Tea Vs. Coffee
I moved to Taiwan just before the first Starbucks opened in Taichung 台中. I remember this because all of the other teachers in my school talked about it constantly. They'd drive all the way from our school to the Starbucks near the Taichung Science Museum - a 45 minute drive - and by the time they got back their iced coffees were no longer iced... or even cold.
Back then there weren't so many places to get coffee. Not even in 1999. In most of outlying Taichung, it was either instant coffee or tea. There was a McDonald's near my school that sold coffee, but back then McDonald's coffee was terrible, and besides the McDonald's there was only a Dante coffee shop, which seemed to be the only coffee shop in north Taichung.
At that time tea shops were much more popular, and most Taiwanese people I knew drank tea. This was increasingly the case the further one got from an urban area. When I would visit my wife's family in Yunlin 雲林, there was no coffee to be had in that village. Not even the canned kind. Everyone in that place drank tea all day, and even cola was somewhat exotic in those parts.
In the fifteen years since that time, a lot has changed. Now you can get coffee in every 7-11 and Family Mart. Now there are coffee shops everywhere. In 1999 coffee was a distinctly foreign beverage, and now it's so commonplace that most people don't even notice it. Many of my friends from those early days are now addicted to coffee, and there are even people in my wife's hometown who own and operate coffee shops.
It's funny to remember those early days in Taiwan, and how earnestly I sought out good coffee. I couldn't even buy coffee beans back then, and I usually resorted to the bags of 3-in-1 they sold in Hyper, Carrefour, or RT Mart. In Seattle they had just experienced a coffee renaissance, with Starbucks, Seattle's Best Coffee, and Tully's sprouting up on every street corner. But in Taichung I was still in the third world, where coffee was often viewed as "disgusting" or "unhealthy" or just "odd."
How quickly things change. Almost before I knew it, that first Taichung Starbucks had spawned others, and coffee shops were appearing around the city. McDonald's upgraded its coffee, and suddenly I could buy both coffee beans and coffee makers. A few years later the big convenience store chains followed the trend, much to everyone's satisfaction. Coffee is now big business in Taiwan, and I know many Taiwanese people who drink it to the exclusion of almost everything else.
Now if only I could start a craze for Mountain Dew and microbrews. Then I would truly feel at home, and then I wouldn't have to go searching for them in other cities. It might be sad to see the old way of life pass out of fashion, but modernization - or some might say Westernization - can be a good thing. It offers us the choices we didn't have before.
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