This weeks chapter published on Tea Technique marks the half-way point in the first book of the series An Introduction to the Art and Science of Chinese Tea Ceremony – Book 1: On Theory, Meta-Theory, and Culture. The editorial team considered this chapter, A Bourdieu’dian Analysis for the Construction of an Education in Tea: What is Good Now?, to be particularly relevant to many of the conversations currently taking place in the tea world and suggested that we make it publicly accessible without a subscription – a suggestion I happily obliged. The chapter is open access and available to everyone.
Modernity, authenticity, exoticism, and contemporary culture are all placed under the microscope, with a focus on what we practitioners of Chinese tea consider to be good today. While many of us would say that we’re against exoticism and cultural fetishism, do our actions and desires match our proposed ideals? How much of our preferences are our own and how much have been handed to us by the yoke of history?
The findings may not be popular.
Contemporary practitioners of Chinese tea are obsessed with authenticity. Is it real, is it rare, is it from a famous ancient tree, was it made by poor tea farmers living in their family village? These attributes signal values and we value these attributes with our preferences. These attributes are used by our trusted merchants to market their teas, seduce us with their access to antique wares, and entice us to buy now because it may never be available again.
I want my tea from lesser known villages in YiWu where the trees have grown tall and wild for 1,000 years. I want to see photos of women in traditional clothing picking tea from these ancient tall trees on bamboo ladders. I want to see their thatched roof huts with wood burning mud stoves used for kill-green.
I want to drink my tea in a beautiful garden surrounded by the treasures of Chinese Culture – ceramics and yixing and lacquerware.
What about these desires are my own? Nothing. They have all been constructed for me by the culture I was born into and shaped by the habitus I developed over the short arch of my life. I share these desires with others precisely because society and culture shape our preferences and pressure us to converge. I share these desires because I am told they are the desires of a learned individual who participates and partakes in the culture of Chinese tea.
To this I say nothing. I know what I like and I like what I know. Some Chinese tea is quite good in my opinion; and yours?