A few nights back, I had a dream where I was asked by a vendor in Darjeeling to review some of their products. The box that came in the mail was huge; there were at least fifty 100g bags in it, along with other various Indian-ish tea apparati. The first bag I took out was by some estate I’d never heard of. When I tore it open, a foul, earthy smell invaded my nostrils – like poorly cooked puerh only worse. On the inside, instead of leaves, I found beige furballs and brown clumps.
I was known to be an experimental drinker, but even this weirded me out. The ingredients listed on the package mentioned squirrel, venison, animal droppings, and molded leaves. With a shrug, I brewed it up…and tasted the worst muck that ever befell my tongue. Yes, even worse than overbrewed genmaicha or anything with copious amounts of lavender. I woke up after the first taste.
And that was my first tea nightmare ever.
What does that have to do with discerning palates? Probably nothing; possibly everything. What it did do was finally compel me to make a more legitimate response to a blog post by fellow “Beast of Brewdom”, Ken (aka. Lahikmajoe) – a collaboration with another Twitizen, Radhika/Levis517. The dilemma that was posed was how the social celebration of tea was lost the moment people ascribed pomp and circumstance to it, plus the cost therein – i.e. snobbery.
At first, I was completely on board with Radhika’s well-versed argument in the post. In developing a fancy-schmancy culture around something so simple as dead-‘n-dried leaves in hot water, some of the inclusivity is lost. I will fully admit that I sometimes take a ridiculous amount of pride in having a favorite pu-erh mountain. (It’s Nan Nuo Shan, by the way.) But does it really matter if there’s no one to share this joy with over a cup of Nan Nuo sheng?
You’re damn right, it does.
When I first started this nerdy persuit – and, yes, it is nerdy – I was mainly sticking to the teabag fringes with the likes of cheap Moroccan Mint or a blueberry-flavored white. Heck, when I worked nights, my beverage of choice was a bag o’ Stash Orange Spiced Black in a paper coffee cup, boiled to s**t, and mixed with sugar and French vanilla creamer. Why? Because it tasted like an orange creamsicle. Sophiscated? Not in the slightest.
As my tastes changed, so did my leanings. I started off hating pu-erh, then I had some of the aged stuff. Darjeeling was a name I met with derision, now I can’t resist its earthspice aroma. Oolongs used to tasted like roasted, metal feet but now impart a sense of peace I haven’t felt in any other beverage. Japanese green teas hinted at a world populated by spinach that spewed fire, now it embodies vegetal sweetness personified. And none of that would’ve happened had I not heightened my brow a bit.
A funny thing, though. As snooty as my tea tastes became, my approach hadn’t. I never considered myself better than the average teabagger at Starbucks. Nor did I cringe (too much) when someone mentioned their favorite tea flavor was “cheesecake”. Granted, I do wince a bit when my brother takes a Lipton over a Golden Bi Luo, but I don’t throw a huff about it. Much.
In short, yes, tea snobbery is alive and well. It is as drowned in ritual as any fancy ball…but it’s a party everyone is invited to. The tea folks I’ve met are like Quakers; they’ll extol the virtues of the leaf, welcome you to the fray, but they won’t force you to join, or turn a nose up at you if you don’t. None of the social importance is lost on us. We want to talk about tea with non-tea drinkers, preferably over a cup of tea. I mean, it’s a beverage that’s been around for millennia, how could we not geek out over it?
What I’m trying to say is, I would like what’s in my cup to taste good. I would like it to have a story to tell. And, lastly, I would like to tell it to someone. I think that’s what this little blog of mine (and every other tea blog) is about. So, come on in; I’ll warm the kettle. Pick a tea. A good tea.
This is great. I think it’s too easy to come up with a firm stance on all of this. My take on the snobbery of tea is always changing.
I do enjoy the tea community, and I’ve never tried ‘cheesecake’ tea. I’d certainly give it a go at least once.
My biggest issue is that we don’t make tea inaccessible to the tea curious by making our club too exclusive. I’d never accuse you of such a thing. Not a chance.
Well, that was the biggest point I was hoping to make. (At least, I hope the point was clear?) It’s a very inclusive club. Granted, our “language” may be off-putting to some not in the know – or overwhelming – but I think we’re a fairly welcoming lot.
Well you have added some drama to my day. What a nightmare!
Your journey to the finer leaves of tea has been similar to mine, though your list of tea tastings is so much more extensive, this is what makes the journey fun.
I have included my family on the “tea road”. So much so my daughter recently called me from Starbucks to share she thought she might be becoming a bit of a “Tea Snob” as she proceeded to correct the counter person who offered her black and green tea as an herbal.
Thank you as always for a wonderful post.
It was the weirdest dream I’ve ever had. Can’t say I’ve had dreams I could taste. Your daughter’s experience reminds me of the Teavana that tried to sell me genmaicha by claiming it tasted like strawberries.
Rachana (Rachel) Carter
First of all… Yikes! What a frightening tea nightmare. I hope there hasn’t been any sort of hypnotic suggestion here, opening the doors to tea nightmares for me. I should mention I am highly suggestible.
Next, I love reading your posts. You have such a fun, whimsical sort of way of writing but still manage to get your point across. A lovely skill. I look forward to your posts, so it looks like I’ll take that cuppa tea. 🙂
Ack! I hope this doesn’t start a slew of tea nightmares for you. I would NOT want that on my conscience. Er…keep looking at the cute squirrel in the cup! That should cleanse you.
I’m glad to hear you spot the attempts at whimsy in my posts. Very tall (and welcome) praise, m’dear.
this made me smile! You really did understand what I was saying and you expressed one entire post so effectively in one line! I have to admit, I can’t say I’m free of tea-snobbery (or any snobbery), it’s just a different kind. Even anti-snobbery is snobbery, no? I do get pedantic about herbal infusions not being tea, but that sort of ‘snobbery’ usually gets the chance to be displayed here.
I was a coffee snob during my tea hiatus, but in retrospect – despite my best efforts – I was insufferable. I’m glad I didn’t subject tea to that. The branding/marketing treatment it receives is terrible, it makes me sad to see it treated so much like a… commodity.
I was hoping you’d see this wee post. 🙂 I’m glad you liked it. Like I said in the diatribe, this was not meant as a rebuttal. I completely agreed with you on the points where adding hoity-toity-ness to tea sort of limits the social atmosphere of it. Your post reminded me to keep things in perspective, and that there are others out there who’d view my approach to tea as uncouth.
I also have to thank you for correcting me a while back on my use of the word “Chai”. 😉
I have to, it’s instinct. I like my tea from a cauldron though, so we might have to brew separately and then meet.
HA! A cauldron, eh? Challenge accepted.
I think your tea nightmare was due to the lack of tea during the night.
“they’ll extol the virtues of the leaf, welcome you to the fray, but they won’t force you to join, or turn a nose up at you if you don’t.”
Some of us might try that (no, I won’t tell names) but I think you are right.
I share cups with colleagues, I don’t force them to join me and I still think the same about them if they don’t want.
I think you’re right. I don’t tea enough in the night. Well…at the very least, I don’t tisane enough.
You should tea more.
Tisaning will give you more nightmares.
Depends on the tisane.
No (at least for me).
I just love reading your blog posts. They always put a smile on my face.
I would love to have a cup of tea with you even though I don’t manage to make it up to PDX that often. Next time you are heading up to the Seattle area let me know and we can explore some tea shops.
You’re on. Speaking of which, there’s a shop in Burien called the Phoenix Teahouse that is awesome. It’s run by a couple of tea bloggers, even.