I ordered a set of Dancong spring harvest teas from one of my favorite online retailers a few months ago. The teas weren’t sourced from Russia or Ukraine, but I wasn’t surprised when the box arrived six months later than normal because as Thomas Friedman explained in The World is Flat trade is part of the interdependecy of a phenomenon of the modern era called globalization.
Why is tea from so far away so special to me?
During the spring of the 2020 pandemic, I discovered the international tea community on Instagram. Currently, my three favorite vendors are: Serene Tea Cha, One River Tea, and Teawala. Each of the owners of these companies would likely be consideted millenials and lives in China where their headquarters operate. I think that these business owner are pretty amazing because each has a unique background and story expressed through their company brands. Not to mention that they’ve each cultivated personal relationships with the small, often family owned tea farmers who are in most cases also the manufacturers living and working in remote and rural communities in China. According to each of their business models, the owners purchase relatively small quantities of tea wholesale and then brand, package, and distribute teas to a worldwide audience in retail quantities.
I trust these brands because there’s magic in the expertise, lived experience, taste preferences, and communal exchange of the owners’ perspectives. It’s super cool to browse the images and miles traveled in Instagram stories. The consistent visuals demonstrate the brands’ commitment to honoring the heritage of tea production in China.
I’ve always enjoyed tea, but learning how to articulate nuance has helped me to be able to hone in on my preferences. Through the information that companies provide on each of the websites and social media posts, I’ve developed a broader scope of understanding of the tea production process. This perspective is of course important with wholesale tea buying because often the slightest processing particularity related to the oxidation method, picking timeframe, or the nature and age of the Camellia sinensis plant can factor into the quality and price of the tea.
Learning about these processes more intimately is intriguing. And thankfully, I’m not the only one who venerates tea in this manner. A recent New York Times article pointed out that millennials have developed a preference for tea even over wine. Technically speaking, I do experience a slight bit of a L-theanine rush that almost instantly calms me and regulates my parasympathetic nervous system, but as a perpetual student of international trade, my interest in this centuries old beverage is also related to how tea trade affected diplomacy and geopolitical relationships as one of the first commodity goods sold internationally.
To put it simply, tea was why wars were fought.
For example, during the American revolution and at an escalation point in the intertangled relationship between China and England related to opium tea was the commodity that most represented the tensions of trade at the time. Needless to say, the historical significance of these events has had a lasting effect on current events. (I’d like to return to this topic in a future post, but for now, here’s an article that provides a brief overview.)
For all its scandal and disruptive nature, tea is actually quite a humble drink.
I’ve enjoyed making a ritual of drinking tea. It’s nice to enjoy something as simple as water over leaves in perspective of the global effect it has made in commerce.
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