Saturday, January 1, 2011

Global Warming in Your Cup

or, A Tempest in Your Teacup

So, the last day of the year Janice shared with me an interesting, though ominous, sign of Things To Come. People often talk about Climate Change in the abstract (e.g., projected rates of icemelt), which is easy to discount or deny, rather than looking at specific examples (e.g., wintering ranges of birds), which remove all doubt. Now here comes another manifestation that really hits home for some of us: climate change is now affecting the tea crop in India. Specifically, the amount of tea being grown and harvested is dropping precipitously, by 100 million tons in three years in one area (Assam) -- and that's a LOT of tea. What's worse, the remaining tea is turning out to be second-rate, producing a weaker brew.

What does all this have to do with the price of tea in China, you may ask? Well, Assam produces more than half of India's tea. And India produces about a third of the whole world's tea. So a dramatic change, in both quality and quantity, in Assam tea has a direct impact on about one-sixth of all the tea out there. Image if you drank a modest three cups a day: now every other day one of those would be bland. If that happened with coffee at yr local coffee shop -- one in six cups was seriously off -- you'd probably switch to a new coffeeshop. The fact that the change happened in such a short time is particularly worrying for remaining tea plantations in, say, Ceylon.

For that matter, I've been having trouble buying good Keemun and Yunnan lately. My favorite tea shop has been out of both for months, forcing us to make do with trying other suppliers who so far have come through with some pretty good Yunnan substitutes but only the mildest of Keemuns, alas. I'd heard this was because after centuries of making black tea for the export market, the Chinese had recently begun drinking it themselves, so that less of the really good stuff is available outside China these days.

Given that tea is a fairly delicate crop, I hope the troubles in Assam don't spread. I'm not that big a fan of India teas -- Assam tastes flat to me, as does Ceylon (though they can be pretty good when doctored with cream and honey), while Darjeeling is too weak for my taste (always excepting the excellent Darjeeling we used to get in the old days from The Coffee Trader in Milwaukee, alas long gone). Most of America's tea, in teabags, comes from Argentina of all places, or so I understand from James Norwood Pratt's account -- but if the home of one of the world's two main strands of tea-plant, Assam, is in sudden decline, what must be in store for those places it's been transplanted to where it's less well adapted?

Do I think this news will serve as a wake-up call? Having read Jared Diamond's COLLAPSE, I'd say: Not really. As the saying goes, there are none so blind as those who will not see. Now if the same sort of thing were to befall coffee or wine drinkers, then maybe folks wd get serious about trying to mitigate the damage (the idea that there's still time to "stop" climate change is like suggesting drawing up blueprints for an avalanche-prevention sytem after the snow and rocks are already heading down the hill).

Here's the original post:

Happy 2011, all!
--John R.

current reading: TROY & HOMER
just finished: THROUGH THE MAGIC DOOR by Conan Doyle

No comments: