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Why do I write about tea?

November 01, 2010


Ironically, I’ve been pondering the question posed by this month’s Association of Tea Bloggers-sponsored Blog Carnival, “why do I write about tea” for some time, but putting off the actual writing about writing about tea. It’s one of those topics that is deceptively simple. It’s easy to get all tangled up in the meta-conversation, analyzing what this whole thing is all about, and not be able to simply get to the point, or even launch towards something approaching the point. But it’s not the ideas that I found elusive or shifting, it was the attempt at herding them all into neat little bundles that would fit into one post. Despite all of that sidetracking and lack of focus, in the simplest sense, the reason that I write about tea is that it is a near infinitely expansive topic that encompasses a wide range of the types of information that interests me. My particular world involves many different disciplines and many different sometimes seemingly contradictory approaches to the world. Remarkably, tea as an overall subject matches that variety and scope for me.

Of course “tea” is more than simply one topic in the first place – it is a host of topics, interwoven and interrelated. In writing under the wide umbrella that covers everything relevant in a blog about tea, I can research and write about a tremendous range of different things that fascinate me and engage my passions.

For example, I can research and write about science and technology, citing studies that have to do with tea and its use in medicine, or its chemical composition, or about the impact of technological advancement on methods of production. Or I could write about the importance of technology in providing the online interactions that make it possible to form a widely connected body of tea people across the world. I could write about the huge change that has resulted from wider availability of tea information – and misinformation – due to online tea research.

Or I can write about tea and art, particularly with regard to the fantastic variety to be found in objects made for the preparation and consumption of tea over the past several centuries, in many countries and also in the here and now. The skill and artistry that have been devoted to the creation of tea-related objects is enough to form the basis of a lifetime of research, exploration and writing by itself. Closely related to the art of tea, I can write about tea as a reflection of culture, and the wide array of differences across worldwide cultures and how they prepare and consume tea and what items they do it with. Although there is already a great deal of writing about tea and its relationship to different cultures, the topic is by no means exhausted, and will continue to provide me with considerable inspiration and ideas of what to write on.

I can also write about the pure epicurean, sensory experience of the different preparations and applications of the tea plant, in its many variations. This approach has a direct relationship to general culinary writing or writing about other specific food/drink topics, many of which are also quite fascinating, with the capacity for deeper exploration and writing than most people ever have time for. Wine and coffee are the most obvious examples, along with spices or chocolate, or perhaps something as fraught and complicated as sugar. But none of these other comestibles has the same draw for me that tea does. I can’t picture myself getting as passionately involved in writing about some other food or beverage, at least not on any kind of regular basis. And it seems to me that the core appreciation of the consumption of tea must be at the center of any writing about tea. I doubt that anyone could write anything particularly engaging or interesting about tea if they did not enjoy it at the basest level – as a beverage. So even though it sounds quite obvious, I write about tea because I like drinking it.

But at a greater distance from the personal, I can also explore and write about politics and history, with regard to the ways that trade and labor practices in the tea industry have impacted the human experience. I can talk about environmental impact in both directions: the way the industry effects the environment and the ways that dramatic environmental events like typhoons affect the tea industry. Writing about tea also includes discussions about fair trade initiatives (and deceptions) and global and local trade policies. I can write about sustainability and the responsibility of the individual tea consumer with regard to awareness of the implications of the infusion.

Or from a very different side of people’s relationship with tea I can write about religion and philosophy, particularly with regard to formal tea ceremonies, which are to greater or lesser degrees directly involved with religious practice, depending on the particular tea ceremony. For something to be a tea ceremony, it must grow out of the philosophy of the culture in which it is born. I believe that a tea ceremony can not be devoid of connection to larger questions of meaning, or it is no longer a ceremonial act, and is instead, a habit or tradition. That concept alone is considerable fodder for further exploration and writing.

Even with the above stated wealth of potential for learning and writing, I feel I’m merely skimming my subject and my explanations of why I choose to write about it. And I find that the tea writing that I find most rewarding happens when I can cross reference two or more of these aspects of tea and connect things together from elements that may seem initially to be unrelated. It is entirely inconceivable that I could either get bored with my subject or run out of individual topics to write about. So I will continue to write about tea, and hope that people will continue to read what I have to say about it.

Find the links to the rest of the blog carnival on Walker Tea Review.

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