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Monkey Picked Tea

The other day I spotted an online ad for “Monkey Harvested Tea”. The idea of industrious monkeys on a tea plantation interested me.

The truth is, I don’t drink tea. I’ve just never liked it. But I like the idea of monkeys at work. Besides, if you have a lot of monkeys at work, they might sometimes want to liven things up a bit. What could be more lively than if a dog came by and a monkey rode it? Remember, a monkey riding a dog is always funny.

The Early Days

Monkeys harvesting tea for George Washington, or maybe his cousin. (public domain, wikimedia)

I looked into the idea of monkey harvested tea. Because I am a visual guy, I wanted a picture. The first thing I found was a very old drawing of a man who may or may not be George Washington with two other men at a monkey tea harvest. Because I know that Northern Virginia doesn’t have the climate that tea needs to thrive, I believe this picture was drawn on Washington’s diplomatic visit to China.

The price of tea in China was important to the president. He was known to interrupt cabinet meetings on other topics by saying “I don’t know what this has to do with the price of tea in China”. His aides eventually realized that Washington wasn’t using the phrase metaphorically.

The drawing depicts Washington beckoning to the monkeys in the tree, as if to say “huzzah, monks, bring forth the savory leaves”. We also see a man offering a monkey a mug of tea. Giving the “workers” caffeine¬† was a common way to increase the yield of the harvest. They called this practice “mugging up the monk”.

After The Early Days Came Some Other Days

It struck me that I didn’t see photos of simians plucking tea leaves. I wondered why, and then I found the truth. Monkeys do not pick monkey picked tea anymore! Tea plants are now “trimmed to waist-high bushes” and the term now just refers to “premium quality tea leaves”.

Hard, hard times. (image via Wales online)

When tea growers hit upon the innovation of keeping their plants as short, easy to harvest bushes, thousands of monkeys lost a valuable trade. Generations of monkeys had come up as skilled harvesters, following in the footsteps of their ancestors. Within ten years, these proud agricultural workers lost everything – jobs, traditions, pride, and homes.

While some monkeys found work with organ grinders or by riding dogs for pay instead of recreation, most found themselves destitute. Lost generations piled up. Waves of caffeine addicted offspring hung out in trees, mocking passers-by. Some took to throwing feces.

Old monkeys who remembered the glory days implored the new generations to honor the past, preserve their culture and turn away from their caffeine addiction. “Throwing poo serves no one”, they said, but their howls of protest were met with a hail storm of, well…you know.

Things were bleak. While the short tea bush grew the industry to unimaginable heights and made plantation owners rich, a culture and a species withered away.

And then, from an unexpected source, the monkeys began to gather hope.

Ooooh, a cliff-hanger! What becomes of the Tea Picking Monkeys? They gather hope, but is it false hope? I would not give you false hope, no! Click here to read the stirring conclusion.

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23 Comments on “Monkey Picked Tea”

  1. To be continued….patience…patience…okay, I’ll wait.

  2. As long as this isn’t like civet coffee..

  3. List of X says:

    I’ve never heard about Monkey Picked Tea, but I heard of monkeys trained to pick coconuts.

  4. knace says:

    A nurse anesthetist “friend” of mine once told me a trained monkey could do my job. (not that I’m bitter) After I relayed this to my co-workers we discussed how, a properly trained monkey would actually be of great value to us in the lab, especially for changing the light bulb in this one analyzer where you have to lie on your back and use a mirror etc. Now I read this and think ” A monkey for every lab! Yes! It could help solve a great injustice!” I’m so looking forward to part II.

  5. I eagerly await part deux. I’m hoping this doesn’t end up with the Statue of Liberty half-buried on a beach and Charlton Heston all pissed off.

  6. Kim says:

    I love tea, but I don’t know about all this monkey business. Regardless, your post made me laugh.

  7. kimpugliano says:

    So THAT’S where “…tea in China” came from! I use that phrase all the time! I can’t wait to see how monkeys continued to contribute to society, because self-pleasuring themselves at the zoo (so disturbing).

  8. lbwoodgate says:

    Well that’s an interesting way to make a parallel showing the impact of robotics and newer technology on human labor. Let’s hope there’s a happy ending forthcoming. :-)

  9. Are you sure GW isn’t beckoning to the monkeys to leave the tree before he cuts it down? Probably not. I do trust your analysis and reporting of history far more than I do mine. No dog of mine will ever, ever be a pony for a monkey.

  10. Betty says:

    Didn’t Oprah go nuts (or maybe bananas) over monkey-poop coffee a few years ago?

  11. Oh, my, a to be continued…
    So far this resembles what’s been happening in the TV industry the past several years. Poo throwing and all.

  12. Dan Hennessy says:

    A lot of those unemployed monkeys wound up hanging around monkey bars . Sad to see monkeys with monkeys on their backs . That’s the inevitable result , though , of the booms and busts of monkey business .


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