While coffee has dethroned other beverages all over the world, tea has been struggling to stay in favour even in Asia in recent years. (File pix by Nicholas King)

WE are all creatures of habit — and principle. We are either a Mac or a PC person, stick shift or automatic driver, eBook or paperback reader, golf or tennis player, the options are endless. And then there is the big question: tea or coffee drinker?

Before I embarked on my Asian adventure, I envisioned the whole continent celebrating daily tea ceremonies, all very traditional and very zen. Imagine my amazement as I came upon one coffee shop after the other while exploring my new hometown of Kuala Lumpur.

For many of us, coffee has become a question of survival. Of making it out of the house on time in the morning, of keeping our sanity through early rush hour traffic, of staying awake until or after lunch at work. Not exactly much of a choice you might argue. So it comes as no surprise that even a seemingly saturated market has room for new java joints to pop up at every corner.

But what about not losing your cool when your co-worker has had too much, or not enough coffee? What about the need to find yourself, your calm, your peace and quiet? Will coffee help you to hear, and more importantly listen to your inner voice? Probably not. Even if you are a diehard coffee enthusiast, life has a way of throwing a few tea moments at you every now and again. So here’s an argument in favour of tea and tearooms. And from a coffee drinker no less:

An adherent to refined tea drinking will tell you that only black, green, white and oolong is real tea, everything else is merely a plain infusion. Also, proper etiquette requires that you lift both, your saucer and your little finger as you drink, and never, ever, under any circumstance slurp it from a mug. But let’s not get hung up on details, shall we?

Black tea contains roughly half the amount of caffeine found in coffee; still enough to get you “on the way” to your early morning meeting on time. But tea lacks the dehydrating effect as coffee, which means it’s better for your health and for your skin. Antioxidants present in tea protect your skin from free radicals omnipresent in the harsh Malaysian sunshine. It further shields you from environmental damage such as air pollution, also ubiquitous in the great local outdoors.

Studies have shown that tea doesn’t erode the enamel of teeth the way coffee does. Neither green nor white tea stains teeth and therefore helps you keep your radiant smile intact.

Brewed leaves of the camellia sinensis plant enhance your brain’s cognitive functions, which is why students benefit greatly from drinking tea while cramming for exams.

And frankly, a balanced combination of calm and alertness would certainly benefit a few somewhat hot-headed Malaysian drivers.

Slightly taller tea tales claim that its consumption can prevent an impressive number of ailments and illnesses reaching from liver diseases and diabetes over depression, dementia and coronary trouble to stroke and all sorts of cancers.

Even if an aficionado will cry utter heresy, an ever-increasing variety of herbal infusions deserve an honourable mention. While chamomile helps your digestion after overindulging on beef rendang, peppermint calms your nerves during heated discussions about topics in the news. Hibiscus, blackberries and apples add vital vitamins to your diet, while citrus fruits and ginger boost your immune system, crucial to combat the effects of uber-air conditioned offices and movie halls.

While coffee has dethroned other beverages all over the world, tea has been struggling to stay in favour even in Asia in recent years. Coffee has seen a 250 per cent increase in consumption in as little as 25 years as a general trend of switching from tea to coffee seems to be connected to economic growth and affluence in South East Asia. Even traditional teh tarik faces harsh competition from undignified concoctions such as kopi tarik and 3 in 1.

The simplicity of single pod machines at home and the cool-factor of fancy-schmancy on-the-go creations have given coffee an unprecedented prestige boost. Taking into account all the health benefits, the traditional values and a little bit of creativity, tea too could be cool again; chill in a cardboard cup, so to speak.

So I plead for more calm and cheerfulness, healthy habits and general wellbeing while drinking tea instead of coffee.

I, for one, have my bone china cup, with saucer, waiting for me on the patio.

[email protected]

The writer is a long-term expatriate, a restless traveller, an observer of the human condition, and
unapologetically insubordinate