe it’s true among coffee nerds, too – but I wouldn’t know!)

  2. I have been thinking about the gendered consumption of tea, but more specific…in that it seems (at least in my limited understanding) that many of the “serious” pu-erh drinkers are men, and the one forum where these pu-erh drinkers frequent (Badger & Blade) reads like a gentleman’s club of sort. I remember Imen mentioning a while ago about how teas like pu-erh or heavily roasted oolong (like yancha) are more “macho” and “manly,” while green tea is more delicate and feminine. Something about the yin and yang of these tea types, IIRC.

  3. Almost every time I introduce the whole gong fu cha thing to a friend or family member, one of the first questions that comes up is “Is this usually done by women in China?”

  4. That’s interesting. I’d never given it much though, but I intuitively associate coffee moreso than tea with femininity. I supposed that’s because growing up, my mom drank coffee and my dad drank tea.

    I’ve noticed the same male tendency toward tea in the US. The few of my females friends that are big on tea are so primarily because I got them into it.

  5. At least in the west I consider it a Male flautist scenario. Some of the best flute players I have ever heard were males, yet a vast majority of people starting out on the flute are female.

    My view is if you are a male practicing something thats considered feminine he feels the need to excel, in a hope to redeem himself.

  6. For various reasons (having more to do with nurture than nature, I imagine), I think men (*generally speaking*) tend to take nerdy hobbies to the extreme a little more than women. Also, a lot of us know tea friends from online, and I think you tend to get a lot of people who are computer / engineering type people on tea newsgroups and forums — professions that are a bit skewed towards men as well. I do know a lot of women who are pretty nerdy about tea, though. On the flip side of this, I think more women than men tend to act interested when it comes up that I have an interest in tea.

    In reference to Maitre_tea’s comment, I think there are definitely some interesting stereotypes about which types of tea are masculine or feminine, and you definitely see certain teas falling a little more towards one side or another of the gender aisle. But I think you will also find quite a number of exceptions; men who are passionate about green tea or delicate, floral oolongs, or women who are into teas with rich, bold flavors. And while many people may have certain teas that they’re more passionate about than others, most tea-lovers I know are able to appreciate good teas of various types. I wonder if gender sometimes plays a little bit of a role in brewing technique as well. Are men more likely than women to stuff the pot or brew with a heavier hand, or is that just a stereotype?

    As far as why the brewer in tea shops in China is usually female, I had one woman who brewed tea at a factory offer an interesting explanation for this. She claimed that this was because men weren’t patient enough, and more likely to move on too quickly when brewing tea for clients. I think a lot of it, though, boils down to tradition, men wanting to buy from a pretty woman, and from (male) customers enjoying having women in a traditional (i.e., subservient) role in serving them.

  7. Sex always sells!

    I’m not entirely convinced by the argument that online communities show a skewed sample of male/female ratio, if only because this has been true in my encounters in China as well, where the tea networks that I was hanging out in were decidedly not based on any sort of online forums.

    The male flautist scenario is quite similar, in a way, and can be applied to many other things as well. I do wonder if there are structural obstacles to women getting ahead in some of these fields, say, music. Tea, however, can be practiced at home and what not, so it would seem to apply less. But perhaps the demands of child-rearing takes a toll on the time available to make tea decently, whereas a father would probably just ignore the crying baby while pouring that fourth infusion….

    • The future looks very bright — screaming children, pizza boxes strewn all over the floor, and fragrant brews of premium teas…

      I think if you sell the concentration escapism aspect of tea-brewing to mothers, more of them may adopt this pursuit.

  8. In general I think men are competitive. They’re more apt to steer toward the deep end of things and be vocal about it, whether it’s cars, cigars, sports, etc and for tea, gongfu is where you end up. I’m not sure that women are less apt to drink or prepare tea, but I do think they will be less prone to bragging about their stash, teaware, etc and probably lurk on boards more than men. When you factor in the “butch-ness” it may also skew the perception/vocalization vs the actual participant pool.

    @Lew: I think there’s some truth to what you say, at least in the US. Because of the whole tea party thing, tea has been considered some what unpatriotic. I think gays in general are quicker to embrace things that may be considered counter establishment, esp if it’s considered trendy, elegant, or otherwise interestingly different elsewhere in the world. I suppose if a groups is lump’d outside the norm, they may pay more attention to things that are also considered outside the norm.

  9. Guilty. I favored Wuyi Yancha over lighter-roasted Oolongs because I didn’t want to drink women’s perfume. That’s because the darker flavor was manly. And now I’m devoted to Puerh, which is here said to be a masculine tea. No, I don’t want the girly tea, and I realize it and admit it. With my tea friends on Twitter and Facebook, there are plenty of women, though. A lot of women run tea stores or write tea books, and are just as tea-crazed as male tea business types.

  10. I would vouch for the “maleness” of coffee drinking — it’s common knowledge that coffee was considered a strong drink when first discovered as a potable beverage, and it was associated with subversive political discussions and the like — ergo the blooming stereotype of coffee, which is arguably bitter, strong-smelling, and downright delicious when brewed well, as a man’s drink.
    As per the comments above about people breaking the molds, whether male or female, I feel like “crossing the caffeine line” does have a lot to do with personality. Being a poor social scientist, but for the sake of conversation, I will say that in my own case (sample size of one), people deem most of my professional/avocational interests to be “masculine,” so perhaps that’s why my ladies’ lunches end with coffee instead of tea.

  11. I’m a serious tea drinker. I love Yancha, heavily roasted oolongs and puerh. And I’m a woman.

    I just started reading tea blogs, and very glad I came across yours. I am not good at writing, but will soon start a tea blog with more pictures than words. Thank you for a lot of the good tea writings. I’ll keep coming back.

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