Monday, August 22, 2011

Tea as Slow Food: Fast Tea vs Slow Tea

Today I want to write about a social movement that, in my opinion, is directly related to the world of tea. This is the slow food movement. Slow food is a broad and far-reaching concept; it can be seen as an opposite or alternative to "fast food". The idea of slow food is to preserve and create new traditional local and regional cuisines, to enjoy food together with people, and to become more aware of where our food comes from. By promoting local food cultures, the movement encourages diversity, and by promoting local foods and raising awareness of how food is produced, the movement promotes sustainability. The huge number of tags I've classified this post with demonstrates that this movement is related to many different facets of the things I care about.

The logo of this movement is a snail, cutely symbolic of slowness:

Wikipedia has a great article about slow food, which I would recommend at least glancing at. If you want official information from the movement itself, you can visit the websites of Slow Food International or Slow Food USA. The slow food movement is something I strongly support, so I would urge you to check it out, and give some thought to what it advocates, beyond just reading this post.

How does slow food relate to tea?

Tea, like any food or beverage, can be viewed (and produced/consumed) in any number of different ways. Virtually everything about the slow food movement can be applied to tea, except possibly the "buy local" part (although one can still buy or grow local herbs for use in herbal teas, and one can certainly support local tea shops and tea houses). Using the concept of "fast food vs. slow food" as a continuum, we have two different "ends of the spectrum" so to speak.

Tea as fast food: "fast tea":

The ultimate manifestation of tea as fast food is ready-to-drink tea, which includes both bottled tea and tea in cans and other types of containers. This tea is brewed in a factory, packaged, and sold as-is. Ready-to-drink tea is fast food, in that it is quick and easy to purchase and then immediately drink, and that it is primarily an industrial product, produced in a factory, with minimal preparation on behalf of the person consuming it.

Tea as slow food: "slow tea":

At the opposing, "slowest" end of the spectrum, would be single-estate, single-harvest whole-leaf teas, processed by traditional methods, and brewed traditionally in loose-leaf form. Tea traditions are diverse, so I will not claim that "slow tea" needs to be brewed gong fu style in a gaiwan or Yixing tea pot. There are rich tea traditions in eastern and western Europe, in the middle east, and all across the globe, and they each have different practices of enjoying tea. But in order for it to be slow tea, it needs to be brewed at the point of drinking, and it needs to be brewed and drunk with care and thought.

Slow tea, like slow food, encompasses not just the production of the tea, but also the enjoyment of it. Slow tea is not just about the tea originating in a specific garden, but it is about the person drinking the tea knowing which garden it is from, and knowing when it was harvested, and knowing a bit about what makes this tea special. And slow tea involves paying attention to how the tea tastes, and enjoying the setting and process of drinking tea, whether it's a calm, meditative tea session alone, or sharing tea with friends or family.

Most tea is somewhere in the middle:

Relative to loose-leaf tea, tea bags certainly move much farther in the direction of "fast tea", but from the vantage point of bottled or ready-to-drink teas, they are more "slow".

In summary:

The slow food movement is a social movement which promotes greater awareness of and enjoyment of food, including awareness of where food comes from, enjoyment of food, and preservation and promotion of local food cultures. Slow food can easily be applied to tea, and pushes one in the direction of single-estate, single-harvest, loose-leaf teas, brewed with care and enjoyed mindfully either in a private reflective state, or shared with friends or family.

Slow tea and RateTea:

Personally, I want to support the slow food movement and what it advocates for. One of the main motivating factors behind creating RateTea is to get people to think more about tea, in the same sort of framework that the slow food movement works. I want people to rate teas not to discover which tea is "best" in some absolute sense, but just because I want them to start thinking about how their tea tastes...a key idea with RateTea is that the ratings and reviews are tied into a database that classifies each tea by style and by region, and in one click, a person can go from a page of a specific review, or a specific tea, to an article about that style of tea, or that tea-producing region. The idea is to draw casual tea drinkers in and open the world of high-quality loose tea to them, and in doing so, get them to think more about food and drink as a whole, and hopefully, move our society in the direction of greater sustainability in the process, so that we are all healthier, happier, and more able to appreciate all our food and drink, and where it comes from.

How about you?

Were you aware of the slow food movement before reading this post? Where do you think your own tea habits fall on the fast food / slow food spectrum? Does your interest in awareness of tea's production and enjoyment of artisan teas carry forward into your appreciation and awareness of food in general? Were you aware of my intentions of promoting "slow food" through RateTea or do you think this is something it would be good for me to emphasize more on the site?


  1. I didn't know about the slow food movement before reading that. I would support it, especially if it involves people eating their food slowly, because I tend to do that, and sometimes I'm the last person eating in a restaurant.

  2. It definitely involves eating your food slowly...or sipping your tea! Savor it slowly...contrasting with the the scarf it down and guzzle it approach to fast food.

  3. Great article! I think you should definitely emphasize slow food/tea more on your website - not because you haven't made it clear enough, but rather because our modern life is so swamped by fast food/drink that many people don't easily realize how important slow food/drink could be.

    Also I've been thinking of ways to make gongfu style tea more convenient to carry around in daily life, and to have convenient teas more carefully made with more good tastes. After readng your article, now I think may be I can call them "fast slow tea" and "slow fast tea" respectively! :-D

  4. Haha, thanks...although now I think my brain is overloading!

  5. I had been aware of this and support it. Most of the time I am a slow tea person and only go to the other extreme for my blog. Even if you are working and have kids, there is time to appreciate food, tea, family and friends. People like Rachel Ray have shown you can have a good home-cooked meal on the table in 30 minutes.For us, probably 45.

    We really can't let our lives become so busy we lose track of each other and the world around us.

    So, Alex, keep plugging away!

  6. Slow tea culture is thriving in Taiwan..but mostly with the over 40 crowd. The young un's (except for weirdos like you and me) unfortunately prefer the iced-sugar variety, i.e. bubble tea.

    1. I really don't understand the whole bubble tea thing, but I just don't like sugar that much. I ate a grapefruit this morning and was thinking to myself: "This thing is too darned sweet, why are they breeding these fruit to be so sweet? I buy grapefruit because I like my fruits to be bitter."

  7. Thankyou for this post and this whole blog. As so often happens, I came upon it serendipitously (whilst looking for info about making tea with fresh tulsi) and am enchanted to learn about the Slow Food movement. I'm English, living in Tenerife, with much time spent on France (where food is a sacrament and fast food blasphemy). During a month spent in California nearly 19 years ago I suffered with more indigestion than during the rest of my 64 years! Driving around San Francisco sight seeing whilst eating dim-sum; queuing for a restaurant table (prebooking wasn't done, our host explained) and then ordering and eating dinner in HALF AN HOUR; discovering tea
    made by dunking a teabag in hot water....

    I shall revisit your blog.
    Best wishes