After a decade in tea, as a tea shop co-owner and/or manager, a blogger, a speaker, an author, co-owner of an online retailer and simply pouring way more tea than most would think possible down my craw, I think it’s fair to say I know a bit more about tea than most people do, or need to.
And that’s fair enough. After all, there are many people that know more than me about certain things, such as the internal combustion engine, designer handbags or the life cycle of Heerz lukenatcha.*
But what is an acceptable level of ignorance?
For example, if you own a car, some people might think you should also need to be able to take it apart and reassemble it using nothing more than a paperclip, an oily rag and duct tape. Sure, these people are the sort of people who go about spouting “I rebuilt my first Chrysler HemiSemiDemi204 engine when I was four years old” and other such piffle, and sure again, they probably should be lightly hit about the head with a cricket bat until they stop, but do they have a point of sorts? If you own a car, do you need to at least know a little more than where to put the petrol in?
Maybe being able to check oil, coolant and type pressure? Or what the light that looks like an owl means when it comes on at 11pm on a country road near a mysterious mansion?
There are always levels of things: novice, newbie, comfortable, accomplished, master, Yoda or whatever list of levels a particular field has. and in very few circumstances, it is not beholden on everyone who dabbles in a field or has a passing interest to then dedicate the rest of their life to becoming an expert. There’s not enough room at the top, for a start. Only one Yoda there is.
But there is also such a thing as wilful ignorance, and I see it every day. For example, the other day I saw a post, and a comment on a post, originating with a person who follows my facebook posts, not because they love tea, but because they have specifically told me they would like more abusive vitriol rained down upon their friends by adding me to their circle.
The comment was (shield your eyes, sensitive tea types) “I try and try to like green tea. It smells like a cat’s litter-box.” And one of the comment was, in part “…can’t get on with green/white/herbal – they all taste like stewed grass!”
Of course, the biggest and most obvious issue here is the catch-all nature of this usage of ‘green tea’. When we had our first tea shop, people would say things like “I don’t suppose you have green tea”, often in a haughty and superior fashion (Pot meet Kettle and I’ll leave you to discuss colouring), to which my even more haughty and superior reply would be “we have thirteen loose leaf green teas, you’ll have to be a bit more specific” .
It’s just not possible to lump the taste of Gyokuru and Bi Luo Chun and Doke Diamond together. It is ignorance on a scale I cannot comprehend. Even people who say things like “I don’t like soft drinks” will still understand that Coke tastes different to Fanta tastes different to Ginger Beer.
So who is responsible for this ignorance? (Clearly not me.)
- Is it the supermarkets, for phasing out loose leaf and only have poor quality bagged tea?
- Is it the big tea companies and their appalling inferior product?
- Is it the alien lizard overlords of the world?
Or, just maybe, it’s the fault of the people who have never bothered to find out that there are thousands of green teas, hundreds of whites, buckets of blacks, oodles of oolongs, a smattering of purple, yellows and fermented teas, and that furthermore, the few measly offerings on the supermarket shelves are the lowest of the low; they are, to quote former Australian Prime Minster Paul Keating, “unrepresentative swill”.***
There ARE green teas that taste like stewed grass (and indeed, a tiny portion of the 1000+ herbals as well). Who in their right mind would drink a grassy Sencha willingly? Yerba Mate? Genmaicha should be criminal offence.
But most of these opinions on the taste of tea are based on supermarket teab*gs with so little relationship to decent tea that it’s like judging the entire last 70 years of popular music on the basis of a 1976 Hall and Oates B side (or A side for that matter).
Saddest of all, many of the black teas that are mentioned in this and similar posts are vastly inferior rubbish that indicate that these people are missing out on the joy of great tea.
And that, surely takes us away from blame and toward a more suitable feeling.
People call me “Mr Tea” on a semi-regular basis because that’s the sort of easy pun people like, or because my name escapes them, or because they believe I may have never heard that witticism before. I have never used that as inspiration before, but will now.
When it comes to people who judge tea, and their relationship to it, on the basis of what they find at supermarkets, in cheapskate cafes and cheapskate four star hotels, in their friend’s pantries and at Church and at work and anywhere else where cheap shoddy tea is collected in bags and passed off as drinkable, then indeed, I Pity the Fools.
* A species of parasitic moth clearly named by a fan of the movie Casablanca. related to Heerz tooya.**
** No I am not making this stuff up
*** He was describing the Australian Senate, but it fits