No I didn’t fell for Star Wars, since that title came to my mind before finding this picture on the Internet.
Snowtrooper drinking tea,
photoshoot by Mike Stimpson (http://www.flickr.com/photos/balakov/)
But who could blame a Snowtrooper from drinking something warm between patrols on cold worlds? Certainly not me.
And no, this title has nothing to do with Blade Runner (I don’t even think they know anymore what tea is in this book/movie).
What I will try to do here is to bring a little imagination to our tea world and try to think about what would happen in the far future if mankind was to explore and colonize space. Yes Space, the Final Frontier (I hear someone telling me this is another show and that I should keep the focus on what I intend to say).
Since this topic is so huge and complex, I will go through a small set of hypothesis and examine what their impact on this topic is.
Obviously, it will not be that much compared to the full set of possibilities that the real Universe will bring us but I had to begin somewhere.
Since we are talking about a huge number of colonies, units, spaceships, all of them spread in the known universe; there are three obvious problems : getting there (wherever there is) with the needed quantities of tea and the right quality/freshness.
The first obvious answer to this problem and to all logistical problems can be found in Star Trek with the generalised use of replicators.
I can hear the less Trekkies among us (including me before I made some research before writing this post) wondering what is this device. In an obvious answer, I will tell you that it does what its name implies: replicate. Working from whatever raw organic materials are available onboard and what can be recovered from the close ecosystem of the ship, the replicator can generate all kinds of food, including Earl Grey, the favourite drink of Captain Picard.
This doesn’t sound too glamorous but if we managed to analyse the tea leaves or more likely a good tea cup, we would be ready to have a ready-made and yet perfect cup of tea.
Unfortunately, there would be no tea ceremony and we would lose this wonderful feeling of having managed to make the perfect cup of tea. But there is a solution to this “problem”, just focus on the tea leaves and be ready to get your cup of tea with you everywhere and on every ship.
This was the easy solution provided by technologies and by some soft science universes.
What about the other universes where Faster than Light Travel is not available? Or where technology is advanced but not that much?
The first answer would be to bring it with us aboard ships or on some advanced automatic depots available for whoever needs them.
This would mean freezing the tea (I don’t see any other solution) be it in leaves or in bags (yes I know it sounds strange) through exposure to cold freezing gas like liquid nitrogen (or any other that would be used for this purpose).
However this means that depending on the total number of people, planets, stations, ships, units… that would drink tea (remember this is science-fiction, I can make all people drink tea if I want to), good old Earth would need to produce a really great amount of tea year after year for an ever expanding number of people and place, leading to both an exhaustion of the production capacities (intensive farming) and an over-stretching of the supply chain needed to bring them to the last people in the line.
Nowadays, this works in the corn business but on a much smaller scale thanks to a lot of silos and transportation but having to move things all along the universe seems a bit too unrealistic unless you focus on huge spatial mobile “silos” (along the lines of what you can see in Dune) that would need to have access to a lot of supplies.
Dune space ships
Which bring us to the next question: would it be feasible to have the needed production to supply everyone?
First of all, the question is whether or not there is a lot of terraformed planets or planets where our agriculture could be brought without having too much to do.
Given the right conditions, this could happen and since these planets would not have been exposed to our plants and seeds, it would be easy to see “our” products invading and destroying everything on perhaps an ecological catastrophe scale but this is not my main focus here. However, for those wondering about this, just look at what microbes did to the Native Americans way before they saw an European. A plant (or a seed) without natural predators or a limit to its grow (like those you can find on Earth) could grow and spread, slowly (or quickly it depends) destroying the native plants and seeds (or worst for us, mutating and becoming something else before we find about it).
If we had access to a lot of planets like this, it would be easy to produce a lot of tea (among other things but my focus here is on tea) and thus supply all this huge silos floating in space.
However since tea depends on the terroir (meaning among other things men, soils, weather…), what would happen if it was brought on other planets? The likely answer is that it might become something else, perhaps something we would not recognize any longer as tea.
An other solution would be to focus on tea already made that would be transported in huge containers. For this to become a reality, new huge factories would have to produce tea using every leave available. This could create problems while leading (but on a much lower scale) to an increase in the tea production needs, leading to other problems as there is a limit to how much we can produce with one tea plant.
The transport and preservation of this tea would be much easier to do. After all, it would just be bringing in and keeping cold enough bottles or cans. The only thing that would still be left to find out is how should we warm them without changing the taste? This is something people might still think about before mankind launches itself into space colonization.
But then like with the replicators, where is the fun in making ones tea if you do it like that?
After looking rather quickly at a few scenarios, the only conclusion is that “diversity is the spice of life” and trying to make everything uniform and to convert everyone to one food, one thought… is probably the best way to big catastrophes and problems that we might not oversee yet (I did mention terraforming and/or bringing plants and seeds from Earth and the possible negative consequences of such an action, didn’t I?).
Therefore, the best idea would probably be to let everyone free of drinking whatever they like and however they like it. After all, chaos and diversity lead to creativity.