Last week I received a curious message from an unexpected person - unexpected due to their position having no relation to Chinese teas. The Honorary Consul General for the Embassy of Malawi in the United States, Jordan Price, sent me a request to change a category in The Artisan Tea Hut's Periodic Table of Tea Flavours and Aromas. The particular category he wanted changed was "Grandpa's Workshed", which includes the aromas of tobacco, smoke, leather, hessian bag, beeswax, wet newspaper, dust and wood shavings. Jordan felt that, given the United States is currently "undergoing a slight cultural revolution", it was inappropriate of me to have a category on my tea table that was not gender neutral.
I have to admit I was baffled when I first saw Jordan's message and in fact thought that I may have been the target of a hoax. I couldn't understand why someone in Jordan's important position in a different country was vested in a mere tea chart that was made for just a tiny number of people drinking tea in a backyard tearoom on the other side of the world once a month. The message felt very USA-centric to me. But I decided to contact Marzi Pecen, The Specialty Tea Institute's aroma expert, to get her opinion on the matter, just in case I was indeed in the wrong.
It turned out Marzi had already been contacted by Jordan to complain about my tea table to her! Marzi explained to Jordan that a scent reference is really all about how we relate to aromas and how we retrieve them from our memories, and so any type of aroma chart really needs to be personal. Marzi conceded that the old wine, beer and coffee flavour wheels are very general, but it’s been proven that if you were to memorize and retrieve fragrances, the reference needs to be very personal. Saying "Grandpa's Workshed" is no more politically incorrect or improperly gendered as saying the lilacs at the "Back of the house on 61 E. 144th Street in Chicago". It’s a specific place that’s being referred to, not a generality. Some people might have that reference in their smell library and some people might not. It’s going to vary according to the culture in one's personal history.
Marzi's explanation fits exactly with my reasoning behind choosing "Grandpa's Workshed" as a category for the aromas I grouped. Those smells take me back to my days as a child being babysat by male relatives and neighbours of the Depression Era generation. When female relatives and neighbours of the Depression Era generation babysat me, the smells I remember are lavender, potpourri, lanolin and mothballs. Does the way my olfactory memory unconsciously sorted itself out make me politically incorrect? I'll leave that to you - the reader - to decide.
The one final push Jordan gave me to try to convince me of a name change was to analogize the "Grandpa's Workshed" category to the renaming of Ayers Rock to Uluru. "Some people probably hated the change and others saw it as a needed improvement", Jordan wrote. I admit I was baffled by this argument too. The Ayers Rock-Uluru naming debate came down to who had naming rights, which was clearly the right of our first nation's people, not colonial explorers. Given I created the Periodic Table of Tea Flavours and Aromas, surely I have naming rights?
Anyway, at the end of the day, I'm not overly attached to the categories being what they are. It's a dynamic chart that is always open to change. If The Artisan Tea Hut's customers would like the name changed, I'll happily accommodate them. However, I have always believed that if you are going to point out a problem, then you have to offer a potential solution. Jordan did not offer me an alternative gender-neutral place name that covers off the aromas of tobacco, smoke, leather, hessian bag, beeswax, wet newspaper, dust and wood shavings. So if anyone would like me to change "Grandpa's Workshed," please also recommend an alternative gender-neutral place name. Once I have a selection of alternative names, I will put them up for a vote among The Artisan Tea Hut's customers.
Update: As of 14 July 2020, we have decided to include a disclaimer in our tea table to address the concerns of anyone offended by the category of "Grandpa's Workshed". If you are someone who feels that this disclaimer does not go far enough, we suggest that you use another company's tea chart for your purposes. Unlike other companies, we don't make any money from our tea table and therefore cannot justify spending our free time on it for people who are not our customers.
About the Author
Jaq James is the Founder of The Artisan Tea Hut and is a Contributing Editor for Tea Journey Magazine. She splits her time between China's tea regions and Australia's capital.