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The Indecipherable International Language of Tea

The Grasshopper, AmsterdamThe fact that “foreigners” seem to get it so badly wrong as regards tea is something which I still have yet to come to terms with.

The lunacy astounds me. No matter where you go, the locals are only too happy to enthusiastically exhibit the true extent of their ignorance to the art of tea making. This seems to be the case wherever I go. Order a “cha” in a Portuguese cafe, and what you find you will invariably get is a tall glass of boiling hot water with an accompanying encasement of assorted tea bags packed individually in their own little packets. The milk that you requested to the baffled waitress will be delivered to your table unwittingly hot so as to give you a shock when you shape to pick up the jug.

Mind you, the USA almost managed to get it right. A jaunt into the local supermarket yielded a successful scavenge of Tetley’s tea (“Look! They have Tetley’s here!”). It turned out to only be superficially similar. Upon getting the box home and eagerly prising open the box, I found, again, that each bag was individually wrapped. Even though they would have been fine loose in the protective box they came in. Perhaps US teabags are individualists, like their politics.

Appallingly, the Tetley’s tea bags were stapled to their individual packets, with a small piece of string dangling forlornly down, designed no doubt to assist you in retrieving the bag once its been brewing for a sufficient time. Of course, I always found this unnecessarily elaborate staple-string configuration far more easy to use that, err, a spoon.

Oh, and don’t order tea in a “caw fee” shop there either unless you’re happy to drink tea with “creamer” (whatever the hell that is).

The old Indian legend of the first ever cup of tea is fitting. Unwittingly discovered when a cow was sick after eating too many tealeaves, most countries have continued on the grotesque route of tea-making depravity ever since. The tradition remains alive and well to this day judging by my experiences.

To sum up, this is what foreigners seem to think are integral components to the tea experience:

1. Ultimate respect for each individual bag to the point of sheathing each one in individual packets or, in the case of cafes, a convoluted presentation box.

2. Don’t put milk in it, but a piece of lemon is perfectly ok.

3. Serve the tea bag separately with accompanying boiling water so you have to sit for half an hour waiting patiently for the glass handle (its never a mug) to cool down.

It’s not about how it looks, it’s about how it tastes. Maybe the tealeaves don’t grow in Britain but it’s clear that aside from actually having the stuff grow in their territories (see the above Kenyan tea plantation), foreigners are otherwise completely clueless, despite their obvious best intentions.