Joshua Kaiser Rishi Tea“Tea brings people together. Tea makes harmony and brings resolution. Tea brings peace.” – Joshua Kaiser @rishitea

Mr Kaiser’s upbeat statement during the September airing of Samovar’s Tea Mavericks of America was an inspiring comment, an affirmation of tea’s blessed, and inherently good nature. It was also simple psychobabble. Flower power ramble. The assertion that tea makes harmony is both idealistic, and unfounded.  Resolutions may, or may not be achieved, but they are not due to the tea.  Tea can bring people together, but any drink can make that claim. Remember the Diet Coke commercial, with all the women gathered at the office window to oggle the hunk? Not a tea cup in sight.

Anything can bring people together, anything can tear them apart. To state that by definition tea creates harmony, implies that you do not understand your tea. This drink does not need a pretty label attached to make it palatable. Tea is neither to laude, nor to blame for socialization. Gathering is simply the by-product of the social act of drinking, not the tea itself.

Granted, Mr Kaiser is a fierce advocate of Fair Trade, and to his credit, he has used his company and his influence to move things forward. However, our own research has made us somewhat critical of the Fair Trade movement.

Nonetheless, comments like Joshua Kaisers’ about tea’s mythical properties abound.  An online search for “tea harmony” yields over 15,000 results. Many of these are product names for tea accessories, or packaged tea.  Marketers have understood that tapping into the unfulfilled desire for harmony sells the leaves. While it is certainly enjoyable  to hope and dream, and drink a cup whilst indulging, consumers deserve more than slogans that are mere platitudes. Tea does not need idealization. It is a drink, not an abstract notion.

There are few exceptions, traditional Japanese tea ceremony embraces what it calls; “the four principles of the Way of Tea: harmony, respect, purity and tranquility.” These principles are valid, and important but they do not define tea, they define Japanese culture and thinking. When Westerners claim tea is all about “harmony”, their claim, not the harmony itself, offers insight into western thinking. The primary motivator for the declaration, is the sale itself, not the purported principal.

On the world stage, tea has a complicated history, often fraught with tensions and long, violent conflicts. The desire to consume it, has led to revolution, wars and fueled slavery.

Had the thirteen colonies not enjoyed drinking tea, then England imposing taxes on it wouldn’t have been a major issue. One of the American Revolution’s more enduring moments was the dumping of forty-five tons of precious tea into Boston Harbor. There was no question of tea symbolizing harmony to the Sons of Liberty. Tea embodied struggle and oppression.

The true history of teaBy the middle of the eighteenth century, tea was Britain’s most popular beverage, and a good cup, required copious amounts of sugar. By 1800, per capita consumption had risen to eighteen pounds per person. Sugar cane plantations in the West Indies provided the sweetener, and slaves provided the work force.

The Anglo Chinese wars of the nineteenth century, the Opium wars, lasted three and four years respectively, all because the English loved their tea. At the time, Brits brewed up 15 million pounds of Chinese tea annually. To avoid paying in precious metal, Britain began trading opium for tea, creating wide-spread addiction among the Chinese. When China forbade this practice, the British Empire applied creative means to circumvent the ban, culminating in the wars. If only they hadn’t liked tea.

Peace, and harmony is also not likely on the minds of those whose tedious and straining task it is to pick the tea. For most workers on a plantation in Kenya, China or India, tea is neither mythical, nor beautiful. Plucking tea is a job, and tea is nothing but a bunch of leaves you can brew up to drink.

Does that make for a good sales pitch? Probably not. But don’t buy into the hype that glorifies tea. Tea is a wonderful drink, which tastes amazing. You don’t need vendors to feed you nonsense to make you buy it. You’ll buy it anyway – because you like it. Regardless, of how much harmony, or dissonance tea brings.

Tell us your thoughts below about the peace and harmony movement among tea companies and consumers. Is it just marketing nonsense or does it have sincere merit?