Star Goes Colonial: Tea for Newbies

istockTea is not a really complicated thing. It’s dried leaves. You put leaves in hot water, steep and then drink. How difficult is that? Not very. But people are determined to misunderstand tea and insist that it’s more complex than it is. Here are some of the common misconceptions, ridiculous questions and outright insanity that I get about tea while at work.

“Is this tea grown locally?”

There are no tea plantations in Williamsburg, Virginia. Trust me. In fact, there are only two tea plantations in the entire US. One in South Carolina that makes tea for Bigalow. It’s so low quality that it can’t be graded by international standards. In other words; it’s crap. The second is in Hawaii and, one day, it’s going to produce amazing tea. But it was started in 2011 and it takes about 40 years for tea plants to start producing high-quality tea. So strap yourselves in, because you’ve got some waiting to do. But really, this is part of everyone in Williamsburg wanting every item to be made in Williamsburg at the price of something made outside of the US.

“Is this leaves?”

At first, I thought the man asking me this was inquiring if the tea was loose leaf so I told him that yes, it is loose leaf and you will need filter bags or a press pot in order to steep it. But no, he wanted to know if the tea itself was leaves. I told him that all tea is leaves. He asked me if they were fresh leaves. At this point I just wanted to facepalm and ask him if he was fucking with me. But he wasn’t. He honestly didn’t know even this most basic fact about tea.

“Why is all of this tea from China?”

Attention xenophobic Americans: the US is not the oldest nation in the world. Other nations have longer and richer histories than we do and guess what? Tea is a part of China’s history. They fucking perfected tea and have been drinking it for centuries. As much as everyone wants to think of things from China as cheap and useless, some tea from China is some of the best in the world. Tea from America is shit. Reevaluate your prejudices.

“Has Oolong tea been around since the 1700s?”

In Colonial Williamsburg everyone assumes that if something was being presently used, then it was invented then. Just like with tea. Also, Americans suffer from having a history of white conquerers that only goes back about 400 years. It’s sometimes hard for us to grasp that other cultures have history that is thousands of years old. So when they see tea in a colonial store it combines with everything else and assures them that Oolong was invented in the 1700s by white people and sourced out to China in order for cheap laborers to make it.

“Do you have pumpkin spice tea?”

Why, yes, we do! It’s right next to the Pumpkin Spice Latte mix that the colonists were so fond of. They just went down to Starbucks before work in the morning to get their caffeine fix and the ones that didn’t like coffee ordered their pumpkin spice tea. And let me tell you, back then there wasn’t as wide a variety of names, so when someone calls out a double macchiato for William, about 15 heads would turn! Ah, comedy.

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