Tea Rituals

I know that many foreigners have been conditioned to think that Britons have a big ‘thing’ for tea, full of ritual and pomp.

WRONG

You see it cropping up on American programming in particular – any time a British character is involved (or god forbid, more than one), they’ll begin the ‘tea ritual’ at some point, and gather together all the necessary accoutrements : the teapot, the sugar bowl, the serving tray, the china tea service, the loose-leaf tea (and strainers), the sugar tongs, the water boiling on a fucking Aga… basically, things no Briton has used in the creation of a drink since Pepys had his first “cup of tee” in 1660.

While I can appreciate the Yankish fascination for a drink we were imbibing while they were still drinking muddy water out of puddles, things have rather moved on since then.

So, for your edification, I present a modern version of the British tea ritual (suitable for use by Americans and other foreigners) :

    1. Somebody says “Would anyone like a cup of tea?”. This person may in fact be you. If it is you, follow the remaining steps (if not, just sit there and wait for your tea to arrive. This may take anything up to several hours if, for example, your girlfriend gets distracted by something shiny on TV. For example)
    2. Tea is a loose brown powder, which is a pain in the arse to deal with, gets everywhere and tastes disgusting… but you don’t need to worry about that, thanks to the technological advance (seventy years ago) of ‘putting tea in little paper bags’, which means that loose-leaf tea can be told to fuck right off.  Take one of these bags and put it in an otherwise empty mug.
    3. Boil some water. If you live in the highlands of Scotland, or have been sent back in time by some sort of freak scientific accident, you may be forced to boil a pan of water on a stove (or similar device). The rest of the time you’ll be able to use an electric kettle.
    4. Add the boiling water to the mug. Gaze in rapt fascination as the water turns a bit brown.
    5. Add some sugar (if you like sugar in your tea) – use a fucking teaspoon for this, not sugar cubes. You’re not a horse.
    6. Add some milk (you definitely like milk in your tea, it’s godawful without it). Gaze in rapt fascination as the tea turns a lighter shade of brown. Oh, and you pour the milk from the bottle which you keep in the fridge – you don’t need to pour it into any sort of intermediate container beforehand. That would be bizarre.
    7. Don’t add any lemon. Nobody British drinks tea with lemon. If you’re drinking tea with lemon because you think it makes you look British, it doesn’t – it just makes you look a twat. If you’re making tea for somebody else, and he asks for lemon, take this opportunity to ask him to leave.
    8. Stir your tea (probably using the same teaspoon you used for the sugar – make sure you don’t then put this spoon straight back into the sugar bowl, that really fucks me off). Jolly the teabag about a bit to get more flavour. Take the teabag out and throw it away (Members of the proletariat : you can instead use this teabag to make subsequent cups of tea if you like, each with less flavour than the ones that went before).
  1. Drink your tea. Blow on it a bit if it’s too hot.
RIGHT

You may be wondering why some of the supposedly key elements of British tea-making aren’t in there. It’s simply because they have bugger all to do with making a cup of tea. The teapot, for example, is only used today by people making vast amounts of tea in one go (or those who are trying far too hard).

The only cubed condiment you’ll regularly find in a British household is the Oxo cube, but you probably wouldn’t want to put one of those in a cup of tea (although they do make quite a nice beverage in their own right…)

Serving tea on a tray is something that may still happen to the Royal Family – but I have a sneaking suspicion that even the Queen just grabs her mug of tea on her way past the kitchen, and drinks it in front of the TV.

We just don’t want to faff around with all the china tea service bollocks when we’re drinking forty-seven cups a day.

That’s the thing that American TV culture doesn’t seem willing to believe (or at least let go of); that tea really isn’t a big deal to us. We aren’t the ones who threw a big tantrum over a box of tea in the 18th century – we just drink it.

We don’t esteem it above all other beverages, we haven’t built up this elaborate pantomime around its preparation.  We don’t hark back to the good old days before electricity and teabags, when it took longer to make, like all the faffing about and picking leaves out of your teeth somehow made it taste better… if we held a big ceremony every time someone wanted a cup of tea we’d never get anything done.

It’s just a fucking drink.

13 thoughts on “Tea Rituals

  • 3rd March 2010 at 04:21
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    I like loose leaf herbal tea, made in a teapot that has this cool loose tea strainer basket thingy built in. And I hate milk or sugar in my tea. The only lemon I have in tea is if it’s iced tea…from a bottle, preferably Nestea.

    Reply
  • 4th March 2010 at 10:38
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    I had milk in my tea once. Never again.

    Perhaps you can enlighten me as to why people drink a hot drink, such as tea, on summer days? And I don’t just mean your paltry British summer days either, I mean real scorchers.

    Reply
    • 4th March 2010 at 15:04
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      @Cyrris –
      Tea is surprisingly refreshing. I’m not entirely sure why (it’s probably due to Science! though), but it does cool you down on a hot day.

      Which explains its popularity in India.

      Reply
  • 5th March 2010 at 23:52
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    And yet y’all still call supper “tea”. Even though it’s no longer served at 4.15pm sharp, and usually consists of beans on toast or something that does involve the Oxo family, you call it “tea”. You appear to be confusisng this island with strange behavioral patterns with one with equally strange behavioral patterns that actually lies off the coast of China.

    Reply
  • 5th March 2010 at 23:53
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    Also, my English grandmother could tell at just a sniff whether or not the tea she was being served was from actual leaves, or just bags.

    Reply
  • 7th March 2010 at 16:13
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    @Patrick –
    She might have claimed it were with a sniff, but she was probably just looking for leaves floating about in the cup.

    Reply
  • 9th March 2010 at 06:59
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    Don’t try to pass off your working class lack of grooming as being the British experience*.
    Sheesh!!**

    *although you’re not all wrong.
    ** Americans are twats, but so are Brits.

    Reply
  • 5th April 2010 at 22:24
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    Dude loose-leaf tea beats that bagged crap any day of the week. Yeah it’s a pain but they make disposable filters. Why would you want to drink tea that tastes like wet cardboard when you could have tea that actually tastes GOOD?

    Reply
    • 6th April 2010 at 14:44
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      @Klem –
      They also make those disposable filters wrapped securely around a portion of loose tea in a pocket or ‘teabag’.

      I prefer those.

      Reply
  • 24th April 2010 at 00:35
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    Tea Bags vs Tea Leaves: Prince Charles

    In Roland Mesnier’s new memoir: “All the Presidents’ Patries: Twenty-Five Years in the White House,” he mentions a vist by Prince Charles to the Reagan White House

    “IN THE OVAL OFFICE, PRINCE CHARLES ordered tea and was served hot water and a cup with a teabag — but never touched it. Ronald Reagan asked him what was wrong. The prince said, “I didn’t know what to do with the little bag.” He had never seen one in his life.”

    http://theteascoop.typepad.com/the_tea_scoop/2007/02/tea_bags_vs_tea.html

    Reply
  • 30th November 2010 at 02:20
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    Ye Gods! As an English person who enjoys a good cuppa many times a day I barely know where to start with regards to this post.
    Firstly, tea bags are indeed convenient for a quick fix but do impart a discernible flavour. For a properly relaxing cuppa only loose leaf tea (using a tea infuser or strainer) will do.
    At least you added the hot water (ideally straight from the boil) to the teabag first. There’s no crime worse than that committed by heathens that pour cold milk on a teabag. They should be locked up and have hot water poured on their own teabags until they learn their lesson.
    Ideally the mug should at least have been freshly washed under the hot tap to warm it first though.
    The tea then needs to sit for a minute or so to brew – squeezing the teabag just makes the tea bitter and foul.
    Always, always, always remove the teabag prior to even thinking about adding any milk or sugar – otherwise you risk curdling the milk and having the teabag soak up much of your sugar.
    When removing the teabag if you’re in a very hard water area, take the time to use it as a filter to ‘scoop’ any calcium deposit from the sides of the cup or top of the tea. Such deposits can also occur if you leave the teabag in too long and can be removed in a similar fashion.
    Finally, add milk (and sugar, if you really must) UNLESS the tea is bergamot flavoured Earl Grey! In this singular case adding milk will make it taste like chewing on a granny’s discarded undergarments that have been filled with potpourri. Earl grey can be taken black, with sugar or indeed with a slice of fresh lemon but never ever milk (unless you have an unhealthy obsession about grannies).
    Finally, if you’ve been rushing so much when pouring or stirring that your tea has so much as a single bubble floating on it, don’t offend the recipient of the cuppa by daring to leave it in suc an unappetising state. Use a teaspoon to remove the bubbly buts and dispose of them in the sink and have the decency to feel dutifully embarrassed at your schoolboy error in the process.
    That just about covers most of the major blasphemies I observe above, though I’d merely consider the my suggested improvements the bare minimum required for a drinkable cuppa should you be quite literally dying of thirst and thus in too much of a hurry to pull out a teapot and do the job properly.
    Even the minimum amount of attention to detail in making a cuppa can make all the difference between whether your tea drinking is ultimately a relaxing and rewarding experience or is vaguely reminiscent of licking dog piss off thistles.

    Reply
  • 11th December 2010 at 13:32
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    @Vince – trust me, our Asda ‘Smart Price’ tea bags don’t impart a “discernible flavour”.

    Not even of tea.

    Reply
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