On rainy Portland days, so all winter, I think about the coincidence of caffeine consumption and Enlightenment ideas, and the rise of Western civilization to its present might, and John Locke, and the American Dream, until I forget that I don’t know anything about anything and go back to my game of solitaire. The question is worth asking, though: could the modern world we’ve built function without the beneficence of a drink like tea? What would our world look like without it? Tea is the world’s most consumed beverage after water. It’s cultivated on every continent that isn’t covered in snow yearround, and even there tea is important enough that a group of Antarctic explorers recorded a video about how they make it in sub-zero temperatures (spoiler alert: they’re British). The American Dream is about the ability to imagine for oneself a future of one’s own creation and the freedom to go about creating it. There are people in India who don’t have this kind of opportunity, an entire ethnic group in Sri Lanka exploited for plantation labor, an indus- try in Nepal dominated by massive tea estates. Wage slavery and human trafficking are wrong no matter what part of the world you live in, and there’s something that tea drinkers can do about it. Tea has entered the third wave of its evolution. Like coffee before it, the Maxwell House’s of the US tea market have evolved into Starbucks, and a market is building for artisanal tea purveyors. “It’s not your grandmother’s tea with doilies and cucumber sandwiches,” said Jesse Jacobs, owner of Samovar Tea in San Francisco, a tea shop and retailer of high quality tea. “Instead, it’s like the equivalent of Stumptown Coffee and Blue Bottle.” The American tea drinker has two very large and different problems when it comes to making a purchase. On the one hand, he or she has to consider how a purchase will affect ethical problems like human rights violations. On the other, the tea that arrives in their local retailer is usually of obscure origin and questionable quality. © Hundred-to-One LLC 2016. All rights reserved.