I have a group of friends that smoke pipes, often when we're together. However, I have taken a pledge to avoid tobacco, alcohol, etc. I do not mind them smoking around me, and I recognize the habit as manly and dignified.

My question is if anyone has a suggestion of what I can do during this time? I want to remain social, but I feel out of place without a pipe. I'd like a habit I can partake in while they smoke.

Any suggestion would be greatly appreciated.

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It is indeed important to be oneself but I just feel like forcing oneself into habits like twiddling with a yo-yo or perpetually sucking on a lollipop is the the opposite of being oneself; it's attempting to artificially ascribe quirky characteristics to oneself rather than simply being. It's like trying to give yourself a nickname and hoping that it sticks. It just doesn't work that way.

I also suggest tea.  I acquired the tea taste over here in Asia, where tea houses and tea drinking are a serious institution.  Lots of people, including me, spend 5 or 6 hours at a tea house, talking, snacking, playing cards or mah jong, and generally solving the problems of the world.  The reason is that tea is a stimulant, whereas coffee is an excitant.  It causes you a more serene state of mental alertness.  Caffeine is caffeine right?  Yes, but the molecule it is embedded in is different in tea and coffee.  In tea, caffeine is time-released very slowly into your system.  You can rebrew the leaves over and over again and there is a trickle of caffeine each time. 

Dengyo Daishi (I may have spelled that wrong) was the first person to bring tea from China to Japan.  He was a monk and spread it as a tool for monks in meditation to retain focus without getting sleepy.  It really will make you alert and chatty.

There are more different kinds of tea than there are wines, if you can believe that.  There is a sophisticated tea culture that is every bit as involved as coffee, wine, and tobacco.

Is tea manly?  Images of lace tablecloths and baby showers in the light of tasseled lamps come to mind.  But keep in mind that originally tea was EXCLUSIVELY for men.  Women weren't allowed to drink it.  But the ultimate evidence is this:  The world's most famous samurai, Miyamoto Musashi, practiced and widely endorsed Japanese tea ceremony as being integral to the path of the warrior.  This man, mind you, is known to have killed either 55 or 56 (we're not sure about 1 apparently) people in one-on-one sword duels with the katana and wakisashi sword style he invented.  His castle was the 3rd largest in Japan, called the Black Crow castle in Kumamoto.  He also fought on several battlefields.  3 major battles he survived, if I recall rightly.  He died of natural causes in old age.

I do my brewing Chinese gong fu cha style (complicated tea).  Anyway, brew and drink your tea in very small runs by the use of zisha or purple clay teapot.  Because you brew it maybe 4 oz. at a time, you are constantly busy with brewing, pouring, and sipping and this goes well with conversation, as does pipe smoking.  I have had some really long, really deep conversations over a constant cycle of tea preparation with my guy friends.  Girls don't seem to get into tea as much as guys do when they do get into it.  My girlfriend thinks I'm weird because I have a $500 tea set and buy aged Pu-erh tea (the one tea that is stored in a cellar and gets better with age) for $35 for a quantity about the size of my fist.

Oolong, Pu-erh, green, or really really bitter matcha are all good choices.  Just don't add sugar or creme.  The old tea masters savored the bitterness -- a manly ideology if I've ever heard one.

Though I'm a super tea snob I can do my tea drinking camping with a cheap leaf strainer, a cup, and a little hiker kettle to boil water.

Excellent response, exactly what i had in mind when i recommended it to him.

Tea is a quite manly pursuit with a rich history as you pointed out, and like any manly hobby it has more to do with how you aproach the hobby then with how society views it.

Not to depart from the original post topic, but you've intrigued me, Brad, and I'd like to get to know more about the world of tea.  How would you recommend I get my feet in the water?  Go out and start buying/trying teas; research books; dig into websites?

I wrote an article about tea back when I was a reporter:

The internet is very confusing, full of bad and conflicting info about tea, though there are some good materials out there.  In terms of books, which are more careful about fact-checking than the internet, the best I've seen is probably this one:

The book shows the creepy similarities in the histories and properties of coffee, chocolate and tea as well.  It gives you an idea about tea preparation from Morocco to China and everywhere else.  It gets into profession tea cupping as well (these are the guys who make sure Twinings British Breakfast tastes the same every year by getting the blends right although every year's crops are different)

I think you just have to try a ton of teas and find what kinds you like.  I used to experiment drinking every kind I could.  Now I just drink the same thing all the time.  You can't really go wrong but I will caution you about a few crucial mistakes to avoid:

1.  Use the best water you can.  Bad water will ruin the best tea.  Run really cold water through a carbon filter like Brita or something.  Stop before a rolling boil.  Strings of small bubbles are good.  You should not burn you tongue on tea.  I like tea hot enough to warm me up but not so hot I can't swallow a full mouthful.

2.  Don't be fooled by all the idiotic "iron" teapots sold everywhere in America.  They are glazed on the inside and designed to be washed out.  True iron teapots are very expensive, unglazed, and actually add the nutrient iron to the drink.  The safety police in America (in their infinite wisdom) have decreed real, porous iron is not okay.  If the inside of an iron teapot feels like a dinner plate, it's meant to be washable and gives you no benefit of the iron.

3.  A kettle and a teapot are different - a kettle is for heating water, a teapot is for brewing the leaves.  Pour the hot water from the kettle over the leaves in the teapot, and quickly pour the tea out of the teapot into your cup without waiting too long or it will get bitter and tanic.  Starbucks is the world's worst amateur at this.  They put a teabag in a paper cup of boiling water.  The boiling water destroys the taste of the tea (never use rolling boil water, you want less-than fully boiled water) and as if that weren't bad enough, the tea just festers in this water the whole time you're drinking it, getting more and more bitter.  It should never be steeped that long.  A minute of steeping is too much in my opinion.  Never leave teas to stew in the water.

4.  If you ever buy a real porous clay teapot for brewing, you must choose one kind of tea to use in it all the time.  NEVER WASH IT.  The porous clay will absorb the character of a tea (on silver teapot antiques this is the brown patina on the inside) and eventually it will become a "magic teapot."  Meaning you can pour in hot water and it will come out tasting like tea.  Pretty awesome.  To start this, buy the clay teapot, sink it in a pot of cold water with a ton of the tea you want to "season" it with, then slowly bring it to a boil.  That starts the process.  Then only use that kind of tea (example: Pu-erh, Oolong, green) and after a few years it will be a magic teapot.

5.  Buy whole leaves.  Lipton uses the dust scrap that falls through all the sieves in the processing of tea.  This cheap, unwanted dust also goes into cosmetics and lotions that feature "green tea" and such.  The real tea buyers get the whole, unbroken leaves.

6.  Tea will definitely stain your teeth, but a simple cleaning at the dentist will remove it.


Also, you know who they say drank tea almost to the exclusion of water?  THIS GUY:

I like the whittling idea, although depending where this happens the shavings might be obnoxious.

I had a group that would always play a low-key card game when we sat around.  Nothing very involved, just so that our hands were doing something when there was a lull in the conversation.  Barring that, how about bringing pistachios or something?

May I suggest target shooting? You could do a little William Tell with your friends' pipes and shot glasses. Downside is, if you are a bad shot- you'll need new friends.

The tea idea is pretty cool. I gave up alcohol this year (with the exception of a few hiccups) and I find I miss the collector's impulse I get in accumulating a nice selection of scotches or tequilas etc. Tea seems like something I could pick up as kind of an eccentric substitute (Every man should have a few eccentricities in my opinion). 

Perhaps already mentioned but the manliest thing, if there is such a thing, would be to have enough discipline to just stop smoking and not let it impact your life or social surroundings.  enjoy the company not the activity.


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