Last week amongst my list of goodies to purchase at the supermarket was the tea my husband favors.
Twinings Russian Caravan smells like smoked camel dung, evoking memories of a bygone era when the great camel caravans roamed the Russian Steppes or the Silk Road. Since timber was heavy to carry and in many places, scarce, the nomads cooked over fires fuelled by camel dung. Good idea since it was no doubt in plentiful supply, however, the thought of drinking something that smells like it, is enough to turn my stomach.
Being the dutiful wife, I’m happy to lug a packet or two home when he needs to restock, brew up a cuppa and perhaps dream of a past life when he too drove camels or whatever across those ancient roads. Only problem is I couldn’t find the loose leaf variety he prefers. In fact not only could I not find Russian Caravan in loose leaf form, nor could I find any type of tea that wasn’t packaged in tea bags!
When I questioned the manager he explained that tea bags sold better and lasted longer than leaf tea.
Now I don’t know about you, but I’ve been to Sri Lanka, seen the vast fields where tea, aka Camelia chinesis grows under the blazing tropical sun, seen the gaily dressed ladies picking the newest tips of the plants, seen them dry it, chop it into tea leaf size and then pack it into old-fashioned tea chests to be shipped to wherever in the world they package tea. All every lovely and informative…
Until our guide cheerfully informed us that since the invention of tea bags, production had increased 25%!
My ears pricked up at this bit of fascinating information. How, I wondered, could this be?
He indicated the tea dust covering the floor which consisted of tiny remnants of the leaf tea that didn’t make it into the tea chests. “We sweep it up and put it in the tea bags.”
Being a practical person, I thought this seemed like a goodish sort of idea.
Until one of the workers hawked and hawked and then coughed up an enormous amount of phlegm and spat it on the floor.
Since any number of respiratory diseases, including tuberculosis, are endemic to Sri Lanka and just about anywhere else in the third world that produces tea, one could deduce that sweeping up phlegm-laden tea dust and putting it into bags is not only a bad idea, in spite of its thriftiness, but violated every hygiene standard known to mankind.
So as I watched them sweeping the floors and carefully collecting the tea dust into huge plastic bags for placement into tea bags and shipment direct to a store near you, I swore I’d never drink tea from bags. Never mind that the water that’s usually poured over the tea bags has been boiled—facing the prospect of death by tuberculosis, swine flu or even ebola for all I know—was a health risk too far.
So as I stood in the supermarket aisle debating whether it was worth risking my husband’s long-term chances of living a healthy life against how much I’d get in insurance if he succumbed to a teadust-laden disease, I remembered that long-ago trip to Sri Lanka and wondered just how did they impart that scent of camel dung to the tea? Perhaps a lump or two of dung was added to the tea chest or dropped on the floor prior to packaging?
And what other monstrous things were added to the original tea leaves to give them such flavours as Lapsang Souchong (sounds like a dog breed), Lady Grey (her remains?) Earl Grey (his remains!) Touareg (toe nails of North African nomads?) Buddha’s Tears (yuck!) Gunpowder (say what?) Golden Monkey (doesn’t bear thinking about!) and finally, White Monkey Paw, which I really don’t want to think about!
I wonder if Prince Charles drinks Prince of Wales tea? Which reminds me of something I think I read in the memoirs of Ronald Reagan. Prince Charles spent a night in the White House and next morning his morning cuppa arrived… with a tea bag in it. Himself inspected the item and asked what it was. Apparently he’d led such a sheltered life he’d never had to rub shoulders with a lowly tea bag before.
So the next time you’re at the supermarket and about to reach for that box of tea bags, ponder a moment: just how much does your health mean to you.
To celebrate the release of the third novel in my O’Malley Men series, Colorado Cowboy, and to win a copy, tell me your most grossly enlightening moment. I have three copies to give away!
Til next time,