Politically Correct Tea?

Chairwoman? It’s enough to make me apoplectic.

It seems that this idea of political correctness is everywhere, and so often completely incorrect.

It’s like a new, more socially acceptable form of mathematics where Π is equal to 10, because it’s a lovely round number. Too bad if bridges fall down.

In the politically correct stakes, it’s often gender politics that masks the politics of ignorance. Whilst I don’t expect everyone who speaks English to also speak Greek, Latin, Middle English, Old German  and Old French, I would love to see some common sense.

Chairwoman? Chairperson? Stupid terms for stupid people. Use “chairman” – it’s not gender specific. Or even “chair”.

And don’t get me started on the ridiculous “herstory” as an alternative to “history”. Even if there was some etymological basis for it, all you are doing is using two wrongs to make a right.

Here’s an idea for all you out there who are adamant you want to use “herstory” and “chairwoman”: avoid the word “epoxy”, as you might offend the syphilitic.

So. where was I?

Yes, “Political Correctness”.

Even the term is stupid. If you are a fan of Political Correctness, read Orwell. Start with 1984 and possibly Animal Farm. In fact, it’s not a bad idea to read everything he ever wrote, though my take on one of his more famous essays is obviously an improvement.

So, now to actual political correctness. To my mind, a politically correct system is one where everyone gets a say. In other words, some form of democracy, which as we know from Churchill, is the worst form of government, except for all the others.

So, I thought I’d look at the top ten tea producing countries, and see what about their political situation should encourage or discourage you from drinking their tea.Which country does produce Politically Correct tea?

1- China.

Well we all love our Chinese teas. There’s a sweeping generalisation, but looking the figures, it seems it’s true. It is the biggest producer, the second biggest consumer and the second biggest exporter. It has produced 10-15% more tea than India per year for some time, and that’s a hell of a lot of tea.

China seems to be a nation of entrepreneurs under an irrelevant central authority. The very nature of it’s goverment’s brutality seems to me to be an indication of how far apart the aims of its ruling elite and the aims of the average Chinese person might be.

So, are you going to boycott Chinese tea to protest the Government’s Human Rights abuses and annexation of Tibet, or buy it support the farmers? After all, the modern era was ushered in by “Chairman” Mao, not “Chairperson” Mao, so they’re clearly a bunch of sexist pigs to begin with.

Why not hold off and see how the others go?

2- India.

India? That’s the ticket. Not only are they the world’s largest democracy, but their teas are my favourite and I love a good navratan, goat durbar or gai malabari, with naan on the side and followed by gulab jamun. And they love their tea – they drink more of it than any other country.

They have a Wesminterish system of Government and everything.  They even have a decent cricket team. What could be politically incorrect about Indian tea?

In a word, corruption. Whilst there are many fine tea growers doing the right thing, there are also some very wealthy government inspectors looking the other way, particularly in Assam.

It’s a country where the rich and poor divide is massive. Uncountable numbers die of starvation every day. Barbaric practices like bride-burning have not been eliminated.

So, at this point, the rich/poor divide suggests you drink Chinese, not Indian, but as India has both a ‘President’ and a ‘Prime Minister’ – and women have held some of these positions – then you’d be eschewing Chinese in favour of Indian if you want to show solidarity, sister.

3- Kenya

Ah, Kenya.

Corruption is endemic. To vote in Kenya, you use a voting card. Poor people sell theirs to get a hot meal. Who buys them? Well, if buying them allows you to win Government, then you’d have to say… the Government.

Many people are surprised to find Kenya on the list. Kenya is the biggest exporter of tea in the world. They export basically all of it.

That is to say, the country of Kenya. Not actual Kenyans. Companies like Lipton’s have turned Kenya into a giant tea farm. I’ve had a lot to say about the plight of the Kenyan tea worker, as far back as my old blog.

I still grapple with should I or shouldn’t I? Support the tea workers in a system that gives them just enough to die slowly and with great depredation, or don’t support it and they get nothing.

I know that the Lipton’s ads we see here in Australia with smiling Kenyans in good health hand picking the top two leaves while Paul Mercurio grins like a benign hamster is about as far from the real world as you get.

The problem for me with Kenyan teas is that it mostly low grade and nearly always in teabags. So, politics aside, it’s not on my list, unless I see a good loose leaf, then I make the effort to buy it.


It’s hard to mix humour and entertainment and the reality of the plight of many tea workers. I try. Forgive me if I fail.


4- SriLanka

Where’s that? Any tea drinker knows the place is called “Ceylon”!

Here’s a country that’s had it tough. The Boxing Day Tsunami devastated coastal regions, which amongst other dreadful consequences, also added some complexity to exporting tea.

It’s also a country that for the last few hundred years has centred on racism. The way the British treated the locals and to an extent, the resultant push back, are possibly overshadowed by the Sinhalese v Tamil conflict. The Government has committed atrocities. The “freedom fighters” on the other side were no angels.

Ceylon started growing tea because of devastating coffee blight. It should be a much bigger contributor than it is. But do we support the tea growers – many of whom are corrupt manipulators of the Fair Trade systems – in an effort to improve things, or are we implicitly endorsing racism?

SIDEBAR: In my forthcoming book, I dedicate some space to one Sri Lankan tea merchant and his family who are heroes of mine. You’ll just have to wait.

So, that’s another tricky one.

5- Turkey

Turkey has a lot to recommend it. After they lost their empire, they had a re-think, and decided on a secular state. Full marks there. They also invented the cumbus which is a wonderful musical instrument.

From my point of view, their obsession with lemons is worrying, as I am allergic to them. Since before the Trojan War, the only things Greeks and Turks have agreed on is slapping lemon on everything. It means I can virtually never eat out at either cuisine’s restaurants.

It also means that almost every time I’ve ever found Turkish tea – usually apple tea – it has lemon in it.

But my allergies are not their fault. They way that have systematically persecuted the Kurds is, though.

In light of an earthquake yesterday, perhaps they deserve our help. But I still am yet to find a “politically correct” tea.

6- Vietnam

Firstly, I’m surprised that Vietnam makes the list. I was surprised a few years ago to also find they export ten times the coffee of Kenya. An industrious people, these Vietnamese.

When I was born, the guys that run the place there were known as “Viet Cong” and were at the other end of rifles operated by Aussie Diggers, as our soldiers are known. We joined with Uncle Sam and others –  “All the way with LBJ” – and attempted to help the South resist the marauding Communist forces.

We failed and a few years later, Australia was hit with waves of “boat people” – displaced Vietnamese who fled poverty and/or persecution and sailed for Australia in rickety boats. Whilst their assimilation hasn’t been entirely smooth, the next generation are often proud Australians and determined hard workers.

It is these people that often carry a grudge against the Vietnamese Government. We recently had a situation where the Returned Services League attempted to sign a friendship agreement with the Vietnamese Government. The Vietnam Vets and the local Vietnamese population went nuts.

So, what we have here is absolute political correctness. There guys are commies! Sure, they don’t act like it. But I think we need a generation – the one before mine – to die before we can truly move forward.

Meanwhile, Vietnam is turning itself into an agricultural powerhouse, but at great environmental cost.. If they can fix their pollution issues, they just might be the friend everyone wants – the one with the tea.

But not yet.

7- Indonesia

Indonesia should be an absolute tea powerhouse. The Dutch did a great job of turning Java into a tea garden. When they abrogated their colonial mastery to the Brits, the world was their oyster. Australia was a massive importer of Javanese tea in the 30’s.

Amongst the long and shameful catalogue of Japanese actions in World War II, the ripping up of all the tea plants in Java seems a minor footnote. But it is one that changed the face of tea, to this day.

Indonesia is roaring back into contention, though. It’s busy exporting fresh and vibrant teas in all directions.

Politically, Australia has an interest in Indonesia. Our nearest or second nearest neighbour, depending on how you squint at the globe, and recently moving towards a more recognisable form of democracy. We like to support these guys.

But the terrible Bali Bombing and the unwillingness of the Indonesian Government to entirely crack down on religious extremist groups is very worrying.

 8- Japan

As a kid in the 70s I used to sit with an old guy, now deceased,  and hear about how he was tortured as a POW of the Japanese. Yet my dad was one one the state’s bigger Mazda dealers. Talk about mixed messages.

The Japanese have always been an enigma to me. My brother spent six years there, and married a Japanese girl. Mind you, I don’t really get him, either.

Politically, they seem to have a system based on absolute ethics and doing the right thing. Until you get caught, then you apologise, resign and the next “absolutely ethical” person takes your place. and so on.

Their companies have a similar history. Cover up a fault, add more lies and then accept public humiliation with bowed heads when it all comes out down the track.

Faultless courtesy and  serious contribution to tea over the last thousand years have to count for something, I guess.

Although adding rice to your tea, popped or otherwise, is about as incorrect as I care to consider.

Maybe we should all be drinking Japanese tea, to support growers affected by the dreadful humanitarian disasters of recent times. Or maybe buying it, and hiding it in the back of the cupboard, behind the rice.

9- Argentina

Now, Argentina is an interesting case. A modern democracy, a leader in mid-level international affairs and a nation of raging Queen fans has got to a politically correct place to buy your tea from, right?

Alright, so there’s Maradonna, who of course was behind the most celebrated cheating incident in world soccer. But he’d played in Italy prior to that World Cup, where soccer skills take a back seat to lying, cheating and theatrics, so let’s not blame Argentina.

There’s the Falklands War, but they lost that so badly and wasted so many of their lives needlessly that I’m loath to kick them over that.

So we have to weigh up the thousands who disappeared under the brutal regime that existed there until the mid-eighties.

More than any other factor, Argentina was responsible for an Andrew Lloyd-Webber musical, and for that alone, are damned for all eternity.

10- Iran

Let’s call Iran ‘Persia’. If we are discuss 5000 years of history, it’s more useful.

Now these guys started with bad press. The Western world is enamoured with an idealised view of history via putative Greeks who mooned about in bedsheets inventing democracy and Π, and those Greeks invented a word for the Persians – “Barbarians”, because they said their language sounded like sheep bleating.

Admittedly, they have had their share of nutjobs, from the likes of Xerxes and Cambyses right up to the Shah and the Ayatollah Khomeini.

But that strife-torn country has never seen anything like the brutal, warped, sub-human disaster that runs it now.

The country that may have invented the Samovar (the Russians also claim it), has a proud tea history and an amazing tradition of producing the greatest rug-weavers, poets and artists, a scientific tradition to rival if not surpass the Greeks and with a superb cuisine, is now defined by a leader who for all appearances seems to be the reincarnation of Lancelot Link, Secret Chimp, if that is not insulting to primates. And it probably is.

The result

OK, so it seems that not one of the top ten tea producers in the world is “Politically Correct”.

I thought about throwing my own country, Australia, in, but there’s some holes in our treatment of our indigenous folk; we gave the world Kylie Minogue and Rupert Bloody Murdoch (sorry again) and if I do, Kiwi’s will start going on and on about a perfectly legal delivery in a cricket match many, many years ago.

It’s damn hard to drink tea without supporting some bigotry; some exploitation, some cruelty, some inhumanity, albeit indirectly.

Since I won’t give up teas, I’ll give up Political Correctness. Instead of wondering how things sound and making snide remarks about glass ceilings, pink dollars and lazy natives, let’s all just have a cup of tea.

All of us can imagine a better world. Some of us can even work towards it. Better people than me, I suspect.



7 thoughts on “Politically Correct Tea?

  1. Bravo Sir! Once again you’ve brought up a tea topic not many of us would think of. You have also made me think…not many blogs or even news stories make me do that these days (some still do, but not many). Thank you for tackling interesting subject matter too!

    I like your idea that we should simply forget PC and sit back and have a cup of tea. In saying that I probably just set the women’s movement back a few years…oh well, more tea?

    1. It’s probably more that I’m suggesting that we deal with REAL issues, not waste time trying to fix things that wouldn’t really matter even if they were broken.

  2. I’ve never heard ‘herstory’, but I’m considering slipping it into our conversations just to irritate you.

    When we started joking about the best tea for Political Correctness, I’m glad you insisted on writing the post. There’s no way I could’ve done it quite like this. Really good post.

    I also like the way you weave a serious issue into a humourous post. Thanks for this.

  3. Nothing like a cup of hypocrisy. Thanks for this blog. A complex issue i often find addressed by simplistic, sweeping solutions that tend to throw the baby out with the bath water. Something to ponder over my morning cup. Thanks for a brilliantly thought out tea topic.

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