On Being the Tea-Drinker in a Coffee Culture

I work in an office where most of the inhabitants drink coffee every day, often multiple times a day. I came from an office that was the same, and a previous office that was the same. The field in which I work is highly coffee-dominated. Coffee-saturated, even. So I am often the lone holdout, eschewing coffee in favor of tea as my caffeine and hot drink of choice. And I’ve gotten some comments about my habits.

I don’t dislike coffee, or have anything against coffee. But I greatly prefer tea on a daily basis, and I also have some health issues that are exacerbated by coffee and not as much by tea. So I have become an avowed tea-drinker on all but the rarest occasion.

And it stands out. For one thing, I don’t patronize the communal coffee machine. There are those who make their own coffee and don’t drink communal coffee, but for the most part, the coffee drinkers in a professional environment gather around their machine. My only machine is an electric kettle on my desk. Other than that, my paraphenalia is decidedly low-tech, consisting of leaves, cups, strainers, and spoons. A timer on my phone to time the steep.

I suppose the difference is not so much coffee vs. tea, as it is that I prefer a private ritual to a social one. But even that is not quite right, for I recently found another tea-drinker in my office and we spent a good long time talking tea. I had missed somewhat of the social aspect. But as an introvert, I appreciate my time each day to do my own ritual and sip my tea in relative solitude in my cubicle.

And I’ve written before how just making a cup of tea becomes a kind of break in my day, the specificity of the process is almost a meditation. But apart from that, there is the fact that I am “other” in some way. I could sit with the group and chat over my cup of tea rather than their coffee, and the social aspect would remain. But the fact remains that when someone offers me a coffee I generally decline. And there is a bit of a hit in that, professionally, as you become that weird person who doesn’t drink coffee.

So I go on my way and I try not to stick out in the wrong ways, and I try to be polite when I turn down an offer of coffee. And if someone asks me out “for coffee,” I kindly accept and order a cup of tea.