‘All tea drinkers out of the country!’

TeaLeafster

In these times of populism it’s quite common to hear someone yell to a certain group of people: ‘All of you, out of the country!’. But that group being tea drinkers was new to me.

Last week I was checking my Tweetdeck during work when I saw a tweet of Nico Dijkshoorn popping up on my screen. It said: ‘Tea drinkers out of the country!’ and contained a link to an item on the Belgian radio. Now most of you probably don’t know Nico Dijkshoorn. He is a Dutch poet/columnist, but to me columnist is the more fitting title. His columns are easy to digest, his topics very recognizable for the bigger public. Dijkshoorn has the right, entertaining tone to tackle tiny annoyances that many people feel and you really see, read and hear him everywhere you look: in papers, in magazines, on tv and on the radio.

Most of his columns are based on complaining. Complaining works in Holland, so Dijkshoorn works. He is your grumpy old grandpa being grumpy. And I have to say: although it is a bit shallow sometimes, he can be quite funny. Still I felt a bit offended when I saw that line on Twitter. All tea drinkers? YOU TALKIN’ TO ME? With sweaty hands I opened the link to the website of the Belgian radio and listened. With every minute, the ball of frustration that had formed inside my body shrank and by the end of the item I was completely calm again and actually not-disliked it for one single reason: without him probably knowing, he sums up pretty much what’s wrong with Dutch tea culture (and probably in more Western countries).

I have roughly translated a part of his column for you to check out. He is setting a scene in which he has friends coming over who don’t want to drink coffee, but ask for tea. Then this follows:

“Tea comes in 469 different flavors and so I have to ask: what kind of tea do you want? The answer often is: what do you have? But the problem is: I have no idea what I have. There is tea everywhere in my house. I collect all of them and lay them out on the table. They will stand next to me: well Nico, a black tea from southern Poland. What did you think, let’s go a bit crazy?

With every tea I have to say: I got it for Christmas, or, a really sick person gave it to me. Then they will laugh about all the different kinds of flavors and say: Mango & Passion fruit tea, I didn’t even know you could make tea out of that, how could you do that?

Next I have to boil the water, also very annoying. I have to look for a special cup for tea, that I have to wash for half an hour afterwards because Chinese tea colors the inside of a cup deep black within a minute. What I also find very annoying is the sociability that comes with tea. Just pay attention to that once: people who drink tea fold their legs under their bottom and nestle themselves in your couch. With tea in your hand you’re not allowed to laugh either, which has a big influence on the conversation.

I learned by now that I don’t serve tea anymore. If they ask me what do you have, my answer is NO TEA. In half a year I’ll only have friends who don’t drink tea. A very comforting thought.”

Some fact checking first: yes, tea comes in a lot of flavors (but is not flavored), no you indeed cannot make tea from mango and passion fruit. And by the way, Polish tea might not be the best pick, it is allowed to laugh while drinking tea, and it would be terribly painful for me to fold my legs every single time I’m doing a tea session. So I sit, legs down, just like you.

That being said this column does describe – except for the sociability – a bit of the mainstream tea culture in Holland. I feel Nico hates tea because he never had a good one. Weird flavors, stains everywhere. He just doesn’t know it can be different.

Nico

Nico Dijkshoorn. I think he will make a perfect Shu drinker.

Tea is such a popular drink here. Walk into a supermarket and you can choose between hundreds of options. That reminds me every time again that there really are two types of tea that have NOTHING in common: actual tea, and whatever they put in those bags.

I’ve been there. I drank Grandma’s Appelpie tea. And probably thought: yummeh, it actually tastes like appelpie, good job tea maker! Now I know how incredibly far away that is from a quality Yancha. Or a 20 year old aged Pu’er. It really are two completely kinds of products, not even a bit related to each other.

Now first of all, drink whatever you like. I’ll try not to be the tea snob raising his finger and saying: what you’re doing is bad! However, in these times of a growing consciousness of what we put in our mouths, tea seems to be overlooked. I believe that if the knowledge is more widely spread, people DO start to care about the tea they’re drinking.

If only people knew what high quality tea could taste like without any additives. If only people knew that all the flavors they get from those fruity tea bags, they can actually find in pure teas. Without the tea being flavored. A completely natural taste as a result of growing, processing, sometimes aging.

If only people knew about the garbage put in those bags. Two years ago a television show investigated what is actually in those teabags. Next to tea dust, they found all these unidentified tea objects (UTO) containing sugar and flavor additives. (For Dutch speakers: click here for episode).

'Tastes like chewing gum.'

‘Tastes like chewing gum.’

At the same time I ask myself: what products that I am consuming have a world behind them like tea? How can I stop choosing lower quality products and really dig deeper into the real thing? Although I found tea, I’m unaware of the capability of so many other specialty products. That’s something I have to get into very soon.

So far I am glad to have encountered high quality tea. And in some way I have to agree on Dijkshoorns column on tea. If it was up to me nobody would ever drink that UTO-tea anymore, although I presume the market for quality tea could never cope with such high demands. But instead of sending those tea drinkers out of the country, I hope I will encounter the people who love drinking tea but are unaware of the quality teas and share a cup with them. Maybe a world will open up for them as it did for me. And that world is góóóód, I can tell.

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