Coventry Chronicles: Not my cup of tea
February 16, 2018
When thinking of England, a few things come to mind: the Royal Family, rain and tea. Tea is a big deal here, in the sense that it's sort of its own food group.
When I first moved here, wherever I went, someone would offer me a cup of tea. The American in me was dying for a giant cup of coffee, but I quickly learned that you don't refuse a cup of tea (often referred to as a "cuppa").
Don't get me wrong; I drink tea occasionally. When I'm sick, I put lemon and honey in it and substitute it for coffee in the morning. At night before bed, I might have a cup of Sleepy Time. After a decadent dinner, peppermint tea is in order. A little green tea is an afternoon pick me up.
But I do come from a house where the running joke was, that when my mother would ask my father if he wanted a cup of tea, his response would always be "not now, not ever."
I began to realize just how important tea is to the Brits when my husband came home from practice one afternoon and said that his teammates had great debates in the locker room about the proper way to prepare a cup of tea. Grown men, just like my father, drinking tea. I had never heard of such a thing.
We decided the only thing to do was to get a few of these men over to show us how it's done. Three men; three different ways of making tea. We were going to do a taste test. They showed up at the house armed with English Breakfast Tea — the only tea that anyone drinks. It's unheard of to drink peppermint tea, or green tea or even Earl Grey. When we showed them our tea cupboard, packed with all of these varieties, they cringed. Every cup of tea in England is made with English Breakfast Tea, no matter the time of day.
In the same vein, every residence in England is equipped with an electric tea kettle, just as there would be a sink in the kitchen. I tend to use mine more for making up bottles for my baby, but I think they have multiple functional uses.
I've found that when you ask a Brit how they make a cup of tea, they'll look at you sideways and say that they pour hot water over a tea bag and then add milk. Obviously. If you pry further, they'll mention that the water has to be piping hot when you pour it over the tea bag, the tea has to be English Breakfast Tea, you have to leave the tea bag in the cup until it's just the right color, etc. It's more complicated that it seems.
Back to the taste test. One cup of tea was made by putting a tea bag in a mug and then adding milk first, before pouring the boiling water in. (This is the method being debated as it is generally thought of as quite lazy.) The second was made (properly, according to the preparer) by pouring the water over the tea bag and then adding milk once the tea bag came out. And the third was made in a pot, with three tea bags, poured out into a cup with milk.
They all said they learned how to make tea from their mothers, who drink upwards of eight cups per day.
The results? Ryan chose the second cup. I unfortunately chose the first, which was the one made in a way that is apparently a "disgrace to England" — I think they forgave me because I'm American and drink peppermint tea, the horror.