Last night I went to the opening of the lovely Teance store on Fourth Street (Berkeley). Teance specializes in Asian teas, with some Indian teas as well. They used to be elsewhere in Berkeley, but their lease ran out. At the new location, they replace a gift shop, which makes sense: Fourth Street is foodifying. Teance fits well with the other upscale food stores in the area, such as the Pasta Shop.
But enough about small business. At the opening, someone from a local tea appreciation society gave a brief talk. Two things he said made me think. One was: “We drink tea for fun. The health benefits are just a bonus.” The other was a comparison of tea and wine. Tea is now where wine was thirty years ago. Since then there has been a vast increase in wine appreciation. “Thirty years ago if it was a special occasion you drank a bottle of Blue Nun. Now every kid on a skateboard knows the difference between merlot and cabernet sauvignon.”
Wine has health benefits, of course. A few weeks ago I went to a little tour/talk/demonstration at Charles Chocolates in Emeryville, where a few of the fine points of making chocolates (the candies, not the raw ingredient) were explained. Chocolate, too, has health benefits, as the makers of Cocoavia will be happy to explain. (Charles Chocolates has partnered with Teance to produce a line of tea-flavored chocolates, which were served at the opening.)
Three foods with intense connoisseurship action, three foods with substantial health benefits:
A coincidence? Or meaningful? Will cheese turn out to have health benefits? As a general rule, connoisseurship and health are unrelated: That hand-painted Italian flatware is no better for you than K-Mart’s finest (at least before the partnership with Martha Stewart, who called their customers “K-Martians”.)
I became interested in connoisseurship because of my interest in human evolution. Connoisseurship evolved, I believe, because it supported high-end craftsmanship. Skilled craftspeople were the main source of technological innovation. Connoisseurs happily pay more for high-end, carefully-made stuff. The tea spokesman was right: We drink it for fun.