I learned something watching a BBC program on coffee, which I will share with equally dim wits. The journalist followed the trail from plant to coffee shops in London. I knew that much coffee is consumed in London, having observed the flowering of coffee shops in recent years. Tea is no longer the national drink, but 80% of the coffee is instant, made from robusta beans: the cheapest.
If asked, I would have said that the coffee is sourced in Africa or South America. It turns out that the biggest supplier of UK coffee is Vietnam and that country is one of the leading producers of coffee in the world. I did not know that coffee was grown in that country...and I assumed--wrongly--that I knew the country well. It seems that my knowledge is out of date, because the communist government forced the growth of coffee production in recent years, mostly the cheap robusta variety. The leading exporter has become a billionaire: a long way from Viet Cong fighter in rubber sandals or beetle-nut chewing mamasan in conical hat planting rice...
I watched an interesting (yes, once again!) program on BBC about tea. I will not bore you with the details.
One aspect of the British addiction to tea is the opium trade with China. I must admit that I am curious about opium, but will never satisfy that curiosity. I do wonder what effect one feels and how the imagination is piqued. There is something appealing about the stories one reads about Asia, but the risks are too great. Because I have never even tried tobacco, I am repulsed by the thought of any kind of smoke entering my lungs.
That history of derivatives from the poppy is extensive and fascinating. Governments have profited from and fought against trade in products from this plant. One of the most interesting books I have ever read is Politics of Heroin in Southeast Asia, a study that the CIA attempting to suppress. This proved that the US Government is its own worst enemy in the War on Drugs.
Many wealthy English families, whose wealth is stashed in tax havens dotting the British Empire, can be thankful that ancestors traded in opium.
Occasionally, I feel the need to provide value to readers. This is one of those rare instances.
I prefer tea to coffee, which I imbibe rarely and usually to be sociable. I drink several cups each day. Someday, some medical study will announce that tea is/was detrimental to my health. But, like smokers, I will not care and ignore any recommendation to reduce my consumption.
Of all varieties of tea, I prefer Darjeeling. My favorite is from an estate called Kalej Valley, high in the Himalaya Mountains. The dried leaves have a wonderful aroma. It is not first flush, which is supposed to be "the best". I have tried some of that kind, but do not agree. So, if you enjoy tea and stumble across my favorite, give it a try.
NB. The strange title is a dumb word, which has entered the English language (the UK bastardization), meaning a "cup of tea". This must result from conversations of people unable to complete sentences.
Each morning, when I am at home, I drink tea from a cup made of Japanese porcelain. To my mind, my choice of tea (Darjeeling from Kalej Valley FTGFOP1) tastes best when enjoyed from that cup. I have not used the same one, since buying the first ones in Tokyo many years ago, because they tend to get broken (always a traumatic experience). I was first drawn to their design, but soon learned to appreciate the subtle difference in flavor that they delivered.
My most-recent purchase of these cups was at Disney World’s Epcot Center in Orlando, almost ten years ago. I recall being surprised to find them in the inevitable shop connected with the country exhibition. I bought two. One was broken a few years ago; the second has survived many a close call and careful handling. Until yesterday...
I am not sure what I am mourning: the cup’s breaking, after being knocked over by my wife (I considered divorce for a fleeting moment) or my having to drink tea from an inferior vessel. Given my access to cheap tickets, I’m even considering a quick trip to either Orlando or Tokyo. I have not found similar cups in Europe, although I must admit to not searching, as long as one remained.
From the magnitude of this event, most should be able to gauge what a charmed life I lead. Still, morning tea is a ritual, if not as ingrained and traditional as a Japanese tea ceremony.
Prior to writing novels, the author enjoyed a multifaceted career: from decorated combat aviator to advertising professional to global communications director of a major consumer brand. He has traveled the world and met sports, film and television stars, political leaders, and royalty. He graduated from Middlebury College, is married, lives in Germany, and has two grown children.