“Brand X’s Tie Guan Yin Oolong” — Have you ever asked yourself what did “Brand X” do to make that oolong their own? What differentiates this tea from Brand Y’s Tie Guan Yin Oolong? We first must assume that they even purchased the tea from different sources. I challenge you to question every tea purchase you make, to look into the history of that tea, to inquire about where it came from, when it was harvested, who it was harvested by. Moving along…
The way things used to be in America — are the way things still are in many third-world countries.
Where did American farmers sell their produce in the past?
In local farm markets before the rise of supermarkets. These markets used to be the lifeblood of America, in many third-world countries, they still are the lifeblood of the culture and of capitalism where they exist. Enter supermarkets. As supermarket chains spread throughout America the demand for staple produce outgrew the production of small family-run farms. Large factory farms entered the landscape of American food-production, acres and acres of land that would not normally produce a viable crop — now produce viable crops due to genetically modified seeds, and the rampant use of fertilizers, herbicides, and pesticides. Are these crops better? Not necessarily, but in order to meet the demand of supermarket chains, and fast food restaurants, this must be done. The small family farms fade out of view, and we have become a society that has forgotten about where our food comes from. If you were to ask someone where their vegetables come from, they will likely name their local grocer.
Where do small family tea farms sell their tea?
They take it to local markets and sell it. Sometimes they will trek hundreds of miles just to make a transaction. An important historical account of this is the Ancient Tea Horse Road. As tea demand grows, traditional methods of farming, hand-cultivation, and hand-processing will also fade from view. Tea “factories” are popping up all over Asia. Where puerh was once compressed by stone molds, it is now done by machines. Where tea was once plucked by hand, it is now chopped off by hedge-trimming devices. Where tea was once rolled by hand, it is now done by large machines. To meet the demand, these things are wonderful they create a consistent product, enable large-scale output, and put money in the bank.
Today’s method of agricultural production is not sustainable.
Please ask questions, try purchasing tea from sustainable sources. Low quality tea reached a saturation point when tea-bags came about, but as people asked questions and discovered their tea-bags were filled with no more than dust and fannings they decided to strive for a better tea. I feel as if to meet demands, much of the high quality loose leaf tea we drink is factory-produced. Only by asking questions and making wise purchasing decisions can we sustain a market for smaller family-run farms. Become part of the slow-food and sustainability movements, become aware.