A few thoughts on tea

For my 100th post, I’d like to talk to you for a moment about tea. As I write, I am sipping on my first cup of the day after ingesting my extremely healthy breakfast of a Joseph Schmidt truffle (strawberry brandy, which tasted so suspiciously of marijuana that I fear for my sobriety). Now, it should be made clear that I drink a lot of tea. I drink tea when I get up in the morning. I drink tea during or after most meals. I drink tea before I go to bed at night. At work, I am constantly either drinking or brewing tea.

And I have a question for my British readers.

A large number of Britons, when returning to their homeland from the States, wax poetic about tea. Even friends of mine who know better tell me “oh I did love America but I am so glad to be home and have a nice cup of tea.” My question is multi-parted.

1. Clearly tea is available in the United States, or I have been living under some sort of protracted hallucination. Yet I note that most UK residents complain about getting tea over here. Is there some sort of American conspiracy of which I am unaware wherein good American citizens should be denying tea privileges to our neighbors across the pond? Sometimes my British friends have grudgingly made comments about a “proper” cup of tea. In that case, what makes our tea “improper”? Can you please define for me what a “proper” cup of tea entails?

A. If we are preparing and serving our tea improperly, could I be given a step-by-step guide to creating a proper cup of tea, please?

2. I know that there is a good tea, and there is bad tea. For example, one of the worst cups of tea I ever had was on a British Airways flight to Gatwick. However, European and British brands of tea are available, and served, here–are you sending us your inferior brands? (A sampling of the “imports” available at Harvest includes Typhoo Tips and PG Tips.) Is it the brand or the preparation that determines “properness,” and, if brand, which brands are superior in your opinion?

3. I know that tea is also a meal. And at first, when I heard complaints about our inferior tea, I thought that perhaps you were referring to the meal, and I was going to wholeheartedly join in the chorus. (As I am never known to miss an opportunity to eat.) However, when I researched the matter more thoroughly, I found that in fact our British guests really do seem to mean tea, the beverage. Is there, however, a lurking desire for tea, the meal? And by the way, what exactly is “egg and chips”?

4. Now to my deeper psychological questioning. Is it that you find yourself missing tea, the beverage, prepared “properly,” or is it that you find yourself missing tea, the culture? I will be the first to admit that there is a large and foolish sector of the American population which drinks an obscene amount of coffee and does not, in fact, touch tea. I question their sanity, as I personally find coffee a revolting beverage. But I will say that many American warm drink establishments focus on coffee, not tea, and that often their tea preparation suffers. Some Americans can certainly get fanatical about their coffee, but some of us also take tea seriously as well. But I will grant that the tea culture is not as well established in the United States, and that this may lead to some frustration on your part as a visitor. Tea is certainly not as ritualized in the United States by most citizens–people think it’s odd, for example, that I go over to my father’s house for tea (the meal) at least twice a week. Is tea perhaps more of a companionable beverage in Britain, drunk in a form of bonding?

5. How can we improve our tea image? I assure you that terrible cups of tea can be found in the United States. But, likewise, superb tea can also be found, and relatively easily, especially in urban areas. I suspect that terrible tea can be found in Britain, as well. Is there anything we can do? Any sort of barista educational campaign? Please, guide us on the path to tea righteousness.

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