Last week I took the bus into foreign territory, to the south side of town. I was able to satisfy my requirement for chilli in all its forms and Tootsie Pops (I can't help it, it's on my DNA). I also found the specialist tea shop, about which I have been hearing rumours. We have turned into a coffee led culture, thanks largely to the Seattle-bred mermaid with the scary hair, but tea is regaining lost ground (and not just to a loony political party in America). Who would fail to fall for the romance of a tea that is named for the camel trains that journeyed from Asia, along the borders of Russia and across Europe; a slight trace of smokiness added to the blend to call to mind starry nights around campfires in unfamiliar, romantic places?
I spent a happy hour talking about tea and Edinburgh and tea in Edinburgh and curiously enough, tea and pandas. (Not the April Fool spoof in Scotland on Sunday claiming that Edinburgh Zoo was employing a piper to aid the Brad and Angelina of the panda world in their faltering pursuit of romance). This was an article about an enterprising gentleman in China (and surely an ideal candidate for ‘The Apprentice’), who is using panda poo to fertilise tea plants, making the world’s first ‘environmental panda tea’. Mr An, wearing a panda suit to publicise his product, announced he will be selling the tea for £2,200, for 50 grams, which works out at about £130 a cup. This must make this the world’s most expensive cup of tea, easily outdoing the £7,875 per pound coffee made from coffee berries eaten by civits—another dung related beverage.
We may laugh at Mr An and the (forgive me) pandemonium surrounding his tea, but clearly there is a market, even in a recession, for highly priced comestibles (like the world's most expensive hamburger --yours for a mere £5,000).
In the 15th century 'broken' tulip bulbs, which were rare and slow to reproduce, became a highly desirable luxury item changing hands for staggering amounts of money. Investors on the tulip market began to speculate, effectively betting on tulip futures--in the end no bulbs were actually changing hands and the market crashed (does this sound in any way familiar?) Now we buy the most exotic tulips by the bagful. Even tea, that most ubiquitous of drinks, used to be so expensive it was kept in locked caddies.
It would appear that when it comes to the things we most desire, rarity is everything; which might explain the continuing excitement over the Edinburgh celebrity pandas. Costing £365,000 a year to 'rent', Tian Tian and Yang Guang are both rare and prohibitively expensive. More interestingly, we have all been hysterically watching and waiting for them to take advantage of the once a year, 36 hour window of opportunity to mate—rarity value again, you see.
I have just read on the BBC news site, that despite the specially constructed ‘love tunnel’, the soft lights, ginseng bubble bath and bamboo green satin sheets specially woven by imported silk-worms (okay, I made that last bit up), the earth did not move for Tian Tian and Yang Guang. And really, with all that attention I am not entirely surprised. I expect all they really wanted was a nice cup of Russian Caravan tea. It is good to see there are still some things money cannot buy.