Obsolete Jobs: US Tea Examiner

Estate Tea Sampler (ETS image)
Estate Tea Sampler (ETS image)

As noted before in these pages, we citizens of the United States put away a fair quantity of iced tea and a little bit of the other stuff, but we don’t quite measure up to the big time tea drinking countries. On a list of top tea drinking nations that I ran across recently, we rank 34th, just behind Finland.

But over the years Americans consumed enough tea that our government decided to put certain regulatory bodies in place to keep tabs on things. During this time, which apparently ended in the Nineties, one might actually find oneself employed in the capacity of Supervisory Tea Examiner. As was the case with one Robert H. Dick, who was interviewed in 1984 for an oral history that was being compiled about the Food and Drug Administration.

The transcript of the taped interview runs to more than fifty pages and you can read the whole thing online. As Dick notes in the interview, he began with the FDA in 1937 and not long after was drafted into service sampling tea on the piers of New York in the dead of winter, since several of those who normally did this job were on vacation at the time.

Dick also worked as a seafood inspector for a time but with his experience in tea found himself filling in in cities such as Seattle and San Francisco for tea examiners posted there. Shortly after his period of military service in World War II he was offered a regular position working with tea.

From there the interview moves on to a discussion of the Tea Act, which is the legislation that was enacted in the late nineteenth century to initiate government oversight of tea. After that there’s a brief section on the modest tea growing efforts that have been going on in South Carolina for more than two centuries. Other topics include more on what the Tea Act actually entails and what the Tea Examiner’s job consists of and Dick’s trips to the tea-growing regions of China and elsewhere. Not for the fainthearted are sections like “Insect Contamination of Tea” and “Radioactive Contamination of Tea.”

You can read the entire transcript here. For more along similar lines, although it’s presented in a considerably drier manner, take a look at The Role of the U.S. Tea Examiner Office in Procurement of Tea by the Department of Defense, here.

See more of William I. Lengeman’s articles here.

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