I travelled across seas to distant lands,
Even crossing through deserts filled with sand.
Beginning in China, as a medicine in some ways,
Then moving to Russia which took more than a few days.
I made my way over to Japan and Tibet,
To aid meditation and help the mind to reset.
My journey did not stop there, I had more places to see,
As I travelled over to India but I was not known as tea.
At home they called me ‘cha’ and here they called me ‘chai’
I liked how it sounded, so I never asked why.
I even visited Europe at a cost,
Travelling so far, I thought I was lost.
But how did I end up so far from where I began?
It was partly due to one particular man.
Robert Fortune was his name,
And his mission brought him fame.
Hired by the East India Company to steal tea seeds,
So that in colonial India, the British could grow tea by any means.
Now tea had grown in India before,
But the British needed to grow much more.
Buying from China had become too costly,
And the relationship between the two was already frosty.
The British started smuggling in opium,
Which for China, became a major problem.
Now the British paid for tea with silver from opium sales,
Which worked at first but then the plan failed.
See, opium was highly addictive, so in China it had to be banned,
The High Commissioner stopped its smuggle into Chinese land.
The Opium Wars started, ruining the initial agreement in place,
For China, opium was not at all safe.
In Assam and Darjeeling, tea production did not drop,
As around the globe, requests for tea did not stop.
The demand across the world continued to grow,
Meaning there were even more places for me to go.
But my story is not what it seems on the outside,
Although I have travelled incredibly far and wide.
I was produced in conditions that were terribly poor,
Exploited by colonists at every door.
Victims of hard labour working like slaves,
Though rules had been made to stop this kind of trade.
But the Europeans found a loophole you see,
So they could continue to make their favourite kinds of tea.
Employing not slaves but men and women who were free,
Binding them to work contracts then treating them the way slaves would be.
Today it seems there has been some change,
However not everywhere, for many, these conditions stay the same.
On many tea estates in India where workers stay,
Facilities are inhumane and low is the pay.
Yet they harvest tea, just like me, for expensive brands,
Who don’t know or care about these intensive labour demands.
For many, I am bought from a vendor or a shelf,
Or shared from a pot where one can help themself.
To make me into a drink it’s simple to do,
But there are many hands I have passed to get to you.
My history is complex and my present is too,
For many, it’s common knowledge, for some it is new.
I bring people together, connecting them with their roots,
While I’ve been tweaked and modified, with spices and fruits.
I bring a lot of good and help many to heal,
Allowing people to cope with what they may feel.
Over the years, even as times have changed
In many parts, traditions have stayed the same.
For some an essential part of the day,
Like a ritual, prepared in a specific way.
Enjoyed as part of a ceremony, organised with great care,
Or home-brewed from a recipe, made specifically to share.
An integral part to many daily routines,
Remember the day to day experience has a world that is not always seen.
But do not forget I come from more than a store,
Journey down my supply chain, step back from the shop floor.
A reminder of the influence one decision may have,
When buying tea, think, don’t just grab!