About Me

When not at work with students, I spend my time in my room either reading, calculating something using pen and paper, or using a computer. I read almost anything: from the pornographic to the profound, although my main interests are mathematics and physics. "When I get a little money I buy books; and if any is left I buy food and clothes." -Erasmus

Monday, September 26, 2011

Coffee, Tea, and the Global Financial Crisis

There are a lot of inexpensive pleasures-- one just needs to consciously savor them when they come. One of my more recent pleasures is doughnuts and tea; a feeling of luxury can be achieved by buying doughnuts at Dunkin' Donuts and then having two or three doughnuts with Earl Gray tea.

I suppose that pleasures must be contemplated to be enjoyed; it's no use to rush through the ritual of drinking tea. I've read about the  tea ceremony in Kakuzo Okakura's The Book of Tea, but it's not the kind of tea I drink. There's no formality nor ritual; just a teabag, a mug of hot water, milk and sugar. Reading it did give me a greater appreciation of tea. Alas, although it is somewhere here in my house, the number of books and papers, and the lack of a classification system means I will probably take a day or two to search for it. It's faster to download it here.  

Along with Earl Gray, I bought English Breakfast Tea, and Peach flavored  tea. I was pleasantly surprised by how inexpensive it actually is. A teabag costs about PhP 8 to 10 (about 20 US cents) compared to a cup of coffee from Starbucks (around PhP 80 or USD 2.50).

Although I do have a French press at work, I'm also thinking of buying a teapot, and getting an infuser as well. On the other hand, I'd probably have to look for a shop that sells loose-leaf tea, since it's not available in most supermarkets here. Even Rustan's ran out of tea-bags of Earl Gray tea, so it'll probably be difficult to find loose-leaf tea. Most Filipinos prefer coffee to tea, so there's not much to be found here, except in specialty shops (which I do not know). Maybe I ought to ask the friend who got me to drink tea.

This doesn't mean that I dislike coffee. When I was an undergraduate, there was a time when my coffee consumption was 6 to 8 mugs a day. I don't do that now-- I've limited my coffee consumption to just two mugs a day.  I used to drink instant coffee but after trying brewed coffee, you really don't want to go back to instant. Nescafe, for example, has an acidic aftertaste that I won't miss. When I do drink instant, it's mainly for the caffeine; I use creamer and sugar to mask the taste.

I brew the Barako variety; I like it better than Arabica, and it's actually cheaper here since most of it is grown in Batangas, Benguet and other parts of the Philippines. It's slightly more expensive than instant-(I think it costs me about PhP 15 (or 40 cents US) for every mug I brew) but much less expensive than getting it from Starbucks. The reason it's not as well known as Arabica and Robusta was the coffee rust disease that devastated local coffee plantations during the 1880's. A local coffeeshop, Figaro's, is promoting barako so that this local variety won't die out.  

Steven Johnson claims that the switch from alcohol (with the population being effectively drunk all day) to tea and coffee was one of the sources of the Enlightenment. (His TED talk is here.) Drinking alcohol then was the healthy choice-- the water was bad, and alcohol was one way of making sure that you don't have bad bacteria in what you drink.

Coffeehouses (and tea houses) were first introduced to Europe in the 17th century; this was before Pasteur and the germ theory of disease, and they had no idea that boiling water was one way of making drinking water safe. Now here was a beverage people don't (literally) get sick of, and it changed the population from being drunk all day to one that was alert and ready to engage in more intellectual pursuits. The first coffee houses also served as the meeting places of traders, and were the equivalent of today's financial exchanges. One can therefore trace the rise of the modern sciences and the Financial system from the Enlightenment to the atomic bomb and the Global Financial crisis today back to a coffeehouse!

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