What’s in your Cup?: Exploring the Evolution of Community-Brewed Culture at Wing Luke Museum

By the time a cup of coffee or tea reaches your lips, it has a unique story of its own. It has crossed seas, imprinted on cultures around the world and has been cultivated and processed by many hardworking hands. Located in the heart of Seattle’s Wing Luke Museum, the newest What’s in your cup? Community-Brewed Culture exhibit honors the stories of these beverages that have influenced both Asian and Western cultures as we know them.  In collaboration with local community leaders, beverage industry entrepreneurs and local beverage businesses, Wing Luke has created this exhibit to showcase the untold narratives, histories and culture-bearing of the beverages in our cups.

As you walk into the exhibit, you will find yourself immersed in the room full of photos, relics and artifacts showcasing the histories of many beverages that we may often take for granted. Here, you will learn about the history of many popular beverages including sake (traditional Japanese rice wine), coffee, tea, bubble tea and more.

To learn more about this exhibit, we spoke to Exhibit Director Michelle Kumata. “Many people don’t know what goes into making beverages, the science, the process and all the hands that are involved before they are served to them,” she says.  “[Through this exhibit] visitors can gain a deeper understanding and appreciation of the process, craftsmanship, history and evolution behind the making of these beverages.”

Your Drink Has Crossed Seas

A special portion of this exhibit showcases the ebb and flow of the beverage industry, demonstrating how industrialization, colonization and migration have impacted the footprints of beverages such as teas, coffees and spirits.

“We have a section on adaptation and innovation, how immigrants have to adapt to a new culture, language, climate, different resources, and how they are able to respond and thrive,” shares Kumata.

“This is demonstrated in the story of the Tomisawa family, who moved their 3 century old sake distillery, Shirafuji Sake Brewery Company, from Japan to Woodinville after the Fukushima nuclear disaster. They came here because the climate and water is similar to their original site in Futuba, Fukushima Prefecture. They are developing their sake and plan to grow rice locally, so the water and rice are from the same area. They are dedicated to continue their traditional sake making process, also knowing that the flavor will be different from the sake they made in Futuba. They also are happy to teach others about sake making to keep the tradition alive.”

Your Drink Has Been Harvested By Many Hands

In this exhibit, you will not only learn about the processes of harvest, cultivation and production of beverages, but also about the people who make them. From Washington hop farmers to the hardworking hands at sake breweries, you’ll hear the stories of the people who have made these drinks for generations.

With the co-curation of local partners, What’s in your cup? also showcases the stories of many local businesses such as Kalsada Coffee and Seattle’s Best Tea. Founded in 2013, Kalsada Coffee collaborates with coffee farmers in the Philippines to spread the richness of the Filipino coffee industry while providing these local farmers with opportunities to grow their businesses worldwide. Seattle’s Best Tea was founded in 1996 by Joe Hsu & Lydia Lin with the hope to spread beauty of traditional Taiwanese tea to the greater Pacific Northwest. These features shed light to the richness of Seattle’s beverage industry and the generations of movement, migration and cross-cultural exchange that have made it what it is today.

Your Drink Brings People Together

For many centuries, beverage shops have been safe spaces for many people to gather, connect, communicate and build community.

“Tea and coffee houses, bubble tea shops and bars are all spaces that create community through traditions and rituals, as gathering spaces and hangouts, and sharing of spirits and karaoke,” shares Kumata.

Through the exhibit’s immersion spaces, visitors have a chance to sit in tea houses, bubble tea shops and even a specialized karaoke room. Not only do the beverages serve a great importance to community and culture, but the places themselves act as spaces for this community cultivation to occur. Whether it be going to bubble tea shop after school to meet friends, or going to a bar after work to get drinks with co-workers, these spaces have been places of generations of community-building.

Your Drink Preserves Culture

“APIA (Asian Pacific Islander American) beverages also help preserve culture–the rituals of tea ceremonies and continuing legacy of traditional processes, such as the making of sake,” says Kumata.

You will read testimonies from many generations who discuss how not only the beverage, but the act of drinking these beverages together, have impacted the way in which they build community. From Japanese tea ceremonies to coffee roastings,  What’s in your cup? gives audiences a behind-the-scenes look into the stories of beverages and the people who make them.

Printed on the walls, you’ll see narratives of families, small businesses and community members who share their fond memories of their favorite drinks. One narrative shares a student’s memory of living in Burma, where tea shops often serve as a gathering space for communities to discuss sports and politics. Another shares the narrative of what it is like living in a Laotian American family, where the taste of home can come from a cup of Café Du Monde with a splash of condensed milk.

“[Through visiting this exhibit,] we hope you will have a better understanding and appreciation of the life cycle and evolution and influences of APIA beverages, says Kumata.  “[You] will also see that APIA beverages are a significant part of the economy, a low barrier entry for small businesses in a region that values entrepreneurship. And that these beverages have the power to bring people together and create community.”

What’s in your cup? gives you a deeper appreciation for the history, culture and community-building that sits in your cup alongside your beverage. At the end of your visit, we hope that if and when someone asks you, what you’re drinking, you’ll be able to tell them just a little bit more than you could before.

What’s in your cup? Community-Brewed Culture is now open at the Wing Luke Museum, and will be open until September 16, 2018. For more information please visit Wing Luke’s website or contact them at (206) 6235124.