tea for trouble

After Thanksgiving, we were traveling home with an excess of gifts, as we are after every trip to Houston. It’s become routine enough that I’ve started taking a slightly larger bag than necessary, purely because I’m sure it’ll be stuffed with various things for me to bring home. This time, we were carting back multiple kinds of tea, bottles of wine, and some snacks. We distributed the things into our bags and also ended up checking a box because of the wine.

One of the teas that my mom sent us home with was pu’er, which is a special fermented black tea. This tea is sold in compressed cakes of tea leaves, shaped like flat discs, wrapped in cotton paper. It comes with text on the top and a little insert within the wrapper that attests to the authenticity — pu’er can be expensive, and counterfeiting is sometimes an issue. The pu’er we had was also nestled in a little box and the box went into a bag.

But we didn’t have room in our luggage for extraneous packaging, so Adam took the wrapped disc out and put that in his backpack, neatly cushioned by some sweaters. (At least traveling in winter means you have copious packing material to cushion breakables with.)

It looks like this:


Potato quality image, but you get the idea despite uneven lighting and a shitty background.

We went to the airport, checked in our box of wine, and headed for security, which is usually breezy since we have pre-check. I went through without any issues, collected my bag, and stepped to the side.

Adam’s backpack went through. And then went through again. And then was set aside by a puzzled looking TSA agent.

“We’ll have to check your bag.”

Adam dutifully stepped over. “It’s probably the tea.”

The agent furrowed his brow and looked at the monitor. “No… It’s some kind of a flat disc thing…”

Adam felt like it was better to let them see than to keep explaining. So the agent went through his bag and retrieved the sweater stack that was wrapped around the pu-er.

And then uncovered a disc of unknown black material wrapped in paper that was covered with words in Chinese. He looked at Adam, confused. Then gingerly unwrapped it a little and looked inside. Then looked up, more confused.

“It’s tea,” Adam said. “It’s this fermented Chinese tea that’s sold in discs.”

The agent thought about this for a moment. “Is it good for you? Like kombucha?”

Adam shrugged. “Sure.”

The agent didn’t really seem to know what else to do with the tea, and finally settled for wiping down the outside of the wrapper with one of those gunpowder detecting wipes, and then handed everything back.

“Where do you buy this?”

“My mother-in-law gave it to us,” Adam said.

The agent nodded, satisfied. And then we were on our way.

But I think next time we’ll just have my mom mail the stuff to us.