I was thirsty and found myself at a PCC in Seattle. I wanted something to drink that was neither plain water nor some sugary juice. I saw a row of cans of Tibetan Tea and tried it. I dare you to match the copy on the side of the can for sheer over-the-top nerve and pretentiousness. If you do, I’ll buy you a cup of real tea. This what it says, missing article and all: “Our mission is to reveal raw truth of the world’s invisible. Every sip gives voice to the unheard.”
The invisible what, you wonder. Give it some thought and maybe it will come to you.
The can’s content provided me with 200 calories I didn’t need. It was extremely sweet; the second ingredient on a list that includes “natural flavors” is sucrose. Another is “tea”, but it’s not made clear what kind. I’m not sure how “Tibetan” this drink is. Probably about as much as bottled Italian salad dressing is Italian. The mention of Tibet here means to garner sympathy and, thereby, foster sales. Not that that’s bad, but it might seem jarring to people who associate certain values with the country. Intrigued by a detail I noticed in the manufacturer’s address, I strolled to the Tibetan Tea site when I was back in my office. Disappointingly, there weren’t any more dramatic marketing statements, just a couple of modern-orientalist touches in the copy.
But listen. There is another story here, too. I had met Penny Stafford, the owner, before. She used to have a fine, small coffee shop in Bellevue called I Belvi, which was supposed to be the Italian for “The Wild Animals” (and unfortunately included a grammatical error). She made excellent espresso that I drank many times. Penny always had a friendly word for her guests, and enjoyed sharing about the animal rescue efforts she was active in. Starbucks, which has several locations not far away, did its best to ruin her. Starbucks representatives even handed out samples of Starbucks coffee in front of her business. This was outrageous enough to come to the attention of the local media. The Seattle Post-Intelligencer, still a going concern at the time, published an article about Penny and her determination to survive.
Eventually, I Belvi closed. But it wasn’t Starbucks that did it in. Construction projects across the street brought lot of workers to the coffee shop. Some of them treated the place like an extension of the job site, visiting in noisy groups, talking loudly on their mobile phones and Motorola intercom devices, leering at Penny, and making the place unpleasant for the rest of us. I quit going there and probably some other people did, too. At some point, I noticed the new buildings were done and the coffee shop no longer there. That made me feel bad. Maybe I’m wrong, and Penny closed because she was ready to do something else, not because nobody came for coffee anymore. In any case, I’m glad she’s on to another venture, sweet as it is. And, I appreciate that she’s apparently still involved in helping animals in need.