When you’re a tea blender and a writer, the two concepts just seem to go together.
I suppose most of us know the story of the origin of tea. Here it is from Wikipedia:
According to legend, tea was first discovered by the Chinese emperor and inventor Shennong in 2737 BCE. It is said that the emperor liked his drinking water boiled before he drank it so it would be clean, so that is what his servants did. One day, on a trip to a distant region, he and his army stopped to rest. A servant began boiling water for him to drink, and a dead leaf from the wild tea bush fell into the water. It turned a brownish color, but it was unnoticed and presented to the emperor anyway. The emperor drank it and found it very refreshing, and cha (tea) was born.
Is that true? I doubt it. One dead leaf? Also, look at Shennong’s credentials, also from Wikipedia:
Shennong, besides having taught humans the plow and basic agriculture, and been a god of the burning wind, was sometimes said to be an progenitor or minister of Chi You; and. like him, ox-headed, sharp-horned, bronze-foreheaded, and iron-skulled. One difference between mythology and science is exemplified in Chinese mythology: Shennong and Huangdi were supposedly friends and fellow scholars, despite the 500 years or seventeen or eighteen generations between the first Shennong and Huangdi (the Yellow Emperor), and that together they shared the alchemical secrets of medicine, immortality, and making gold.
For starters, if he had discovered immortality, he could set the record straight himself by going on “60 minutes” this Sunday. But the point is, it is spouted as “gospel”, to use that odd term that actually means something factual, despite its provenance. Where was I? Oh yes…
As tea has its creation myth, individual teas also do. Once more unto Wikipedia, under ‘Lapsang Souchong’:
The story goes that the tea was created during the Qing era when the passage of armies delayed the annual drying of the tea leaves in the Wuyi hills. Eager to satisfy demand, the tea producers sped up the drying process by having their workers dry the tea leaves over fires made from local pines.
So, as a creator of tea blends, I also need my creation myths. Why? So that people will buy more of my teas! Who doesn’t love a good story?
Why create a myth? Well, the real story might be more prosaic.
For example, let’s take my Lord Petersham blend.
Here’s my “official myth”:
The tea was created to pay tribute to Lord Petersham. Wikipedia (again) says: “…Petersham’s manners were affected and he spoke with a kind of lisp. Never seen in public before 6:00 P.M., ‘Beau’ Petersham was a trendsetter. He attracted the attention and friendship of the then Prince Regent who emulated his clothes, his tea drinking and his addiction to snuff. Lord Petersham’s sitting room contained canisters of tea in great variety and an equally wide range of snuff. He owned 365 snuff boxes and used a different one on each day of the year”
So, I created a blend with seven teas in it – one for every day of the week – to pay homage to this remarkable man who enjoyed variety.
Now, here’s what really happened.
I was on twitter and my friend Meredith (@bckmph) mentioned Lord Petersham. I looked up the reference and found he was featured on an old cigarette card. I was quite happy with a six-tea blend I was in the final stages of creating at the time. After deciding I wanted to call it “Lord Petersham” and spawn the official creation myth above. I was faced with a shortage of teas. After all, six teas did not make sense. But seven could be made to. (obviously, 365 was never going to fly).
I spent a day mucking about with the tea before coming up with something I was very happy with indeed. With an extra tea in it, to more neatly fit the myth.
Incidentally, I’m in good company – it’s clear that Isaac Newton added an extra colour to the spectrum because he was highly pious; and he believed that God would have made sure that there were seven colours in the spectrum. So Indigo gets to pretend to be a full-member of the colour spectrum though it’s actually a second-stringer.
So, Lord Petersham blend sells well and is well reviewed; another story is added to the tea pantheon; and people who sip it with friends can share the story.
That’s what tea is.
It’s stories, in a cup, to share.