A few months ago the British broadsheets, with their typical rapturous national self-criticism, disclosed scientific findings that the British do not know how to make a cup of tea. Researchers from the University of Delving Into Such Things, after extensive research, reported that the Brits do not leave the tea to steep long enough for the tea to be at prime efficiency and to make the drink, and I quote, “sophisticated” enough to be fully enjoyed. Also many Britains (The Telegraph exclaimed with particular delight) forsake the teapot for individual teabags, thereby failing utterly to wrest the most from their luscious leaves. “The British are doing it wrong”, the newspapers were only to happy to proclaim to the nation.
To which this Yankee observer replies, utter hullabaloo and hokum. First of all, the Brits drink, at last count, approximately 80 cups of tea per person per day around here. If you brewed every one for five minutes, the bulk of your day would be spent watching mugs sit on counters, and your eyelids would be permanently sewn open by the caffeine. When having the last cuppa five minutes before going to bed (the finest one of the day, arguably? Or perhaps its successor, twenty minutes following, when the telly starts getting good and you might as well stay up just a minute longer?) only a totally pedontic fool would want their cup of tea at the strength confirmed as adequate by University scientists.
But more importantly, a cup of tea is more than a collection of leaves in a cup. Consider the old age pensioner, arthritis in both knees, worked down the pit all his life, and most of his marriage. His wife and he have done their best, had their ups and downs, haven’t we all, but they keep a good home and they’ve done things right. Oh, he gets on her nerves now and then, the way he plods about the place, bringing mud in from the garden, oh he does, and how he forgets the flowers but never the football. But still, at the end of the day, hope is not lost, the grail of human decency shines just over the horizon, ready to be claimed – the promise, the hope, the faith that binds them together – and the offer: “cup of tea, love?”
And she responds (no suspense here, if you’re British) as if tea were the finest idea known to humankind, and not just the most quotidian aspect of all their lives, but of course it is that, and it is that. It is splendid and good and lovely, and it will, praise God, still be tomorrow.
So I am happy to report, not that there was ever really any doubt, the Brits do know how to make a cup of tea.