How Do You Know Your Farmers?

the pick of the crop
the pick of the crop
imagine all the delicious cups in store...
imagine all the delicious cups in store...

“Know your farmers?”

I turned around.

The man was grey-haired and white-browed, his eyes pale with the memory of more lifetimes than I’ve seen yet. He pointed to my shirt. “Are you into agriculture?”

Yes, but no. The aggregation of culture, sure. That’s one way of using my anthropology degree, when it isn’t helping navigate the socioeconomics of fitness and gender representation through corrective exercise. (If I haven’t said it before, this is what happens when you spend undergrad at an all-womens’ liberal arts school. You end up piecing together all the stuffs, all the times, and all their worrying semiotics. Signifier/Signified = Sign, etc. If you want a simpler outlook for the rest of your life, stick with something sensible like biology, STEM, or astrophysics.)

But this was a kindly elder-gent who seemed thrilled to strike up conversation in the middle of a weight room, so I had to give him a better answer than that.

“Tea, actually.” I pointed to the faces on my back of my shirt. “They’re tea farmers.”

“Ohh! You’re into tea!” he exclaimed. “I love tea. What company is this? I must write it down.”

He pulled out his phone and circled around to my back, where he could carefully type out the letters for Adagio Teas. “What kind of tea is it, that they sell?” he asked.

All kinds! But again, I had to give a better answer. Where to start?

He had a bit of an Eastern European accent, but this gym also had a significant Israeli population, so he could have come from anywhere. And then there was the question of stereotyping: there was a 50% chance I would be rude if I made a generalization about his tea preferences based on an accent.

Well, nice to know that cultural anthropology degree was coming in handy, but keeping my foot out of my mouth didn’t supply any good tea recommendations.

“Whatever tea you like,” I said, finally. "Black, green, herbal..."

I hope I’ll be pardoned for not going into the oolongs and chais and delectable Pu-Erh blends. Or the multiverse of the Fandom section. The intersection between a cable machine and an ab station isn’t the best place to rehash a tea course.

But this guy seemed really, really thrilled. “Thank you so much!” he said. “I’ll be sure to look them up.”

“My pleasure. Have a good day, sir!”

We parted. A few Renegade Rows and a hot shower later, I realized that I hadn’t answered his most basic question.

Did I actually know the Adagio farmers?

I went back to the shirt. The back was clustered with photos of Adagio’s smiling tea farmers featured in the Roots campaign.

Yu Xiao Lei and Ye Xiao Quing, from Anhui.
Shen Zong Shi, from Pu’Erh.
Fang Ai Xiu, from Yunnan.
Lin Hua, from Keemun.
Zhang Xaio Yu, from Simao.
Li Xiang Hua, from Nannuo.

I spoke their names softly, trying to approximate the tones, but knowing it would be impossible unless I heard them in person.

In New York City, it’s easy to feel that there’s a close relationship with our agriculture You can chat with the ostrich man at one of the regular farmers’ markets— even in winter!— and local grocery stores who take pride in carrying tubs of cheddar curds in home-labeled tupperware. You can nearly hear the upstate cows mooing from Riverside Park.

It’s a lot harder to conceive of rural villages in China, tea-scented hands picking at the leaves that will be torn, rolled, crushed, and destined for a cup that might end up half-steeped on a Manhattan windowsill, losing its flavor under the sun.

This is why I’m grateful to the Roots Campaign on Adagio, because it takes us away from the comfort zone of locally-grown, locally-marketed goods into the greater global picture.

This morning at the gym, I passed by the TVs where flashed a commercial showing life at a Kenyan tea farm. Tall baskets on hunched backs, miles of green plants stretched out under the atmosphere.

And here I am, stacking bells onto a bar for the pleasure of lifting 205 pounds a couple of times, resting at my leisure, and then a hot shower with towels the same color as a Dragonwell”), right before it’s steeped.

We couldn’t be further from tea farms, in the city. Especially my generation. The Millennial idea of industrial work is a skyscraping incubator, silent with mobile earbuds and coffee pods ready to drip.

Maybe this is why I keep wearing that shirt to the gym, even if I can’t properly pronounce the names under the pictures.

If the gent approaches me again, I’ll try to recommend him something better. Maybe a Dragonwell. Or something from Yunnan.

Flavor transcends culture, after all.