Is Tea Millennial?
I have a confession: I was born in 1991. That means I am a Millennial.
Millennials are the much-talked-about demographic who mark their birthdays anywhere between 1982 to 2002. Now, although a typical Millennial trait is to constantly invent new vernacular, I didn’t make up the nametag for us. A pair of researchers did.
Sometimes I’m boggled by my generation, sometimes I’m astounded by it, and sometimes I’m just plain weirded out
Yet even in those moments, I recognize that I’m still one of them, because no matter how ridiculous the Tweetstorm, some crazy iota or brainspark understands: Ok, this is where we come from. Coffeeffee, cat memes, and everything.
Multiply that by a degree in Cultural Anthropology — ie: the academic pursuit of people-watching — and I can deduce that my entry into tea is a result of that Millenniality.
Because it’s relatable, curateable, and debateable.
Relatable. Being that we grew up in the nascence of social media, Millennials are hyperaware of the perils resulting from it. I remember what it was like to wait eagerly for a landline phonecall, and that memory is juxtaposed against every text, Snap, and Instagram. (Confession #2: I don’t use Snapchat. But if I did, there would be a matcha-colored filter on everything.)
In this hyperawareness of social media mentality, there’s the underlying recognition of the reason why it’s so essential, so pervasive. It connects us to people. It’s pretty darn amazing that I can turn on an app that taps into a friend’s day, where she’s a librarian in Boston and I’m waiting for a client in New York City, and as finals approach, the two of us can kvetch about our theses over Messenger. Even if we’re going through different things, social media allows us the benefit of relating to each other via phone-shots and text.
And relating, relationships, interpersonal connections — all of these are needed, the more into social media we get. It’s a double-edged sword that makes the simple ability to understand someone all the more integral to maintaining our sense of still being a person in this mess. (“Mess” being life. Not always bad, not always good, but always better when in the company of friends.)
The online tea community has grown, and continues to grow at a remarkable pace because of this. When I first started getting “into tea,” in 2009, there were only a couple of niche forums, such as TeaChat, and scant Facebook groups to speak of.
Today in 2018, the “Tea Drinkers” group on Facebook has 4.8K members and over 10 posts a day, which is incredible activity for a formerly unknown interest. This means that tea drinkers from around the world can connect to each other to compare tasting notes on the latest Pu-Erh, or how to infuse tea into delicious noodle recipes. (We can all relate to food, right?)
Curatable. One of the biggest questions asked when I was in undergrad was, “How do you identify?” Whether it’s race, gender, or favorite grassfed burger joint, Millennials are big on developing and projecting a sense of who they are through their consumer choices — ie: self-branding through preexisting brands.
Tea is one of the biggest opportunities for this. In the Signature Blends article series, I explained how to build a sense of a person through tea. What flavors do they gravitate toward? How do certain nuances seem to evoke aspects of their personality?
I found that even when I was drinking multiple types of tea regularly as a reviewer, there were still certain ones that I would always put in my cup when the camera was off. Formosa Oolong was one for a surge of creative inspiration. Sencha was for workhorse days. As they became part of my routine, these teas became part of my identity as a tea drinker and professional. Talking with others of my generation yielded similar thoughts and experiences — particularly with the fandom teas. (But that’s whole ‘nother game of ponies.)
Debatable. “I wish that we could just put educated questions on Facebook and have intelligent discussions around them,” one of my friends told me, over a PM round of Hojicha, “That’s all.”
For better or worse, Millennials are good at raising debates. Just ask Google: one of the top searches for “millennial” is “controversial topics about millennials.” We’re either the visionaries or the whippersnappers; the destined or the doomed generation. And since the majority of Millennial experts are Millennials themselves, there’s a whole lot of inter-generational discourse.
That is, when we’re not debating something more pressing, ie: Coffee vs. Tea. Interestingly, the “Would You Like Coffee or Tea?” group on Facebook has a staggering 41K members, and posts just as frequently as its virtual neighbor, “Tea Drinkers.”
Makes sense: my non-tea-drinking friends are usually happy to have a cup of coffee. Proponents on both sides can be vociferous in their approval or disapproval, their love of certain blends or brands. And most luckily, we’re civilized about it.
However, this isn’t to say that the modern state of tea is purely a Millennial phenomenon. Tea has been around since at least the Third Century, and it’s going strong enough to steep into the next generation. The least we can do is enjoy it before someone else captures the moment on Snapchat.