A tongue-and-cheek examination of America’s dreadful — and virtually non-existent — tea culture • 4 min read
Steam rises from a green mug of lemon ginger tea on a New Zealand morning. To my right, bumpy green feijoas, also known as pineapple guavas, fill my plate. To my left, ginger cookies wait to bathe in warm, gingery liquid. And it leaves me wondering: why do Americans not participate in this glorious routine known as tea time? Ask the average American if they know what an electric water kettle is and receive a blank stare in return. How did America fall to such a pitiful state of ignorance?
Maybe electric water kettles are more ubiquitous in America than I realize. But until I traveled to the Australia and Zealandia continents, I had never seen one. First popularized in Britain, electric water kettles boil water faster than their boring stove-top counterparts. With this magical kettle, I can boil water to exactly 175° F for my white silver needle tea and 205° F for my English breakfast tea? The Brits are on to something.
In the British magazine, Spectator, Roy Sutherland puts it best:
Americans can put a man on the moon and build the USS Nimitz, yet in 2014 you need to travel to Britain to experience the electric kettle? And people need a detailed explanation of what one is, and is used for? Why is Silicon Valley squandering its time developing driverless cars and an Apple iWatch when 300 million people lack access to the single most basic item of domestic equipment? 1
Well said, Mr. Sutherland, well said.
Because they’re so prevalent in Britain, electric tea kettles were causing power surges. 2 During commercial breaks, a massive number of electric tea kettles were being turned on at the same time, straining the electric grid. This phenomenon even got a label: TV pickup. Thanks to the rise of Netflix and other streaming services, TV pickup has become less of a problem. 3 But don’t even think about messing with elevenses (tea time at 11 am) as magistrates in Southern England discovered. 4
Why does Britain, Australia, New Zealand — and let’s not forget the Asian countries — have tea time while us Americans could care less? For the panicked and concerned, our carelessness about this brewed beverage started in 1773.
It’s December 16, 1773. Three ships dock at Griffin’s Warf in Boston, Massachusetts carrying 45 tons of black Chinese tea. Three years ago, Britain had repealed all taxes save one: the tax on tea. But when Parliament granted the East India Tea Company a virtual monopoly on tea trade to the colonies, American colonist erupted in outrage. 5
To the British, burdened with their own taxes and postwar debt, asking the colonies to help pay expenses was innocuous. And wouldn’t cheaper tea be welcome? To the 18th century colonist, any taxation without representation was an act of tyranny — even if it did mean cheaper tea.
What to do when your tea is being taxed unfairly? Patriots post this message across Boston:
Friends! Brethren! Countrymen! That worst of plagues, the detested tea, shipped for this port by the East India Company, is now arrived in the harbor; the hour of destruction, or manly opposition to the machinations of tyranny, stares you in the face. 6
To the credit of the Sons of Liberty, the 116 people who gathered to turn the Boston harbor into a teapot did so in decency and order. After dumping 342 containers — over a million dollars worth of tea — overboard, they were kind enough to sweep the decks. They even went so far as buying a new lock and sending it to the captain afterward. Unfortunately, this protest dimmed America’s future as a nation full of tea-drinking patriots.
Tea was out, coffee was in. Americans even started viewing tea-drinking as unpatriotic, an act of allegiance to the mother country. Months after the Boson Tea Party incident, John Adams explained to his wife Abigail:
Accordingly I have drank Coffee every Afternoon since, and have borne it very well. Tea must be universally renounced. I must be weaned, and the sooner, the better. 7
A revolution and the birth of a nation found its genesis in tea. Sort of. And no, I don’t feel bad about drinking English breakfast tea, thankyouverymuch.
Thanks to the rise of millennials wreaking havoc around the globe, tea is rising to its rightful place once again. Of course, I still love my light-roasted specialty snob coffee. Whether I want a swift kick in the butt in the wee hours of dawn or something to talk over while hanging out with friends, I’ll turn to coffee every time. It’s a morning drink, social drink, and pick-me-up drink all in one.
But tea is the quieter brewed drink, the drink for early dawn or late dusk or anytime. If I don’t want caffeine electrifying my veins, I’ll turn to a Darjeeling or my beloved rooibos. There is something meditative surrounding tea, a calming sensation when holding a cozy cup, watching the steam rise and feeling the warmth go down.
For the hurried and harried, America needs a national tea time: a time to pause and be present and mindful and zen and all those other cool words. If tea could unite a country for a revolution, why can’t tea unite the same country one more time? United, not for war, but for tea. Forget lazy self-driving cars and intrusive notification wrist straps — it’s time to get this tea-revolution on. America, tea patriots, and all those from sea to shining sea…
*raises mug of English breakfast tea in the air*
Let’s make tea time great again.
1 Roy Sutherland: Why don’t Americans have kettles?
2 Britain’s Electric Grid Girds for World Cup Tea Surge
3 No more electricity surges as the nation switches on the kettle thanks to Netflix and iPlayer
4 Elevenses: a vital part of our working day
5 The Colonies Move Toward Open Rebellion, 1773-1774
6 The Boston Tea Party Historical Society
7 John Adams renounced tea for coffee in 1774