Home Comforts Revisted – There Is Always Time For Tea

14 01 2010

Since arriving in the USA, I have noticed that some of the habits I took for granted in the UK have slipped by the wayside or, in some cases, have vanished entirely.

Dislocation has ensured that I have lost touch with TV in England, have no idea who is in the UK Top 40, haven’t had a pint of Stella Artois in ages or a full English breakfast and that page 3 of The Sun is a distant memory.

I have even forgotten how to queue properly.

Most disturbing of all, I rarely drink tea in the morning anymore.

This may be down to 5 things :

  1. I have a Keurig Elite hot drinks machine, given to me at Crimbo by my in-laws which has replaced my kettle. It is awesome.
  2. It came with a gift pack of various hot beverages, which did not include any worthwhile teas (although there was a selection of fruit teas which cannot be classed as “tea” ) .
  3. The removal of my kettle from the equation has meant that I no longer “brew” my teabag in the mug. The Keurig just requires the pressing of a button, and the requisite hot water is filtered down into the mug at a pre-determined strength.
  4. I have got used to drinking coffee.
  5. There is a Starbucks 200 yards from the apartment for when I fancy an expensive alternative to my Keurig.

But I do miss my morning cuppa.

William Gladstone, former PM of Great Britain (3 times between 1868 – 1894) once said that “If you are cold, tea will warm you. If you are too heated, it will cool you. If you are depressed, it will cheer you. If you are excited, it will calm you.”

He had no comment to make about coffee.

The British have always been regarded as a nation of tea drinkers and in many ways they have always associated the drinking of tea with a civilised way of living and behaviour. However, the last decade has seen the traditional cuppa under an increased threat from a proliferation of identikit coffee chains which seem to have sprung up in every town and city.

The world has become a faster paced society, it seems that coffee is the fuel that allows the 21st Century individual to carry on with their life at a pace that does not leave time for gentile conversation and cucumber sandwiches.

However coffee is not the pure drink that some would hope it .

There are some cynics  who believe that those who pay $3 for their large, skinny, non-foam latte are helping to increase global poverty, increase environmental concerns, and that those who produce the bean are not paid a fair wage for their efforts.

But the world of the tea producer is not all chips and gravy.

Since the 1990’s tea production has been gradually falling, due to a combination of bad weather conditions, the closure of plants due to lack of investment or mismanagement, the decline in demand (possibly linked to coffee!) which has led to prices dropping.

Tea as a commodity may be considered a “global industry” due to world consumption, but the actual regions of the world where the tea plant (Camellia Sinesis) is grown are very few.

The foremost producers of tea are China, India, Sri Lanka and Japan whilst Bangladesh, Cameroon, Malaysia and Kenya have started to produce teas that are attracting greater attention.

 There is little surprise that these regions produce the majority of the world’s tea.

There’s Always Time For Tea

Setting aside the climate conditions that the plant requires, these producers of tea have a history of tea production which makes the 350 years that the British have been drinking tea look like a brief moment in time.

According to the UK Tea Council, the Chinese were drinking tea for many centuries ( the first tea was brewed for the Emperor Shen Nung in 2737BC) whilst the colonial aspirations of the British led them to countries such as India and Sri Lanka where plantations for tea growing could be set up.

The commodity was then shipped back through companies such as the East India Company, which grew to have such a monopoly on tea that it impacted on governmental foreign policy for decades.

Subsequent problems with taxation on tea in the USA in 1773, working conditions, the use of child labour, denial of workers rights and the flow of capital from the top of the tea chain (companies such as Unilever and Tata Tea), through to the producers/growers in the poorer regions have tainted some aspects of what is considered to be a healthy drink which is enjoyed by millions throughout the world.

Whilst the introduction of systems such as Fairtrade are coming from a moral standpoint, it is consumer awareness othat needs to mobilized and certainly multinational chains such as Starbucks have spent a lot of their resources in ensuring that standards are met for good social and environmental performance.

Fairtrade, whilst becoming a brand in itself, has as its main goal that a minimum price is paid to the farmer whilst charging a premium price to consumers. This has now been echoed in the tea industry by initiatives such as the Ethical Tea Partnership, who count companies such as Twinings, Tetley and Sara Lee amongst their members.

So sometimes even the simple act of drinking tea may become fraught with moral difficulties. But taking the wider perspective can be an immense relief.

 Thich Nhat Hanh, who wrote ” Anger: Wisdom for Cooling the Flames” said that

When you sit in a café, with a lot of music in the background and a lot of projects in your head, you’re not really drinking your coffee or your tea. You’re drinking your projects, you’re drinking your worries. You are not real, and the coffee is not real either. Your coffee can only reveal itself to you as a reality when you go back to your self and produce your true presence, freeing yourself from the past, the future, and from your worries. When you are real, the tea also becomes real and the encounter between you and the tea is real. This is genuine tea drinking.”

Time for a brew.

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