It’s Tea Time!

So I read Nichole’s “Cheering Brittana“ headline from my phone yesterday and thought it said “Cheering Brittania” and I got all excited that maybe we were going to be talking about tea and biscuits. (Instead, of course, it was a thoughtful discussion of the budding lesbian relationship on Glee.) My strong disappointment that it wasn’t about tea inspired me to just go ahead and write a post about tea. And so, here we are.

Two tea cups on a windowsill
Just having some tea, enjoying the view...

Americans and Britons seem to have different relationships with tea. In the US, tea is largely just a coffee alternative; it’s a warm, soothing drink you consume in the morning (or perhaps the afternoon) as a little pick-me-up. There isn’t as much of an inherent social or structural value to stopping to have some tea. And while you’ll certainly find people who brew their tea precisely in a pot with loose tea leaves, most of us just dunk a disposable teabag in a mug a couple of times and call it a day.

My now-husband and I spent eight days traveling around Ireland a few years ago. It being my first trip there, I was a little surprised to see how entwined tea is with hospitality in that country. The hubz, who was in the middle of a several-month-long stay in England for work, confirmed that it was often the same way there. He’d arrive at an office for a meeting, and they would first offer him some tea. Everyone would sip some and chat for a while before getting down to business.

To me, this new take on tea was a revelation. After a couple hours traveling between Irish towns, we’d arrive at each B&B feeling a little tired, dehydrated and cranky. Not to mention that, despite my Irish roots, I couldn’t adjust to the cold rainy spring air, and tea truly was the perfect antidote to the chill. Every single B&B offered us tea and biscuits immediately after check-in. The warm, invigorating tea perked me up every time, and it became the thing I most looked forward to as we reached each new location.

This was also the first time that I’d ever had milk with my tea. Milk in tea is fairly uncommon in the US. We tend to just drink it straight with some honey or sugar. It just seemed like such a natural thing to do in Ireland, though, that I did it every time, and really enjoyed it as much as I did the biscuits.

A container of McVities Digestives
Behold the awesomeness

Which brings me to another important point: Digestives. Oh my stars, I don’t know why these aren’t as popular in America. You can find them, certainly, but it’s not easy. For the uninitiated, they’re like graham crackers, only better. And they’re frequently covered with chocolate, which is like eating the best 2/3 of a s’more.  They go perfectly with a little milky tea, and they go down so easy that you’ll have eaten five of them before you even know what’s happening.

If, by the way, you’re someone who doesn’t generally like milk in your tea, I suggest you try it. My advice is to first try strong black tea, such as earl grey or English breakfast, that can stand up to the dilution and sweetness of the milk. If you’re a little nervous about making a good mixture, Starbucks has an Earl Grey tea latte that’s worth trying.

That’s what I do, here in my largely tea-less, cubicle-dwelling existence. I miss Ireland, and I love England, and sometimes I just want to feel that warm, welcoming feeling again. When the urge strikes, usually on a rainy day, I’ll just happily whip up some milky tea, have a biscuit, and lie back and think of Ireland.

Photos: Getty, thebritishshoppe and courtesy of the author

12 thoughts on “It’s Tea Time!”

  1. Digestives are quite easy to find in Spanish and West Indian markets. My mother had some in the house every week for about 2 months and I never tried them. I was nervous that they were some sort of Digestive aid and I didn’t want any mishaps happening. After reading this post I’m sad I didn’t try them when I had the chance, but at least I know they’re easy to get here (there’s a wonderful Spanish supermarket that my family goes to. Jamaican cuisine and Hispanic markets go very well together).

  2. I wish you’d talk a bit about tea preparation! It’s something I’d really like to learn more about, especially how it differs in Japanese tea ceremony vs. European classical serving methods. I wanna push past the two-tea-bags for morning, one-in-the-evening and then pop it in the microwave methodology I’ve been implementing since my undergraduate days.

  3. Ah lovely! It’s true – tea is the universal language of the British isles. It’s the first thing you offer someone when they enter your home.

    Just to add a word on English versus Irish tea. Irish tea is much stronger in taste and caffeine content than English tea (Twinings actually make a separate blend); many Irish people I know, self included, insist on bringing the Irish tea with them everywhere they go. I’ll hunt all over England for my precious Barry’s Gold Blend. Proper tea should leave your mugs stained beyond repair! I also find that the English put too much milk in their tea, though that may also be a family thing. My sister and I like our tea almost coffee-coloured, and the English always make it way too milky.

    As for biscuits: did you ever try Hobnobs? Similar to digestives, but with oats? Chocolate Hobnobs prove the existence of God. Fact.

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