Random trans-Atlantic claptrap

An American’s guide to tea (FAQs)

As every expat living here knows, if you’re going to live in Britain, you’re going to have to learn about tea. How to make it properly. The different types of tea. The etiquette of tea. How and when to drink tea. How to love it.

Yes, you must learn to love it, like Winston Smith learning to love Big Brother at the end of George Orwell’s 1984. Tea is important here. Very important. Why do you think Americans dumping British-owned tea into Boston Harbor in 1773 was such a potently symbolic act? Because, essentially Britain is tea and tea is Britain.

But Expat Claptrap is not the place for a history lesson. We’re here to provide practical information, so here’s everything you need to know about tea:

Tea? Isn’t that a drink for little old ladies?
In America, yes, but not in the UK. Here everyone drinks tea. Yes, the Queen drinks tea. But so does Sean Connery and so did Jack the Ripper. Mr Bean, Harry Potter, Sherlock Holmes and William Shakespeare all drink tea. Everyone.

Do I have to drink tea if I live in Britain?
If you work in an office, you will be offered tea between three and nine times a day every day. You will break down and say yes at some point. But it’s not heroin- you’re not going to be hooked straight away. It’ll get you slowly, the way cigarettes did. “I only smoke when I’m drinking.”  or  “I only smoke on weekends.” Damn you cigarettes tea !

What are the different types of tea?
Here’s the essentials:

  • English breakfast: Bog standard “English tea”
  • Builder’s tea: Basically a strong and cheap variation of English breakfast. The most famous brands are called Yorkshire and PG Tips.
  • Earl Grey: slightly citrus-y, with a touch of Bergamot. Not drank much in the office, more for afternoon tea.
  • Rooibos: surprisingly common, this tastes like a tree branch dipped in hot water for an hour. (After 10 years living here, I still don’t know how to pronounce “Rooibos.”)
  • Peppermint: Quite girly to drink Peppermint.
  • Chai: For North London MILFs.
  • Chamomile: Pronouced Cam-o-mile, not cam-o-mill like in America. This is meant to be “relaxing” tea to help you sleep.
  • Fruit infused tea: Imagine raspberry or some other fruit juice, take away sweetness and any other flavour, and this is what you’ll be left with. But hot.
  • Green tea: Not as commonly-drank here as you might think, but available in all shops.

So which of these should I drink?
If you’re American, you should only drink builder’s tea with no sugar and just a small dollop of milk. It’s cheap, it’s strong and the locals will respect you for it, as this is the purest expression of English tea.  If you want to drink organic bohea lapsang tea, that’s your prerogative, but I don’t want to hear about it. In fact, if that’s how you want to be, you can stop reading this blog right now. You’re banned- go back to America, you clearly don’t fit in here. wanker.

So where do I get tea?
Good news, in Britain you never have to buy tea. Every office in this country, even the most bare-bones ones, have break rooms that they sometimes even call “tea rooms,” with an endless supply of bags. Help yourself!

How do I make tea?
You may be thinking, “what’s the big deal, it’s hot water and a tea bag,but  you are wrong. If you’re a yank, please please please learn how to do this so we all don’t have to hear about how Americans can’t make a bloody cup of tea properly. Here’s how you do it:

  • Put a tea bag in a cup or mug first.
  • Pour very hot water over the tea bag.
  • Don’t overfill the cup. Leave a bit of room for milk.
  • Let the tea bag steep for around a minute if it’s strong, tea. Longer if it’s plain English Breakfast.
  • Add a small amount of milk. Never over-milk the tea.
  • Take the tea bag out and serve.

What did you mean about “the etiquette of tea?”
There are strict rules around the making of tea. If you work in an office, and you get up for any hot beverage, or even for a glass of water you are obliged to ask everyone on your team or in your immediate vicinity if they’d like a cup of tea. I’m not even a little bit joking. Various British workplace surveys have listed “not offering to make tea” as one of the biggest complaints people have about their colleagues.

What is “afternoon tea” all about?
Afternoon tea is a formal sit down, with tea brewed in a proper tea pot and accompanied by nibbles and cakes. This is often done in hotels for American tourists.  If you decide to go out for afternoon tea while visiting London, I’m going to teach you a new British word that it’s essential for you to learn. The word is poncey, (pronounced pon-si). Use this word as an adjective to describe everything as it’s served to you, as in “Oh what a poncey teapot- how lovely.” Or “Oh, these scones are especially poncey, thank you waiter.” Enjoy!

What’s this thing where they use the word “tea” to also mean supper?
You know that story about how Eskimos have 20 words for snow? Apparently that’s not really true, and there’s really only one word for snow. There’s also only one word for “tea” in Britain, but that one word can mean a lot of different things. For some, it means “lunch” and for some “supper” or “dinner” and for others it means “afternoon tea break.”

This is a real sentence you might here in Britain: “Yesterday I had afternoon tea, but I didn’t have any tea with my tea that evening.”

I like iced tea, does that count?

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2 thoughts on “An American’s guide to tea (FAQs)

  1. There is only one tea . . . Red Rose Tea, Original. Red Rose English Breakfast Decaf. is OK, but only in moderation.

    As for milk in tea . . . those crazy brits; always kidding around.

    A thin (very thin) slice of lemon dipped in there, and a rounded teaspoon of sugar is the proper . . . never mind, I’ll have to come there and teach the Brits how to make tea; easier than explaining it since I’m not used to including random “u” letters in the words I write.

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