Is tea more civilized than coffee? Are tea drinkers cat people and coffee drinkers dog people? If tea leaves tell the future, do coffee beans flip you off?
Such questions require two lumps of subjectivity.
Two distinctions can be made, however. Places that offer high tea tend to have an Eyre about them. Often you'll find the beverage served in "tea rooms" amid ladyfingers, pink Victorian wallpaper and smartly dressed ladies swooning over the Out of Africa soundtrack lilting from speakers hidden behind mad-eyed dolls. Afternoon tea can also be cupped in high-arched hotel lobbies served by waiters at the ready with silver-plated crumbers.
But tea bars and cafés are, well, loose. They tend to attract students slumped over computers and professors poring over Proust. Pinkies need not point to the heavens.
Both high and loose tea joints share a common goal -- to soothe the senses and, during the holidays, to calm the beast within.
A few local tea emporiums:
* The Palm Court at the Omni William Penn Hotel, Downtown (412-281-7100). Afternoon tea is served 2:30-4:30 p.m., Monday through Saturday. Reservations recommended. Don't wear anything stupid, stupid. It's classy.
* The Fernwood Room at The Inn on Negley (703 S. Negley Ave., 412-661-0631). Refined afternoon tea is open to the public by reservation, one day in advance, at $5 per person. English High Tea service, complete with assorted tea sandwiches, pastries and cookies, is $18 per person.
* AntiquiTea Tea Room & Gift Shop (964 Perry Hwy., North Hills, 412-364-6248). Dainty, lacy and girly. If you have a pink hat, wear it. Daily lunch menu. One-day advance notice for afternoon tea, $17.95 per person.
* Te Café, (2000 Murray Ave., Squirrel Hill, 412-422-8888). Tea server Mary Evelyn Finley describes the crowd as mostly students and intellectuals in search of a quiet enclave. The seven-table café sells more than 100 varieties of teas, as well as vegetarian salads and wraps from Mung Dynasty.
* The Vault Coffee & Tea Bar, (3619 California Ave., Brighton Heights, 412-734-1935). Offers a variety of teas, baked goods and occasional live music. They like Johnny Cash. And coffee.
* 61C Café (1839 Murray Ave., Squirrel Hill, 412-521-6161). Named after the bus that takes you there, 61C offers 41 kinds of tea, many unpronounceable. However, tea classes are available.
* Margaret's Fine Imports (5872 Forbes Ave., Squirrel Hill, 412-422-1606). Available here: more than 150 teas to take home, steep and hang loose with.