I am a snob. I know it. You know it. We just try to not allow it to affect our relationship. Around most people, I am lowkey with it, but with BFD or among my family, well, we know we have better taste than other people, and that’s really all there is to it. Still, we’re all incredibly open-minded and trying new things, asking for advice from experts, and then taking small leaps to expand our knowledge and preferences.
Thanks to a trip to Whole Foods yesterday, I now know this is unusual.
At the tea counter, I was chatting with a new tea person, as she ladled my golden yunnan and earl grey into little baggies to get me through the next few days. There was a lot of activity around as she started, so she turned and asked, “did you say blackberry sage?” I said, “no, but sage? That’s kinda cool.” I looked through the display and couldn’t find it because I was looking at the Rishi stuff.
Our eyes met.
She said, “Do you drink Rishi because it’s organic and free trade?” I said, yes, and it’s better.”
She located the blackberry sage and presented it to me. I smelled it. It was sweet. I told her, “it’s just so artificial.”
She now knew she could speak openly. Frankly, if you tell a tea person you drink Rishi, it’s like telling them you know and appreciate tea.
She said, “I Know! It’s so sweet and artificial. I don’t know how people can drink it.”
I continued, it’s like people who put sugar or God forbid splenda in their tea.
(Unless you are English or an Anglophile making a traditional cuppa, there is no reason to sweeten it.) (That includes you, sweetheart.)
She said, “I Know!”
She then told me two horrifying things:
First, the top three sellers at WF are “maté latte” [which I have purchased and thrown away though I love yerba maté], blackberry sage, and something equally faux I cannot currently remember.
Second, people actually go to Whole Foods and ask what the most popular thing is and that’s what they buy.
We laughed about this for a couple of minutes, with her describing what people buy and how. I was howling, as was she.
Now, I will admit that in a restaurant I always order my protein to be prepared “as the chef thinks best” because it’s his damned food and if he thinks it should be medium rare or medium well, then that’s how I want it. But I have never asked for and then ordered the most popular thing. Mainly because I know people have horrible taste.
If I don’t know what I am looking at or if I am somewhere completely unfamiliar (like our Korean experiences), I ask the person who is an expert (either one who works there or within our group) what they would choose, and that’s what I pick. I have conversations with sushi chefs to make sure I am getting their favorite things (or perhaps what they’re trying to get rid of, but when they tell me “tonight, salmon, not so good” I believe them). I believe in asking and interacting and it’s helped me find amazing stuff — and frankly, often get samples of stuff for free. (The other secret to great dining experiences . . . tip really well.)
It’s just so hard to imagine someone going to a cheesemonger and asking “what’s the most popular thing?” and then buying it [apparently, colby jack], when standing before a well-curated display of amazing cheeses.
If you are going to eat cheese, not just use it in a recipe or something, talk to the cheese people and experiment. Also, try the samples.
Same thing with tea. Ask people. If you are new to tea, talk to people and buy small samples of a lot of different things to figure out what you like.
Buying what the most popular thing is will get you colby jack cheese and blackberry sage tea. And no one should subject themselves to that.