The second part of my interview with Nigel Melican is now available for you to read on Cha Dao. Excerpted:
Cinnabar: I guess there are really two focuses of organic farming. I wasn’t even thinking about how it affects the end product, because it seems like that’s not the same conversation. The impact on the land is quantifiable and obvious, but the land doesn’t know the difference between a molecule of nitrogen, whether it’s certified organic or not, right?
Nigel Melican: No the land won’t, but — and this is why there’s the argument — people say that organic meat tastes better than inorganic meat, and often it does, because the guy who grows organic takes better care of his animals, is a better animal husband, and that shows up, and it’s the same with plants.
C: And that’s clearly the case with tea. If you’re using practices that end up contaminating the end product with dangerous toxic chemicals, the end product is going to taste bad, so that’s not going to fly.
NM: Ultimately you’re right, but if you had — God forbid — tea contaminated with mercury you wouldn’t taste it, and similarly, many of the ways that you fertilize don’t have an effect on taste. Where you do have an effect with organic on tea is that you’re putting on less nitrogen. Nitrogen leads to fast growth, and fast growth tends to be more about kilograms than it is about quality … so slow growth, as in the spring flush. Everyone says, go for the spring flush. That’s because it’s growing slowly, and the quality is definitely better. So organic should come out with slower growth.
C: But in reality, the quality of a lot of product that’s labeled as organic tea is terrible.
The image above, of mercury on cinnabar is from a photograph by Parent Géry on Wikimedia Commons.
Note: Cinnabar is a compound of mercury, and I have a strong affinity for the toxic element in its liquid metal form as well. But I wouldn’t want my tea to be tainted with it!
Note two: For an additional connection of tea and mercury, milliners during the Victorian period often suffered from mercury poisoning due to the use of mercury in the process of transforming fur into felt for hats, thus we have Lewis Carroll’s “Mad Hatter” and his uproarious tea party. In addition to insanity, mercury poisoning produces hard looking red skin, which I would expect to result in those afflicted looking a little like they were made out of cinnabar.