Friday, December 10, 2010

Life is Just a Box of Teabags!

Last week amongst my list of goodies to purchase at the supermarket was the tea my husband favors.
Twinings Russian Caravan smells like smoked camel dung, evoking memories of a bygone era when the great camel caravans roamed the Russian Steppes or the Silk Road. Since timber was heavy to carry and in many places, scarce, the nomads cooked over fires fuelled by camel dung. Good idea since it was no doubt in plentiful supply, however, the thought of drinking something that smells like it, is enough to turn my stomach.
Being the dutiful wife, I’m happy to lug a packet or two home when he needs to restock, brew up a cuppa and perhaps dream of a past life when he too drove camels or whatever across those ancient roads. Only problem is I couldn’t find the loose leaf variety he prefers. In fact not only could I not find Russian Caravan in loose leaf form, nor could I find any type of tea that wasn’t packaged in tea bags!
When I questioned the manager he explained that tea bags sold better and lasted longer than leaf tea.
Now I don’t know about you, but I’ve been to Sri Lanka, seen the vast fields where tea, aka Camelia chinesis grows under the blazing tropical sun, seen the gaily dressed ladies picking the newest tips of the plants, seen them dry it, chop it into tea leaf size and then pack it into old-fashioned tea chests to be shipped to wherever in the world they package tea. All every lovely and informative…
Until our guide cheerfully informed us that since the invention of tea bags, production had increased 25%!
My ears pricked up at this bit of fascinating information. How, I wondered, could this be?
He indicated the tea dust covering the floor which consisted of tiny remnants of the leaf tea that didn’t make it into the tea chests. “We sweep it up and put it in the tea bags.”
Being a practical person, I thought this seemed like a goodish sort of idea.
Until one of the workers hawked and hawked and then coughed up an enormous amount of phlegm and spat it on the floor.
Since any number of respiratory diseases, including tuberculosis, are endemic to Sri Lanka and just about anywhere else in the third world that produces tea, one could deduce that sweeping up phlegm-laden tea dust and putting it into bags is not only a bad idea, in spite of its thriftiness, but violated every hygiene standard known to mankind.
So as I watched them sweeping the floors and carefully collecting the tea dust into huge plastic bags for placement into tea bags and shipment direct to a store near you, I swore I’d never drink tea from bags. Never mind that the water that’s usually poured over the tea bags has been boiled—facing the prospect of death by tuberculosis, swine flu or even ebola for all I know—was a health risk too far.
So as I stood in the supermarket aisle debating whether it was worth risking my husband’s long-term chances of living a healthy life against how much I’d get in insurance if he succumbed to a teadust-laden disease, I remembered that long-ago trip to Sri Lanka and wondered just how did they impart that scent of camel dung to the tea? Perhaps a lump or two of dung was added to the tea chest or dropped on the floor prior to packaging?
And what other monstrous things were added to the original tea leaves to give them such flavours as Lapsang Souchong (sounds like a dog breed), Lady Grey (her remains?) Earl Grey (his remains!) Touareg (toe nails of North African nomads?) Buddha’s Tears (yuck!) Gunpowder (say what?) Golden Monkey (doesn’t bear thinking about!) and finally, White Monkey Paw, which I really don’t want to think about!
I wonder if Prince Charles drinks Prince of Wales tea? Which reminds me of something I think I read in the memoirs of Ronald Reagan. Prince Charles spent a night in the White House and next morning his morning cuppa arrived… with a tea bag in it. Himself inspected the item and asked what it was. Apparently he’d led such a sheltered life he’d never had to rub shoulders with a lowly tea bag before.
So the next time you’re at the supermarket and about to reach for that box of tea bags, ponder a moment: just how much does your health mean to you.

To celebrate the release of the third novel in my O’Malley Men series, Colorado Cowboy, and to win a copy, tell me your most grossly enlightening moment. I have three copies to give away!
Til next time,


Christina Hollis said...

Oh, no - my old gran would never have anything to do with tea bags, saying they were 'the sweepings from the floor' and I thought she was making it up.
From now in it's back to the orange pekoe tips (if you can still get them?) and a teapot for me!

Rachael Johns said...

Oh yuk... never in all my life have I been so happy that I don't drink tea!! x Rach!

Michelle Beattie said...


How you know these things never ceases to amaze me. You'd be a great Trivial Pursuit partner! I do drink a bit of tea, and thanks to this blog, will likely drink even less! ;-)

Cheers, CC. Congrats on your next release and Merry Christmas!

Sewicked said...

I drink bagged tea from a few, select companies. These bags of tea are 1) sewn, not glued so no glue in my tea & 2) visibly made with tea leaves, not tea dust. Other than that, give me loose leaf tea any day of the week & twice on weekends.

India said...

Fabulous post CC! I'm an unashamed tea snob (I figure that I have to have high standards in something and since it isn't housekeeping or fine chocolate it might as well be tea) and I can exclusively reveal that they serve a lovely cup of Russian Caravan in the little tea shop opposite the M&B office in Richmond. However, the thought that there might be camel dung in it is a little off-putting. Might just stick to the English Breakfast in future. (Does that have distilled bacon and eggs in it?)

The Track Down Girl said...

I am a tea drinker. Period. Never touch coffee or soft drinks. My fav is Twinnings English Breakfast which clearly has tea leaves in the bag and it is sewn not glued so I'm not worried. Never tried Russian Caravan. I'm not adventurous when it comes to food so just give me plain old-fashioned tea.

Have a great day all and would love to win the book.


Winter Peck said...

Now I'm glad I only drink tea now and again and it's usually the herbal type with no tea leaves.

Having grown up on a farm, my parents tended to process their own meat for us to eat through the year, so there's not much that doesn't shock me or gross me out about what goes on in the meat department. But I will forever hate having to pluck and clean out chickens. Yuck!

Virginia C said...

Not a gross tea story, but still gross. Worcestershire sauce is made from (among other things) fermented anchovies. I read an article once about all the little fishies floating in the vat of sauce. I do still use it in cooking, but I don't think about it!

Anonymous said...

I drink some teas but if it smelled like "camel dung" I don't think I would. Yuk! Very interesting though.
cthomas3 at windstream dot net

Kylie Griffin said...

I grimaced as I read this post, CC ad immediately went to the cupboard to check out the teabag box and have now vowed never to touch them again. Instead I'll stick with loose leaves!

Hmm, you asked for an enlightening fact. It's amazing what sorts of trivial facts stick in the mind and as soon as you asked for an example this one sprang to mind. Not sure you're going to want to read it though. :-(

I'm going to stick with the food theme. Did you know that the average person will consume 12 pubic hairs in their fast food annually?

Ewww, and can we assume if you're a fast food fanatic that statistic doubles or triples?

What I want to know is how they found that out! I can't imagine fast food places agreeing to have such research done voluntarily!

Kez said...

Ewww Kylie :)

CC - I drink tea leaves just because they taste soooo much better than bags! And they're better for the environment - now you've given me another reason not to touch a tea bag!!

Estella said...

I only drink tea occasionally.

Have you tried the Twinings website for your husbands tea? That is where I buy my Lady Grey.

Anonymous said...

I knew there was a Very Good Reason not to drink tea in places where they don't make it with rapidly boiling water. Tepid water in a vase-shaped vessel just does not do it for me. At least boiling water might provide a very slight advantage over the other nasties you describe, CC. I travel with my own tiny electric jug and bring my Twinings with me!

I just love your Luke! Mmmmmm.



CC said...

Hi Christina! That'll teach you of the wisdom of the elderly. NEVER doubt your Gran. :-)
Hiya Rach, I'm more into coffee myself but since getting an automatic espesso machine I've been overdosing. I wondered why I was having heart palpitations - until I worked out I was consuming 5 shots of espresso a day in my lattes!

CC said...

Hey Michelle, I just love Trivial Pursuit, but my family refuses to play with me cos I won all the time.:-) I'm not sure how to put this head full of trivia to use to make me a millionair tho. Any ideas? :-)
Hi Sewicked, I didn't even give a thought to how they seal those tea bags. Ugh! I'm definitley hunting down loose leaf tea. We do have an Aussie brand which I think would be safe to drink from bags, but then again, there's the glue!
LOL India! bacon and eggs in English breakfast tea. How delightful! It is a nice brew though. :-)

CC said...

Hi Cher, There's nothing quite like a cuppa with milk and sugar to calm the nerves is there? And English Breakfast is the best - along with white toast with lashings of butter and Vegemite! Real comfort food. :-)
Hi WinterPeck, you can have the bucolic lifestyle :-) Touching or worse still plucking chickens must be the pits! :-)
Virginia, I just LOVE Worcester Sauce and you haven't put me off for some strnge reason. What goes into Lancashire Relish, do you know? I like it even better than Worcester these days.
Hi Cathy, yes, I can't understand the attraction to tea that smells so bad. But maybe it's an olfactory thing> OTOH maybe my husband really did drive camels along the Silk Road in a past life, so he doesn't notice the smell? :-)

CC said...

Okay Kylie that is completely gross! And yes, just how do they know such things? Every mother should be in possession of facts like this so their kids will stop nagging about going to Maccas. :-) Reminds me of the survey they did on a bowl of peanuts sitting on the average bar...
Hey Kez, I'm with you, it does taste better in leaf form and now you know why!
Thanks for the tip, Estella, I will order it online if I don't have any success at other supermarkets. :-)
Hi Jan, I can just imagine you the seasoned traveller pulling out your kettle and brewing up a cuppa after a hard day of sightseeing.
And thank you so much for your kind words about Luke!

Keziah Hill said...

I'm a tea snob too. Rarely use tea bags. My favorite is Monk Pear from the T2 shop. It's a bit like Earl Grey. I love Russian Caravan though. Smoky and exotic. Congrats on the new release CC!

Kandy Shepherd said...

CC, I laughed so much at your post that hubby asked what was going on and I had to read it out loud to him.
He reminded me that "crushed" canned pineapple is also the equivalent of sweepings off the floor.
I'm so glad I have never liked tea and now I never will! (Sadly, as I am a tea-making incompetent--I provide tea bags for my guests...)
Your blog is so warm and witty--just like your books.
I saw a lovely 4 star review in RT Book Reviews for COLORADO COWBOY--I can't wait to read the next instalment in the O'Malley men series.

Anonymous said...

Many years ago I questioned a top line tea company of why they ceased the proper loose tea. Their reply the same as yours profit margins etc etc. Then I questioned the making of tea bags, to which they informed me that it is the same stuff that toilet paper is.
Oh yuk, just the thought.. ROB

susanwilson44 said...

CC your post made me howl with laughter and sent an enormous shiver down my spine. I'm a traditionalistin Britain, tetley tea bags are practically our "National" drink and I swear by them! That, and the lovely Twinning Lemon and Ginger teabags advertised by the lovely Stephen Fry x

mudlark said...

Hey CC I laughed out loud when I read that because I've always said tea bags were made from the sweepings. And the glue thing, I never thought about the glue. Yuk. It's so hard when you go to a cafe and you don't drink coffee because 9 times out of 10 you'll get a tea bag, especially if you drink herbal teas.
Can't wait to read your next book.

Anonymous said...

Are you *serious*?! That is a ghastly story! I used to joke about instant coffee being the dust off the factory floor... but you've actually seen the tea with your own eyes... amazingly gross.

Jo Graves said...

That is gross, CC. I'm a tea drinker on occasions but think I'll invest in a teapot now, and brew the leaves. Mind you, my tea tastes are strictly English Breakfast with Earl Grey on occasions.

Anita Joy said...

Oh, CC!! Did ya have to do that?!?

I don't drink coffee at all, actually I don't drink tea either, but I drink Roibos (a South African plant - but comes in tea bags *grimace*) or herbal teas (still in tea bags!).

We do have tea grown in Australia which is what I stock for visitors - I'm sure our standards have to be higher!

Mary Hawkins said...

Yuk! Now you've given my husband more reasons NEVER to use a tea bag! My gross moment? Not long ago, because I'm trying not to eat too much fat, didn't butter my morning toast. Also trying to save washing another knife, picked up the knife my husband had used a bit earlier to put marmalade on his toast. Must have been still half-asleep because it wasn't until that peanut butter was all over the toast I realised I'd also spread a multitude of tiny black ants all over it too! Just as well I was only HALf asleep!

Jo Graves said...

Hi again.
Not as gross as phlegm in your tea bags but.... a few years back I cooked a pudding (self saucing chocolate, yum, yum, yum) in the microwave, as I always do, dished it up and everyone's getting stuck in to it. They got as far as the first mouthful, anyway. It tasted really odd, quite unpleasant and one of the kids remarked it tasted like chicken, how could that be?
Of course, I'd cooked chicken in there a few days before, clearly had forgotten to clean the microwave and... yuck. Chocolate and chicken - not good.

Serena said...

And that's why I drink coffee! Did you know that in the old days before the right technology came along, they (allegedly) mixed a form of detergent into instant coffee to make it disslove completely. That's what someone (allegedly) in the know told me when I used to work in academia. Speaking of which, in those days one of the ladies there drank the very strange (and awful) smelling Twinings Lapsang Souchong tea that you mentioned. She once stored her tea bags in with everyone elses and in the end inherited all the other bags as the smell and taste which is almost-like-a-bad-curry-but-more-like-ahem-vomit permeated throughout the jar. They even let her keep the jar because it was tainted!

Great post, C.C.!!

Anonymous said...

Hi everyone! Sorry I've been AWOL but have been travelling in Europe (read: sliding in the snow!) Thanks so much for your wonderful comments.
The winners of a copy of Colorado Cowboy are: Christina Hollis (for getting in there first!) Winter Peck (there is no way on this earth I'd pluck chickens!!eeyew!) and Jo Graves (cos you're a sad sad woman for not cleaning up your microwave!!!) (big wink)
If you girls can contact me via my website, I'll get a copy sent to you!
Merry Xmas!