The Slow Tea Association aims to “promote good, clean, and fair tea production and consumption.” As a child of the creators of Slow Food, it would be reasonable to expect Slow Tea to engage in similar projects, like improvements to the tea growth-to-consumption system. Slow tea will likely engage in taste and appreciation education. In addition, I would expect Slow Tea to work to preserve traditional methods of hand-crafting tea.
On the surface, these are laudable intentions. Raising awareness of taste and appreciation could have effects significantly more beneficial than creating finicky tea snobs. Experience suggests that slowing down to taste food results in consuming smaller portions. Weaning ourselves from excessively sweet and salty foods also enables our taste buds to experience a greater range of pleasure. Appreciating natural, diverse, flavors and aromas in tea can lead to better dietary choices.
Retailers who offer loose leaf teas, especially un-blended teas with no flavorings added are ideally suited to benefit from Slow Tea endeavors. These teas are the epitome of slow, natural teas. Purveyors of such teas have been working to cultivate taste appreciation and admiration of tea craftsmanship, and will likely appreciate Slow Tea’s support in these areas. Both want to share the joys of authentic quality.
But there are some sticky challenges too. When it comes time to help farmers and production regions, what will be the criteria? Darjeeling has high levels of poverty, but it has been producing teas for over a century. Some plantations have been owned by local families for generations. India has laws to provide health and educational needs for tea laborers and their families. In new tea regions, like Hawaii, there are fewer protections for a fragile industry in its infancy. If it comes down to either-or, will the most people benefit from helping needy laborers or new tea production areas?
Slow Tea will also need to avoid either-or mindsets in consumer options as well. As much as I would like, I cannot always sit down to slowly savor tea. There are times when a convenient cup is still the healthier, more beneficial cup than drinking something else. Mechanized processes of production and harvest make tea more affordable. If I had to choose between working to provide access to a reasonably healthy cup of tea versus the option of organic, Fair Trade, slow tea that is economically inaccessible, I’d rather see a person have some tea than no tea. A recent Stanford study reminds us that organic foods are not about increased nutrition, but the lack of harmful chemicals. Basic nutrition is important. Demonizing one form of tea to the benefit of another cannot be the way to go.
Do we need slow tea? Slow tea will benefit many of us. But we are not ready for a world of slow tea or no tea.
Images: from Slow Tea Association.
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