Robert H. Dick was quietly sipping his tea and going about his business (he is in the business of quietly sipping tea) when the President of the United States abolished his tea board right out from under him.
This is twice now that this has happened, and it's getting to be a nuisance.
In 1970, President Nixon singled out the Board of Tea Experts of the Food and Drug Administration as an example of wasted federal money, and fired Dick from the positions of official United States tea taster. It took a month to get all that straightened out so that he could settle back in his chair at the FDA Brooklyn office and continue to sip his tea in peace.
And now President Carter comes along and starts the same thing all over again. Wednesday it was announced that he is saving $15 million of federal money by abolishing the Board of Tea Experts and 479 other "unnecessary" advisory panels.
There's just something about the idea of Dick's sitting there all day, with his kettles singing away, that drives Presidents crazy, he acknowledged yesterday. "They have this picture of the table, with all the spoons and cups, and it looks like goofing off."
Well, it isn't. Dick works hard, slurping and spitting his way through more than 150 porcelain cups of tea a day. He uses a revolving tea table to get rapidly from one cup to the next, and he only gives up if his tongue corrodes.
Another thing Presidents seem to be mistaken about is that the federal government is paying for this little tea party. The tea industry supports the tea board through an inspection fee on tea, and one year the government came out $5000 ahead when it subtracted the board's costs from the industry's payments.
The third Presidential error is that a President of the United States is empowered to abolish a United States Board of Tea Experts. The Tea Act of 1897 provides that standards for tea must be set, and therefore it stands to reason that there must be someone to set them. "Congress would have to amend or repeal the Tea Act" in order to do away the board, Dick said. When this pointed out to President Nixon in 1970, he desisted from his attack.
Dick has been a tea taster for 30 years (before that, he was in maple syrup) and loves the work. But it is an occupational hazard that the job is derided by people who may not understand what he does.
About 200 million pounds of tea were imported to the United States last year, and Dick and two other regional tea tasters made sure that it met the minimum standards for a "clean, sound common tea".
Before there was such a standard-before the 1897 Tea Act-"it got so bad that the consumer wouldn't buy tea," said Dick. And there you have why the tea industry is willing to support the tea board.
In the last few years, tea consumption has been rising dramatically in the United States - the price of coffee is one explanation - but Dick feels that this is because standards "keep out tea which wouldn't be liked by the consumer. "
News of thisnew threat did not come directly to Dick's tea table. "I read it in the Food Chemical News," he said. "That's the way it was last time. Everybody knew about it but me."
And like last time, he plans to go on sipping and spitting while the President finds out what he can and cannot abolish.*