Yummy Does Not Mean "Good"! But Don’t Be a Dick About It.
I regularly find myself explaining to customers why so much of the tea in the U.S. is flavored and why Wendigo will not do that. Yes, you can enjoy a peppermint mocha flavored black tea, a pomegranate mojito white tea, or chicken-flavored chicken! But is it “good”? When it comes to food, I equate “good” with quality (freshness, grade, and origin) or, once you get into the premium realm, artfulness (expertise and uniqueness) of production. "Good" foods tend to not need added colors and flavors in order to taste yummy or look appetizing.
So, why do so many people enjoy flavored teas and food-like products? It's because they SMELL GOOD. They LOOK GOOD. They TASTE GOOD. AND THEY ARE CHEAP! The consumer and the producer enter an agreement where both understand that the consumer is being lied to. "This is not good or fresh food but merely resembles it." “I know there is no mojito in the teabag, but I enjoy this.” Obviously, this act of flavoring isn’t done with premium teas. And there are tea producers that will never be able to grow premium tea. Isn’t there a place in the market for everyone? Yes, but then why is it so hard to find “good” tea?
The scariest thing with capitalism and the food industry is a trend in economics called “the race to the bottom,” which refers to a situation where companies or producers compete by cutting costs and quality standards to offer the cheapest products. This race is driven by the desire to attract price-conscious consumers and gain a competitive advantage in the market. And this race has been going on for decades in your grocery store aisles making products more profitable and less healthy for us to consume. What do you think the best way is to add flavor to a slowly degrading tasting product? You add FLAVOR!
Who is to blame for this? Is it the tea business’ fault for pursuing potential customers? Is it the mediocre Sri Lankan (I just picked a place… don't be mad at me Sri Lanka… but yeah, your tea tends to not be great) tea grower’s fault for not growing rice instead? Is it the grocery store’s fault for putting it on the shelf? Is it the consumer’s fault? Ding Ding Ding!!! Yes, it is us! We are the problem. We suck! Our dumb monkey brains are fooled by artificial colors and flavors, leaving us vulnerable to be taken advantage of. We are buying "bad" tea and lying to ourselves that it is good for us. We have evolved so that those fruity colors and flavors make our body reward us with pleasure as if we are getting something healthy... but it isn't actually healthy.
So, is this really a problem? Not all tea can be “good” tea, so we can't expect the market to look like that. The big issue I have here is that the vast majority of American tea consumers don’t know they are being lied to. Imagine not knowing the difference between actual chicken and 99 cent chicken nuggets, the difference in ground beef and a steak, or the difference in Tang and Orange Juice. Average tea consumers simply don’t understand that the options readily available in front of them are all bad, so the flavored tea they like, while not being “good,” tastes “good.” They have never had tea less than a few years old. They don’t have the opportunity to be exposed to real genuine awe-inspiring greatness in their cup, so they might as well grab a cute box of Diet Blueberry Ecstasy Green Tea made with 4-year-old garbage green tea, a tiny squirt of Blueberry Flavor, and Blue Dye #274.
Ok... How can this change? Who can fix this? Tea nerds are the least helpful when it comes to being welcoming or understanding of those not “in the know.” So, don’t be a dick when someone loves their cheap tea or can’t get further than brewing with a teabag. Their tea journey may just be starting. They may want to know more or be completely content with Blue Dye #274. Their experience is genuine, and a lot of times, these big legacy tea brands have generationally passed fans down. What people may love in their cup may be more than the quality of tea leaves, but remember the peace and joy of sharing a quiet cup with their grandma in the morning or vacations having sweet tea on the beach. There is a place for consumers' intimate relationships with their cheap tea, and nobody (especially tea snobs like myself) has a right to devalue that.
You should absolutely be able to enjoy a $5 bottle of wine, but you are probably going to like a $30 bottle of wine more and feel better the following day. You can eat a $1 burger, but you’ll probably feel better and enjoy a $12 burger a lot more. Hell yeah I like eating "bad" food sometimes, but I am making a consensual decision with my body knowing full well what I am doing and the work I will need to reverse it. Don't shame people for liking what they like as it isn't any of your damn business. If you are in a position to share tea knowledge with someone then that is great! You can drink flavored tea, and I really hope you enjoy it, but real "good" tea is a completely different thing. So understand that Yummy does not mean “good"!
But don't be a dick about it.
*The first tea that launched me on my two decade multi-thousand tea tasting journey was a dumb blueberry flavored herbal tea that tasted like pancakes from one of the big dumb companies. We all gotta start somewhere...*