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Posts Tagged ‘Teahouses’

[The following piece appeared Dec. 9 on The Mantle.]

BRATISLAVA – After a second sampling of Chinese culture, I’ve returned to Slovakia with a fancy for drinking tea. Straight. No honey or sugar. No lemon or milk. Just the tea, thanks.

In fact, that’s just the way I order it from Slovak waiters and waitresses: “Len a čaj.” Only the tea. Most nod and bring me two packets of sugar anyway.

Pure tea is the Chinese away, the original way. For five millennia. Savor the taste of the leaves. The medicinal benefits. Even the spiritual benefits. To Chinese, it ranks among the “seven necessities of life.”

Now, I’m not a spiritual kinda guy. Back in Budapest when I gave yoga a whirl, I was less interested in the chakra than the lycra – worn by the limber woman beside me. For me, tea is about flavor and authenticity. It’s like sipping nature.

Similarly, earlier this year, I drastically altered my drinking of espresso. No milk, no sugar. Cold turkey. Len a kava. I figure I ingest enough fats and sugars every day. (As we speak, a half-devoured bar of dark chocolate beckons from my coat pocket…)

In related news, I’m not getting any younger. So why not eliminate one tiny vice from my life?

While patting myself on the back, though, I concede an unseemly side-effect: without that milky filter, espresso has stained my teeth the color of ripe sunflower fields in Hungary. Say chee-ee-eese!

Wait a sec. I’ve been victimized by something called “Hong Kong Foot,” due to carelessness in the tropical clamminess. Why then, in the heart of café culture, can we not anoint another geographic-specific affliction: “Central European Teeth”? From what I see around here, I’m not the only sufferer.

I even have the makings of a definition: The unfortunate consequence of a daily addiction to espresso, consumed without the amelioration of dairy – or lactose-free dairy – products. (Note to self: first copyright “Central European Teeth,” then start a support group.)

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HONG KONG – Needless to say, Hong Kong has nothing of the café culture of Central Europe. Teahouses, not coffeehouses.

Last year, I succumbed for a solid month to the dull diet of Starbucks and the Starbucks-like Pacific Coffee, before one day I looked up at two high-rises in my Yau Ma Tei neighborhood and noticed neon signs for “Café” this and that.

Exploring them one by one, I found them refreshingly unique with their cozy, dimly lit interiors. The cafés drew lots of young locals, of varying degrees of hip-ness. And they always seemed to have friendly staff pleased to host a laptop-toting foreigner.

Tonight, I tried to remember which had no qualm about me plugging into an outlet. These cafés are so tough to spot from street level, some send young staff down to the sidewalk to hand out cards or leaflets, inviting passersby upstairs.

On this occasion, I come across a young guy with earring and black cap, joined by a pretty young companion, handing out cards for the “Bearz Café.” I ask if they have electricity, making that universal thrusting gesture for “plug my cord in.”

Yes indeed, he replies. “And free Wifi,” says his smiling partner. “Eleventh floor.”

Inside, “Bearz” are truly the theme. Not grizzlies mounted on the wall, mind you. Teddy bears. Dozens of them. All sizes, shapes and pigmentation, lining the shelves of a room illuminated by blinking Christmas lights. Some of the bears are in pajamas, some hold hearts, some look like Winnie-the-Pooh knock-offs.

It’s the most infantile décor I’ve ever seen in a “café.” (more…)

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