Tea Culture in Asia and the United States
The appeal posed by a hot cup of chai is enough to start the groggy descent from my room to the kitchen on even the most demanding of mornings. This traditional Indian drink is an ingrained part of my routine, spurred by familial emphasis, which I make time for every day. Despite the importance of this practice, I rarely reflect on how exactly the aromatic and flavorful drink came to be in my grasp, as well as its respective effects. Chai is a part of a greater South Asian tea culture which has much economic, social, and environmental influence. Similarly, most Asian countries have their own tea culture, based on variations in preparation and history.
In an idealistic world striving toward a collective sense of global citizenship, each individual would scrutinize and consistently improve their daily regimen. The practice of gathering around the dining table each morning and late afternoon in order to enjoy a hot cup of chai is one regularity in which members of my family would analyze in application of this idea. While the term “idealistic” may seem off-putting, it is this worldview which includes serious consideration of personal habits in lieu of impact on the surrounding environment and communities. This worldview is necessary in order to better the current standing of common apathetic mindsets towards environmental awareness. Inspired by the cultural significance of the traditional drink my day centers around, I chose to focus this fantasy environment project on the respective tea cultures of Asia and the United States while including historical context and illustrating an aspect of environmental impact.
The attached image above is a cartographic depiction of my chosen topic, tea culture in Asia and the United States. The included map legend delineates three main categories: demographics relating to tea culture (colored boxes), trade routes (arrows), and specialty teas (colored circles). I chose these categories to contextualize my topic in relation to cultural and historic relevancy. Subjects relating to ancient Asian culture or effects of colonization are ones which I’ve had a deep interest in for the past few years. Both relate to my social identity as patterns of post-coloniality and rich South Asian culture contribute to paramount influences in my life. Hence, I wanted to design a map that merges these parts of my lifestyle, especially relating to chai, to communicate a void in cartographic circles. My main purpose centered around reconstructing common ideologies of the term “environment” to instead reflect its cultural implications. I used trade routes to explain the migration of tea, which in turn clarify the reasons behind known specialty teas and preferred method of preparation in the listed countries.
A few less extensive categories which I also included in the map legend consist of elevated terrain (mountain-like symbols) and CO2 emissions (spiral symbols). After intensive research on the history of tea culture in Asia and respective CO2 emissions, I considered the best way to communicate the cultural differences in tea preference between countries as well as how to include the environmental effects of my topic. One issue with placing too much focus on CO2 emissions related to tea consumption is associated lack of nuance. For example, CO2 emissions caused directly by national tea consumption based on variations in preparation is much too specific to accurately quantize. An article published in The Guardian, “What’s the carbon footprint of…a cup of tea or coffee?”, explains: “If you drink four mugs of black tea per day, boiling only as much water as you need, that works out as just 30kg of CO2e each year – the same as a 40-mile drive in an average car. Three large lattes per day, by contrast, and you're looking at almost twenty times as much carbon, equivalent to flying halfway across Europe.” Based on this information and other sources, I was able to deduce that tea has a considerably smaller carbon footprint than coffee. Although, this disparity is usually attributed to the milk used in each drink.
By including CO2e per capita for larger Asian countries and the United States, as well as illustrating some differences in the default method of preparation (i.e., water tea vs. milk tea), the above map is able to indirectly connect consumption to collective carbon footprint. The fact that the United States consists of majority coffee drinkers also affects the larger CO2e in comparison to some Asian countries marked. Again, tea culture alone cannot solely change the number of emissions, although it does merit some contribution. As result of this fact, the connection of tea consumption in relation to emissions should not be treated as a monumental piece of foundational evidence on which this project rests on. Rather, may it act as a guide in how other daily habits may be considered in the framework of impact on one’s surroundings. Additionally, may it illustrate how a cultural notion of environment with historic ties is significantly interconnected to present day environmental issues.
In relation to cultural and historic storylines, I found it interesting how some Asian tea cultures are more similar to each other depending on geographic location. For example, as shown in the above map, countries such as China, Japan, and Vietnam prefer water tea and their associated specialties include green and oolong tea. In comparison, black tea is most popular in India and Pakistan and is often prepared with a blend of spices steeped in milk. These patterns are majorly resultant of trading routes during ancient and colonial times. For example, the Ancient Tea Horse Road (marked in map) includes a route from far east China to Turkey, which may explain the similarity in preference for water tea. The geographic proximity between India, Pakistan, and Middle Eastern Asian countries explain the respective popularity of black tea. Additionally, the history of British imperialism in South Asia and impact of the British East India Company also contributes to tea culture in previously-colonized nations. Teas most popular in the United States include black, white, and herbal/fruit teas, which demonstrates similarity to the tea cultures of China, India, and Thailand. Although, a majority of Americans prefer the drink iced or with milk, unlike most of their Asian counterparts. The similarity in specialty teas yet difference in preparation speak to cultural norms, resources, and historical meanings. While tea is becoming more familiarized in the U.S., the country is still a majority coffee drinking nation with almost 75-100% of the population favoring the beverage over others.
The focus on Asian tea culture in comparison to how the United States consumes and is historically tied to tea culture contributes to a global level of this fantasy environment project. Unlike traditional cartographic works which tend to center on one main objective (i.e., geographical clarity, historical movement patterns, national trends, etc.), the attached map connects both historical, environmental, and cultural storylines. These storylines in turn evidence surprising circular narrative. This merging of ideas contributes to an unconventional perspective in shifting worldviews to consider how a specific community or culture has an ever-globalizing impact. This project exemplifies a theory of environment that is not solely confined to global warming or resource depletion but rather approaches a multi-faceted dimension of community, which differs from a general understanding of environmental studies. The term community as advanced by this narrative consists of intermember awareness, hinting at the understanding of how individuals’ actions are a representations of their collective social identity with implications of hereditary or ecosphere-related effects. Such interdisciplinary learning is imperative in promoting global citizenship from an academic standpoint, as it pertains to greater socio-historic awareness as well.
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