Jack Tame: Coffee fad suits Americans to a tea

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I'm not a regular Starbucks customer for the perfectly considered reason that I actually enjoy coffee.

Sure, I love to smash a silky Venti-sized Caramel Frappuccino (double the caramel shot, forget the whipped cream) as much as the next hyper-masculine badass, but for actual coffee I'd sooner make it myself.

From my experience, a cup of standard Starbucks Joe at one of their 11,000 American locations, hovers around a fairly reliable 5 out of 10. You don't hate yourself after drinking it; it's not like a service station pie or a limp-and-lukewarm takeaway taco. You just feel average, ho-hum, which defeats the purpose of coffee in the first place.

Americans' obsession with the Java giant has always been a bit baffling. I don't understand why anyone would pay more to drink at an ubiquitous chain than at an independent coffee store. I don't understand how a chain with 256 stores in New York City still has queues during the morning rush hour, or how Starbucks has at times occupied sites on three separate corners of an intersection.

Frankly, there's not a lot I do understand about Starbucks. I certainly don't get their new venture. On Manhattan's Upper East Side, home to old money, overpriced Italian restaurants and middle-aged women in fur, Starbucks has opened its first tea-only cafe.

And forget a limp bag of Earl Grey with milk and a couple of sugars, Teavana has dedicated "teaologists" blending "Rooibos to Oolong and everything in between."

If you're anything like me and think a US$5 tea and a teaologist is just a posh way to drink hot water - a way to burn money and your tongue - it might pay to keep in mind the various other food-chain fads that've recently taken America.

Cupcake shops. Yoghurt bars. Crazier things have happened!

At least tea culture is something already embraced by half the rest of the world.

And though the one thing you can't get at Teavana is a roasting hot coffee, New York addicts needn't freak out just yet.

You'll be surprised, I'm sure, to learn there's a Starbucks directly across the road.

- Herald on Sunday

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