weekly tea: tea club 2023 old arbor spring raw puer
I have packrat tendencies, a thing that is probably a little of Column A, a little of Column B (where column A is my ADHD impulsivity and Column B is a few bouts of food insecurity as a child). The idea of running out of something does something visceral in me that is kind of inexplicable, given how mundane it is to generally run out of things.
So this tea came with a warning. It’s a warning I’ve seen before, which is one of the reasons it’s so dang hard to stop myself from stockpiling tea. See, white2tea’s May tea club is a tradition: a 50 gram cake of pressed old arbor pu-erh. This is what the newsletter said (reprinted with permission):
Yunnan was (and still is!) experiencing a tough drought and intense heat. The tea trees were under immense pressure from the heat and lack of moisture, causing some trees to not bud at all. One of our tea friends remarked “It was something I had to see to believe, they said there was no tea, but I didn’t believe it until I saw it firsthand.”
The good news is that some tea farmers who have chosen more sustainable methods (such as keeping heavy ground cover near their plants and maintaining biodiversity throughout their gardens) were greatly rewarded this year, while farmers who plowed under for an immediate bump in yield (or who planted monocultures tea gardens) saw the inherent downfalls of these methods as moisture quickly evaporated under the high-altitude Yunnan sun.
In either case, yields were slashed across the board. Farmers who previously had 100kg of spring old arbor tea were lucky to process 30kg. With the caveat that Yunnan is large, and my examples are anecdotal, I traveled all over the province and arrived earlier than most, with the above examples coming from my own direct experience. It was a more difficult year than most to secure teas, even for those of us who spent the whole spring on the ground in the mountains.
Many of our so-called luxury items—tea, coffee, chocolate, wine—are coming under threat as global warming changes their natural habitat. And yes, of course people will be able to propagate it elsewhere, but terroir matters, age of tree matters. It won’t be the same.
Even more important, if the amount of arable land goes down, I will have to make a choice between me drinking tea and other people not starving to death. I will get rid of my tea every single time. I prefer not to make that choice, but here we are.
There are things I can do about climate change—things like minimizing the amount that I drive, adding insulation, using heat pumps in conjunction with solar panels, planting native, xeric plants in my front yard to fix as much carbon as I can and to provide native habitat, trying to replace plastic waste with alternatives as much as possible, being conscious of what I eat… I’m doing things. I don’t want to knock the things I do. I think there is value in my doing them.
But I am not going to be able to fix climate change on my own. I know we need to make global changes, but I don’t know if I even like the direction this country is going, let alone the globe.
But hope is always a matter of scale. I don’t know how to change the globe. I don’t know how to change the country. But there is something I can do: I can change my city, and a city is a bigger start than just me.
This week, I looked up the name of my city councilmember and wrote, asking what our city’s timeline was for decarbonization. Not, do we have a timeline. Not, have you considered how to reduce carbon. Just: what is the timeline for this thing that we absolutely have to do.
I am not going to be able to fix climate change on my own. But maybe I can fix something. Maybe if I tell enough of you, some of you all will think about what you can do locally. It’s not going to work if it’s just me, but it will be if it’s enough of us. I don’t now how many of us will be enough, but you know what? Let’s try and find out.
Anyway, this tea is delightful. For as long as we have spring old arbor tea, I will treasure it.
What Happened at Midnight
I have a lot of thoughts about this novella. One of them is that I was trying to capture a very specific dynamic of inaction: the way you can know that things are unbearable, and have to change, but be unable to see the path toward change because all routes to a better world pass through danger.
This is a novella that touches on abuse, but it’s not the typical kind of “abuse” that gets talked about—one where the abuser is a family member or a lover. I think we need to spend more time talking about what abuse looks like when it’s someone who straight up doesn’t love us, and just wants to keep us small and serving them.
In many ways, I think this dovetails with so many concepts we are facing today. It’s the concept of climate action: that those of us who have the power to push climate action can’t take the steps to make a better world for ourselves and our children, because if we do, we might disturb a system that (barely, barely) works for us now. It is, in fact, an abusive system, but if we buck it, it will abuse us more.
This isn’t just about climate change—I see it all over the place. When workers unionize, and the bosses respond by closing their stores or making their lives miserable, that’s exactly this dynamic. And we can either keep our heads down and say “whew, I’m glad that didn’t happen to me,” or we can stand up and say, “wow, that should never happen to anyone.”
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