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Price of all the Tea in China

Someone’s making another go at a privately-owned, for-profit snack bar tucked in a corner of the Montclair Public Library. I think it’s the third attempt I’ve seen in, oh, fifteen years or so, and I wouldn’t bet heavily on any greater success than its predecessors. With several coffee shops, snack stands, and the like just down the block, there simply isn’t enough demand to sustain one.

People who spend lots of time in the library like to lunch in the space, granted, but the people who spend lots of time in the library—retired, unemployed, or living on disability—brown-bag it. They don’t want to spend $4 for a cup of fair-trade organic tea, no matter how attractive the posters.

Ah, yes, the posters. Some of them explain why buying your tea in a recycled paper cup is a boon to the environment. (Maybe compared to a styrofoam cup, but not brewing your own at home. It’s still unnecessary trash.) Others vaunt the value of community farms and fair-trade…without a lot of concrete facts and figures that could be independently checked. Just vague assurances that these plantation workers are much happier than workers on other plantations. The newest two explain that exotic teas just taste better, in terms we associate with wine snobs: “greenish with overtones of copper.”

In short, it’s a coffee stand with grossly overinflated prices, wrapped in vague, feel-good advertizing. Montclair has its share of naive liberals with too much money, but even so, that strategy only works in areas of high-volume traffic, where you can pick off lots of the breed. The half dozen regulars passing through every day aren’t going to sustain a business even if they do shell out, between them, $24 a day for tea.

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