A chance comment describing tea as “dead leaves” caused eyebrows to lift.
It was my friend Geoffrey Norman, sharing a Facebook memory of a paid commission to write about tea, which he described as “that time I got paid to write about dead leaves in water”.
It immediately reminded me of the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams, specifically this bit:
“No,” he said, “look, it’s very, very simple … all I want … is a cup of tea. You are going to make one for me. Keep quiet and listen.” And he sat. He told the Nutri-Matic about India, he told it about China, he told it about Ceylon. He told it about broad leaves drying in the sun. He told it about silver teapots. He told it about summer afternoons on the lawn. He told it about putting in the milk before the tea so it wouldn’t get scalded. He even told it (briefly) about the history of the East India Company.
“So that’s it, is it?” said the Nutri-Matic when he had finished.
“Yes,” said Arthur, “that is what I want.”
“You want the taste of dried leaves in boiled water?”
But the difference here is the adjective “dried” versus the adjective “dead”. There was some objecting to the latter on Geoff’s post.
Why? Aren’t they dead?
Well, there are two answers, and are best described as “yes”and “no”. Let’s summarise them:
- YES: Tea is part of the chi or qi, the life force of the universe. So tea is really alive and that imparts a benefit. You can feel the life force ( This is, it can be said, a traditional Chinese belief based on a highly scientific ten minutes googling.)
- NO: Don’t give me your cockamamie New Age stories – They’ve been picked, you can’t regrow tea from the leaves, they are dead.
A mildly interesting idea that came up in my googling was the idea that those pesky teab*gs, once used, can be used to sprout seeds. You poke a hole in bag, push a seed in, keep it moist and covered until it sprouts, and once it gets to be a little seedling you plant the whole bag in the garden. Why is this a good idea? Because it offers nutrients, is a good environment for sprouting… and it’s dead. Inert. It’s had boiling water poured on it. So it’s not going to interfere with the radish or rutabaga you are attempting to grow using it.
Of course the issue with that is having to buy and use teabags in the first place, but given how much I pay for “Jiffy Pots”it might just be cheaper to grab a supermarket plain label box of 20 and get planting after merely splashing them with hot water and not in any way consuming the foul liquid.
So, to wander back from that tangent, it really depends on whether you want to make a rational, scientific interpretation, or believe folk tales.
Personally, I know it’s dead. In fact, I thrill to the stories of its death. Expertly plucked, tossed in a carrier, spread out on a tray to wither, steamed or roasted or left to oxidise in the corner. It’s dead, it was an assassination and I paid the hitman. And I want proof of it’s demise.
By the cupful.