Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Tea on the Radio

I found a few items related to tea in the National Public Radio archives that help to tell the story of the geography of tea. I am interested in the subject both because of my growing interest in tea and because my daughter is actively preparing for a service-learning trip to India in 2011.

For example, "Tea Thieves" is a Guy Raz interview of Sarah Rose about her book For All the Tea in China, about England's century-long effort that allowed India to supplant China as the world's leading producer of tea. The story focuses on Robert Fortune, an aptly named China expert, botanist, and corporate spy whose skills were employed by the East India Trading Company, with effects that remain profound two centuries later.

According to a visit reported by Daniel Zwerdlig, Cafe Kaffee Kuchh in Chandigarh, Punjab "created this cafe as an antidote to modern India," which some see as disconnected from its roots and too focused on money. The cafe is a place for young people to share tea and food, but also to cultivate community. I am glad to be finding the same thing in pockets here in the United States.

At the opposite extreme, perhaps, is Sanjiv Mehta of Mumbai by way of London, who recently purchased the intellectual property rights of the East India Company in order to apply the brand to luxury goods. In many ways, it was the first multinational corporation, associated with both the best and the worst of colonization and therefore of globalization. In his conversation with Robert Siegel, CEO Mehta clearly is proud of the legacy he has purchased and its marketing value. It might just work, his trademarks now include not only a lot of teas and jams, but also the coffee that was Napolean's final wish: the coffee of St. Helena Island.

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