Reading beyond the tea leaves of colonial trade and exploitation

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“It’s important to think of tea as a plant and not a commodity,” says Charlene Wang. Photo by Charlen Wang.

During the 17th and 18th centuries, “tea was what a limited-edition sneaker drop or what Perigord black truffles are today,” writes Charlene Wang. In Beijing, when she encountered tea repackaged under a French label, Charlene began to question how European growers created a market to lure tea drinkers away from an originating and superior Asian market. Her piece for Whetstone magazine traces the tea kerfuffle back to colonialism and its lingering problems of racial, class, gender, and labor hierarchies.

Food writer Charlene Wang recounts her early experiences with a tea ceremony that informed her interest in the beverage. It started with British high tea at the Empress Hotel in Victoria, Canada.  Photo courtesy of Charlene Wang.
Credits

Host:
Evan Kleiman

Producers:
Laryl Garcia, Gillian Ferguson