27 February 2009

Tea Party

No, I'm not talking about impersonating natives to perpetrate an act of insurrection against the British by vandalizing the cargo in Boston Harbor, but that does set the stage. You see, unlike countries that have longer history, such as Britain, China, and Japan, we've gotten away from tea in the U.S.A because of an oppressive tax burden - it didn't really bother the rich, mind you, but when an everyday beverage becomes so expensive that normal people find the price problematic, something has to be done.

And now we have coffee shops stacked so close together that you can hardly see between them in some places, and they charge - guess what? - a fortune for a cuppa Joe. For the price of one Starbuck's half-caf latte I can get well over an ounce of remarkably good tea. I'm not talking about Lipton's here, either. I'm talking visit a tea shop run by a tea loving entrepreneur, such as Indigo Tea in Burnsville, MN. Food Co-ops offer tea in bulk - even that bastion of new capitalism, Amazon, offers remarkable deals on better-than-average tea. The coffee shops work as fast as they can to get me in and out, but the tea shops encourage me to linger, they offer me tastes of something new, and conversation about the trade.

Tea is the wine of the warm beverage industry. It reflects where it was grown, with influences from how it was prepared between harvesting and arriving at the market. The history of tea is as rich as the beverage itself, which is considerably more diverse than most U.S. coffee-drinkers realize.

Learn about tea; Camellia sinensis.

Learn about Teaism.

I've got nothing against Starbuck's making a noisy buck in their frantic shops, or regional chains such as Caribou and Dunn Brothers that offer jobs in a good environment (albeit often still noisy,) and I applaud the entrepreneurs who run their own operation without the support of national ad budgets... after all, you can get a cup of tea, too, at many of these places.

But in an era when families face foreclosure and loss of health care coverage because the financial industry gamed the mortgage business and we left the foxes guarding the henhouse, it just makes me wonder about our consumer-oriented mindset and economic priorities.

So try something different - have some tea. If you're a coffee drinker and you need something dark and full-bodied to entice you into enjoying what billions of people around the world already enjoy, try aged Pu'erh from China's Yunnan province for a start - check a local supplier, order it through Amazon, or order it in tuocha form online from various small businesses, you won't be disappointed.

Next time you're in New Jersey, visit Cape May and you'll find an amazing array of tea rooms. You're been reading about the health benefits, now I'm telling you that there's more to "Green Tea" than just the stuff from Stash at the grocery store. Slow down and have a tea party.

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