Sunday, February 7, 2010

A fetish for tea?

I'm reading a new tea book: For All the Tea in China: How England Stole the World's Favorite Drink and Changed History (due for publication next month, possibly with a different subtitle). It's the story of Robert Fortune's premeditated theft of China's tea industry and his transplantation of it into India for the British empire. This beverage we love so much flourished as a commercial commodity as the result of unabashed corporate espionage.

This passage struck me ...
It is perhaps no wonder that in such a turbulent time as the Industrial Revolution, gardening became a national obsession in Britain. Patience and time were slowly being eroded across the country as technology brought a new immediacy to everyday life. Where a length of cloth, a blanket, or some bedding once took long evenings by firelight to create, countless yards of fabric were now spun each day in the mills of Liverpool and Manchester. Where a trip across counties was once a marathon involving several coaches, it was now a single short ride away by train. Candlelight gave way to gaslight, wind power to steam; the world grew ever more mechanized and reliable. The vicissitudes of weather were becoming things of the past, and as natural processes faded from view, they began to be fetishized.

The emphasis there is mine. I find it almost quaint that in an era of bullet trains, iPads, DVRs and (soon) space tourism that writers still reflect on the "turbulent time" of the Industrial Revolution. But in our own technologically advanced era, this observation made me ask myself: Am I a fetishist? Is that what we tea bloggers and aficionados are doing — clinging to something pastoral and natural in the face of factory food and multitasking?

Pretty much, I guess. What draws me to the tea experience is that it's a counterbalance to my daily life. My life is fast; tea is slow. I just never looked at it this way. A fetishist. Giggle.

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