After four years of living in England there remains one element of English life and culture that I still find somewhat baffling – tea. It may be a stereotype but in this case it is exceedingly true, the English drink an astonishing amount of tea. I would go so far as to say that life revolves around tea, the making of it, sharing of it and drinking of it are such an integral part of English life that an England without tea is all but unfathomable. Tea and rain, that’s England in a nutshell.
“We had a kettle; we let it leak:
Our not repairing made it worse.
We haven’t had any tea for a week…
The bottom is out of the Universe.”
In England, tea fixes everything. If there is something to celebrate, make a cup of tea. Just received bad news? Make a cup of tea. It’s cold out, make a cup of tea. Find it too warm? Make a cup of tea! Tea is the great restorer and no matter the time of day or night, in England it is tea time.
“If you are cold, tea will warm you;
if you are too heated, it will cool you;
If you are depressed, it will cheer you;
If you are excited, it will calm you.”
-William Ewart Gladstone
When I started my first job in England I found myself completely dumbfounded by the politics of office tea making. You can’t just get up and make yourself a drink, no, you have to ask everyone within at least a ten metre radius of you whether they too would like a drink, and inevitably everyone says yes. Then starts the torture of trying to remember all of the specific and minute instructions as to how each person likes their tea – the mug they like it in, how long to steep the tea bag, how many sugars, how much milk. How can one drink be so complicated?! And once you get a hand of how to make the tea to everyone’s specifications, there are the politics to worry about. Every office has someone who always takes a drink but never makes one, someone who never gets the order right, someone who mixes up the mugs. The drama of the tea is never-ending. As a matter of fact, there’s even an app for that!
Although I’ve lived in the land of tea for some time now, I have managed to avoid its tentacle like grasp so far. I like a nice cuppa now and again, but deep down I’m a coffee girl and I don’t think that will ever change. The one thing that I can get behind however with the whole tea culture is the kit. Tea cups, mugs, tea pots, strainers and the seemingly endless variety of tea on offer. I’m yet to invest in a teapot for myself but maybe once we’re back living somewhere permanently I’ll treat myself to a fancy Emma Bridgewater teapot. An English house just isn’t a home without a teapot or two!
For all the notoriety that the English get for their collective tea addiction, the Irish are actually the biggest consumers of tea in the world, a stat which I have no problem believing if the amount of tea consumed by my in laws is anything to go by. Apparently, the Irish drink on average more than six cups of tea a day and seeing as tea in Ireland is always served with biscuits or cake I’m willing to bet that the average consumption of baked goods would give other nations a run for their money as well! As a matter of fact, if you offer a cup of tea in Ireland without something sweet on the side they’ll call it an English cup of tea, a little bit of tea based trivia for ya there.
No matter how long I live in the land of tea I don’t think I’ll ever get used to it. To me a cup of tea is just a cup of tea, but in England (and evidently Ireland as well) it is so much more. That isn’t just a cup of hot water and dried leaves you’re drinking, it is centuries of culture and social history all mixed up with politics, collective memory and class. Pretty impressive for a simple drink, don’t you think?
I guess the humble cuppa tea isn’t really so humble after all.