Tuesday, January 27, 2015

2 Questions

There are two questions that I get asked repeatedly and regularly. They both make sense for people who know me and my habits, but I don't think I ever answer them properly. So I'll answer them here, where I don't have to think on my feet. 

1. Are you going to get a Kindle or Nook?
I don't know how many times I've been asked some variation on this question. I get asked about my feelings on e-readers often enough that I've developed something of a pat answer. I don't hate the idea of e-readers. In fact, anything that gets people reading is a wonderful thing. I hope people read regularly and broadly. I hope they fill their e-reader with books and catch up on modern novels, classics, and nonfiction. Seriously, I don't care what form you read as long as you read. As for myself, I would probably love a Kindle or Nook. I like the idea of having hundreds of books handy. But it's not something that I'm going to go out of my way to buy. If I end up with one, great. But even if I do, that doesn't mean that I'll stop buying print books. I prefer to read off paper. I find my concentration isn't quite as deep when I read on a screen. And even if I find that I love the Kindle/Nook and I love reading on it, I'll still buy paper books as well, and not just for that wonderful old book smell. There is something about being surrounded by paper and books that makes me feel at home. I'm never more happy then when I'm in a library or bookstore, surrounded by stories. Browsing those shelves I find books I would never have expected to read, that become favorites. I find new ideas. I can't get that browsing experience electronically. Because I prefer to read serendipitously, I'll never stop book buying. Even if I do purchase a few electronically. 

2. Are you ever going to get a Keurig?
I drink a lot of coffee and tea. I'm the queen of hot beverages. So it's natural to assume that I would want a Keurig. I have friends that love theirs. I've used them in hotels and been happy with them. But I'm never ever going to get one. I have two reasons. The first is purely personal. As I mentioned before, I drink a lot of coffee. I drink a pot of coffee every day at work. Decaf of course, but it's a full pot. I pour cup after cup. I can't imagine if I had to get up to make a new cup of coffee each time I ran out. Currently I just pour some fresh stuff from my 12 cup maker on top of the cooling coffee. I can't imagine drinking less and I can't imagine having to make it in individual sized cups. 

The second reason that I won't get a Keurig is only partly personal. I started to notice that K-cups now make up more and more of my grocery aisle at stores. Box after box of K-cups are available in every possible brand. And each of those little cups is made of plastic. That means that every time I make a cup of coffee I'm contributing a tiny cup of plastic to our landfills. While that may not seem huge, now imagine that everyone in your town does that each day. If every person in Des Moines drank one cup of coffee each day (and used a K-cup) that means that over the course of a year, Des Moines alone (with a population of almost 600,000) would add 219 million little plastic cups to the landfill. 219 MILLION!!. In our relatively small city. Now imagine the number of K-cups coming out of a city like New York City. So far I haven't heard anyone talk about the environmental impact of the Keurig but I bet we will start talking about that soon. I can't think of a more wasteful device out there. They look lovely and make decent coffee, but they also make a ton of trash. 

Sunday, January 4, 2015

For All the Tea in China

Most people who know me know that I'm a huge coffee drinker. Even after going decaf a couple years ago I still drink a large amount of coffee. But I really should say that I'm a hot beverage person. I drink not just coffee but tea, cocoa, hot cider, mulled wine, and even just hot water. If it's a warm beverage, it's for me. I love tea. There are so many varieties, and unlike with coffee I can easily tell the difference between flavors. And this week I'm inspired to try even more different types of tea.

I just finished the book "For All the Tea in China" by Sarah Rose and was blown away by how much I learned in a scant 250 pages. The book follows Robert Fortune, a botanist in the 1800s who was sent by the East India Company to China to steal tea. Up until that point tea was only grown in China and Britain was becoming dependent on the drink. So the East India Company wanted a source that they could control. So it was decided that tea should be planted in India, a country already under the company's control.

Over three years Fortune was able to gather and smuggle out of China enough tea plants that India was able to produce a crop and in a short period of time nearly end Britain's reliance on Chinese tea. Rose describes it as one of the greatest industrial thefts of all time. It was one of the first instances of industrial espionage which nearly destroyed the Chinese economy. Especially since India was still shipping thousands of pounds of opium to China (If you haven't read about the Opium Wars, they are a fascinating topic.).

Reading the book made me even more curious about the East India Company, a company I knew something about but never really realized the full horror of what it did. Can you imagine having a for-profit corporation in control of your government? All your basic services at its whim? While we talk about corporate control here in the US I still don't have to rely on Wall Street for my fire protection or schools. Rose spends some time talking about the Honourable Company (as it was sometimes called) but left me wanting more, the mark of a great nonfiction book.

But the book also made me more curious about tea. I read a section about the Assam teas from India and was excited to realize that I had just picked up a Golden Assam from our local tea merchant, Gong Fu. The book talked about the Darjeeling teas, which I realize I've never had a great example of. There was a small discussion of monkey-picked teas, something that I had always been curious about (and now won't be trying). Suddenly I want to run down to Gong Fu and try all their teas. I want to sample them and write tasting notes the way people do with whiskey and scotch. A fascinating book. But be warned, it will make you crave tea. I don't want to think about all the cups I drank over the last two days of reading it.