The replicators onboard Federation starships can produce an extraordinary range of things, from weapons and antique furniture to eyeballs and a bunch of snakes. But I’ve always been most in awe of the cosmic sweet treats, fancy foodstuffs, and exotic drinks they can rustle up—anyone for a chocolate sundae? Lobster ravioli? How about a Klingon coffee to set you up for the day? Or, if you’re brave enough, a Zariphean tea? With a galaxy-sized menu at their fingertips and few restrictions on what they can ‘order’ with commanding officer privileges, I’ve often wondered why many of our favorite Starfleet captains choose the same beverage over and over again.
Everyone knows Captain Jean-Luc Picard’s (Patrick Stewart) favorite tea: “Earl Grey, hot”. Captain Katherine Janeway (Kate Mulgrew) loves coffee so much that she orders the crew to plow into an organic nebula to find some. Captain Benjamin Sisko (Avery Brooks) is a big fan of Raktajino, Klingon coffee with a kick. Captain Jonathan Archer (Scott Bakula) likes the taste of sweet iced tea. And even captains that aren’t tied to a specific drink during their missions follow similar patterns, like Captain James T. Kirk (William Shatner). He always made a point of picking unusual beverages when he had the chance.
Our favorite captains default to their favorite drinks because they were written that way, and each choice establishes their character. Picard enjoys the sophisticated but not necessarily pretentious Earl Grey. Bold and probably most of the time exhausted, Janeway opts for a hit of coffee. Sisko’s preference for Klingon coffee speaks to his willingness to embrace other cultures. Archer’s love for sweet iced tea suggests a soothing, comforting hug in a mug that reminds him of home when he’s light years away.
The Psychology of Hot Drinks
However, the drinks we choose—especially our tastes in tea and coffee—are often more than they seem. I spoke to food historian and artist Tasha Marks to better understand their significance. “Tea and coffee both have long social histories. They have been the catalysts to conversation and change for centuries,” she tells us. They provide a social context that encourages connection—essential in the fictional space of Star Trek, where typical conventions are sometimes lacking.
But Marks says there’s a “dual existence” to tea and coffee. “They are both public and private, personal and universal.” Part of this personal significance comes from creating them. “Tea, coffee, and other hot drinks are also more ritualistic than other beverages because they tend to require more preparation,” Marks says.
“There is a ritual to making a hot drink, from selecting your favorite cup to boiling the kettle and even judging the right moment to drink it so it won’t burn your tongue.”
Ordering drinks via a replicator on Star Trek presents a different ritual, but asking for the same drink, again and again, watching it being made, and drinking it are important and ritualistic steps, even before you begin drinking. I'm reminded of recent research about the power of ritual, which suggests (among many other things) that it can be essential for calming anxiety and increasing performance.
Or to quote Janeway in the Star Trek: Voyager episode 'Hunters' (S4, Ep15):
"Coffee – the finest organic suspension ever devised. It's got me through the worst of the last three years. I beat the Borg with it."
“Tea and coffee also provide a moment of pause,” Marks says. She explains that there are many steps after preparation and before drinking that we often take for granted. We check the temperature, we feel the warmth, we hold the cup. “No one pauses for a glass of water in the same way we do for a cup of tea,” she says. “Hot drinks are a moment to reflect and practice self-care.” There is a meditative practice here, a grounding, a necessary act that prepares our captains for the challenges they’ll face—it’s no wonder meditations and ceremonies around the practice of tea preparation and drinking have persisted for centuries.