Saturday, February 13, 2010


I don't even think we take our coffee in the States as seriously as Brits take their tea.  Tea is at the heart of British culture - whether it's taken in a paper cup or fine bone china.

On my first day of temping at the York Health Economic Consortium, the woman in charge welcomed me to the office and told me to hang up my jacket.  Next, she showed me to the computer I would be working at.  "But most importantly," she said anxiously, "I need to show you where the kitchen is, as you don't even have a cup of tea yet!"  She seemed almost embarrassed I wasn't sipping a cup of hot brew within five minutes of my arrival.

And when I started working at Little, Brown, I learned the etiquette of tea-making at the office, which is, as I found out, extremely important to maintaining good inter-personal relationships at work.  It's polite to glance around the room at appropriate moments and, seeing that everyone is low on tea, offer to make everyone a cup.  The most difficult part is remembering how everyone takes their tea.  Suzy Sue likes her's "extra milky, with no sugar."  Grumpy Gordon takes "four sugars and a 'splash' of milk - no more, no less."  Finally, Plastic Polly wants her special green tea which should steep for exactly four and a half minutes.  Right.  By the time I've taken everyone's orders, I've already forgotten the first person's requests.

At my current office, I recently saw a travel editor carry a makeshift cardboard tray into the kitchen that he'd created himself with Sharpie circles drawn in, labeled with everyone's name and the way they take their tea.  "That is SO clever," I said.  He beamed proudly.  Too bad we don't make tea for each other in our department.  No, tea time for us is a welcomed, collective break from the tedium of work.

Tea also seems to carry an emotional attachment in Britain.  When I've ran to a friend's flat, upset or crying over something, they've greeted me at the door and immediately rushed off to "put the kettle on," heaping spoonfuls of sugar into a cup of milky, Yorkshire Gold.  And it's not just women who enjoy their tea - it's just as important for men, if not more.  I've seen big, burly construction workers stop for their tea breaks, sometimes accompanied with a generous wedge of Victoria sponge cake. 

Offering someone a cup of tea in this country doesn't equal politeness, but is rather, a necessity - as if conversation cannot ensue or continue without a hot cup of steaming liquid being simultaneously sipped.  Sometimes I don't think it has to do with dignity or social class, but instead, comfort.  I suppose there is something soothing and calming about tea that provides the weak or weary with instant nourishment and reassurance.

As for me, I grew up with Chinese tea, made the proper way - loose tea leaves in a tea pot and absolutely NO milk taken.  My parents spend a fortune each year on buying specialty Chinese teas that are imported from Hong Kong or China and every morning, lunchtime, and evening, a pot of tea is guaranteed to be ready in the kitchen.  So in that way, I identify with the important role tea plays in one's culture or society.  Just a little bit differently (for the record, I take my English tea extra milky, with two and a half sugars).


  1. have you seen the disturbing yorkshire tea ad ( Perhaps taking the tea break too far?

  2. I've never seen that on air - have you seen that on tv?? That's insane - it looks like a spoof!


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