Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Taiwan and US Tea Philosophies - a Dang Mini-Essay

I was chatting with a buddy over the weekend about tea and economics. Tea is a different kind of product in Asia than it is in the West. Particularly, as is dictated by my location, I understand tea in the United States is a luxury good. And in Taiwan, as dictated by my personal connections to tea people and my affinity for the culture, I understand that tea is a necessity - maybe more like a monthly expense. This means we treat tea differently. If a season is not to one's taste, the US drinker will more often than not choose a different season's or location's tea to drink or perhaps drink a different category tea than they would have usually drunk. But a Taiwanese drinker will generally drink 'with the season' and learn to appreciate (or at least come to terms with) the seasonal shift in tea quality. The ideal US drinker knows what they want, and the ideal Taiwanese drinker knows what is going on.

With this in mind, I see the difference in terms of contrastive tea philosophies. In the US, with the food systems that we have we can pick up strawberries at the grocery store any time of year. Tea is a luxury that we examine, subdivide and choose the teas which best fit our personal, favorite taste profiles. In Taiwan, different fruits and vegetables cycle through seasons as short as two weeks - for example, when the mangoes are a perfect balance of sweet and tangy, a week or so after they start to come to market, they are priced the highest. This is when they are considered most delicious by those who are considered to have the most developed taste in mangoes. We drink the tea of the season because our tea merchants explain to us that is the best tea to drink. They teach us what is going on with the weather, why a tea tastes the way it does, and often choose for us what we will drink and purchase. They treat us like clients rather than customers. The philosophy that I extract from this Taiwanese way of tea drinking is one of communion with nature. i.e. "We will be drinking tea no matter what (because we are tea people!!) and that means we'd better learn to appreciate the way the tea changes. Because it ain't gonna stop changing for nobody."

No comments:

Post a Comment