Monday, February 18, 2008

How Does One Make A Proper British Cup of Tea?

As if I don't have enough crap to be stressed over, I find new things to keep me up at night. For my American readers, this may sound silly but, serving tea makes me super nervous.
I don't think we (Americans) really know how invested the Brits are to the culture of tea. Well, maybe we did once back in 1776 in Boston when we decided to show them what they could do with their tea. But honestly, I don't think we have anything in our food culture that equates with British tea. I actually have dreams where I hear a repetitive, screeching voice asking "Cup o' tea?! Cup o' tea?!" much like Polly the parrot would mimick.

There is soooo much to learn about making a "proper cup of (British) tea". For example, while there is the popular notion to avoid over-processed, bleached foods like white flour and such--the Brits believe that only white, granulated sugar will do for tea.
"White sugar for tea; brown or otherwise for coffee," they say.

Jeez! here I was committing serious faux-pas by serving tea with raw, unbleached sugar.

Let me tell you...serving tea the "wrong" way will have people talking about you for YEARS to come. And heaven forbid you don't offer a guest in your home tea within 1 full minute of their arrival time. I believe you may have up until you've taken their coat and they've sat back fully into their seat to offer tea or else!
Apparently, my mother-in-law is still talking about how this person or that person from how many years ago didn't offer them a cup o' tea when they arrived at their home.

Even my freaking husband is somewhat ill-at-ease in the US when someone doesn't offer him tea.

We may offer you juice, water, a soft drink; maybe even coffee. But not tea. And I swear, I get the feeling that deep down, Andy finds it rude--even though he knows that tea culture is not apart of the American way. He is just the tiniest bit disturbed by it.

So, when we have company, I'm constantly stressed now about the damn tea thing! I welcomed them into our home. I take their coats. I show them to our couch. And before they can sit back and cross their legs, I press my face into a tight smile and mimick, "may I offer you a cup of tea?".

Despite doing this, and properly presenting white sugar, there are so many more RULES I still have to learn.

How long are you allow the hot water to sit in the kettle before pouring into a tea pot? How long to steep the tea? When to pour? Do you offer to pour or let your guest pour for themselves? Do we always keep a bit of whole milk in the house or will our guests' blow a blood vessel in their brains if we offer skim milk with their tea?

When I press people for answers on the dos and don'ts, they ALWAYS try to say that the stiff rules are of the past; this generation is so much more laxed about such formalities.
Uh huh. Yeah, right.
So, I just come from another angle and just ask what they'd prefer or not prefer...what their families prefer and little by little those DAMN RULES come flying out until they sound like water gushing out of a broken faucet.

My blood pressure is going up now...stressing me out just to even write about it.

I need to go lay down or something. This would be so much easier if they were addicted to crack or heroin. No stress there. The only rule is to just keep serving it up!

But if any Brits catch this post, please send me a list of the dos and don'ts for British tea.

I really need the help.