Sunday, November 27, 2011

Should Chinese Restaurants Serve Coffee?

Have you ever been in a Chinese restaurant and longed for a cup of coffee? This paragraph in a business article gave some food for thought:
Tempest in a Teacup
Even though it is more common today than it once was, many Chinese restaurants still stick to the tradition of refusing to serve coffee and, similarly, rebuffing requests to add milk to a cup of tea.
The reason is cultural in two respects. First, tea plays such an important part in Chinese culture that it is a staple of every meal, and tinkering with tradition is a no-no.
According to ESL Monkeys, an online guide for language teachers, there also isn't much after-meal chitchat in Chinese culture, something Americans do by unwinding with a cup of coffee.
"Once the meal is over, you will notice that all the guests will leave promptly," the site advises those teaching English abroad. "This is contrary to the western custom of lingering over a cup of coffee. In fact, most Chinese restaurants will not even serve coffee, so be on your way!"
This needs some clarification. First of al, the article is WRONG about the Chinese not being social after a meal. We LOVE to sit and chat for ages (hours if possible) amidst a pile of empty dishes and glasses on the table. It's just not a practical thing for anyone to do if they're pressed for time during a work week.

Secondly, yes, it's a cultural thing that the Chinese drink tea at a meal but not because they're so rigid that coffee is an absolute "no-no." It's because tea is great as a palate cleanser. Family-style dinners, where a group orders 5-6 or more dishes and share the food, are the norm in practically all meals. To differentiate between the tastes of each dish, we drink tea in between bites or dishes. Coffee has a distinctive and strong flavor which does not work to reset one's tastebuds. So it's not that the Chinese don't like coffee, it's just that by the time they're done with six or more dishes, the desire for coffee is probably the furthest thing from a diner's mind.

Let us know: Should coffee be served in Chinese restaurants?