February 13, 2014 2:44pm Published by Jules Smith in The Art Philosopher 53 Comments

Since when did tea get so complicated?

I’ve noticed that since coffee became pretentious that tea is following suit.  I’ve only just about mastered the art of asking for my desired coffee when I frequent one of those ubiquitous coffee houses in the city.  As I approach the star circled, mermaid emblem I repeat under my breath “ A grande, skinny, one shot, caramel macchiato,” because the barista doesn’t like it when I say, “Can I have a milky coffee with some of that syrupy stuff in, please.”

Recently I was in the queue of said shop and I noticed a very silly looking cake.  I whipped out my phone, as I am prone to do, so I could take a photo of it and send it to a friend.   Within seconds, a lurking barista came to my side and said:

 “You can’t take pictures of our product.”

“What? Why not?”  I queried, somewhat bemused.

“It’s against our policy.” The jobsworth replied.

I thought about that for a moment.

“Honestly, I think that your high flying competitors already KNOW your product line.  I’m just here for a syrupy, milky coffee, love.”

“ Well, you can’t take pictures.”  

(Wanna bet…..) 

“What happens if I purchase that cake?”  I asked. “Can I then take a photograph of it?” 

“I… don’t know…”  She replied.  That wasn’t in the script.

“ I think you’ll find that once an item is bought, the purchaser has sole ownership rights and is free to take pictures of it or throw it at barista’s or whatever they please.  Check section 7.1 of your award winning policy.” 

Numb nuts.

Anyway, like I said, tea, the drink of my nation, is now starting to get all highfaluting and way too complicated.

“A cup of tea, please.”

“ Do you want a black tea?  A chai?  A chai green latte? A rooibus? A herbal medley including dried petals?

“No.  Just regular tea.”  Sigh.

And whilst I find this is starting to happen in these particular ‘cafe type’ establishments, you would never get this sort of nonsense at a greasy spoon or a mate’s house. 

This is how it would go down at casa amigo:

Moments after entering their front door you would be asked,

“Wanna cuppa?”

“Thought you’d never ask.”


“No thanks, I’m sweet enough / six please, I’m knackered or a builder”  Are possible answers.

You may get asked something like this but not often:

“ How do you take it?”  This a strength question.

“However it comes / wet ‘n’ warm/ strong enough to stand a spoon in / gnats piss”  Are possible answers. 

Generally you get what you’re given and you like it ‘cos you’re British.  End of.

Now, this sort of behaviour isn’t usual across the pond.  Here’s what happens there:

“A cup of tea please.”


I’m certain we invented this language..

“No, tea please.”

“ Hot tea?”

Whaaaa?  Well of course I want bloody hot tea. I have to specify this?

“Yes, hot tea would be spot on.”

“English breakfast?” 

“Oh go on then, two pieces of fried bread, no beans..too early, and two Lincolnshire sausages, bacon, well done please and a poached egg.  Lovely.”

“English breakfast tea?” She meant.

“Errr… Yes ok then, thanks.”

And it arrives sometime later like a meccano set.  There’s a saucer and a cup.  Then there is hot water in a jug,  then there is a tea bag, wrapped up on a saucer of it’s very own. Delightful.  So, I piece it all together,  but wait… There’s no milk.

“Excuse me, I’d like some milk please.”


I cannot express how dis-gust-ing that tea is with cream in. 

“No, just milk please.”

“Half and half?”

“Eh?  Half of what and half of what exactly?”

Along with coffee and tea even milk has become affected.  Let me set things straight.  There are basically 2 types of milk.  There is a third one but since it resembles watery chalk residue, it doesn’t qualify.

There is milk, straight out of the moo cow, white stuff and there is semi – skimmed.  That’s all folks.

Now usually the wrapped up little tea bag fondly referred to as ‘English breakfast’ is Liptons. This is not tea.  This is dirty dishwater.

There are only 3 possible teas that cut the grade A, English must have:

PG Tips
Yorkshire tea.

*Twinings Earl Grey if feeling a little delicate*  This is acceptable.

The destruction of tea has had a detrimental effect and it’s only because you make the best bacon on the planet that I am able to forgive. However, I’m more than happy to start a transatlantic intervention by smuggling proper tea bags over to anyone interested. 

Tax free, of course 😉


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Tea in “the old Empire” means either a meal or a beverage, and it’s not confusing to the indigenous. However when a visitor is invited to “tea”, you never know what you’re going to get.

In the American South, there are two types of tea: Sweet Tea and Unsweetened Tea, both of which are poured over copious amounts of ice — which the British never seem to fathom.

However, I’m distressed to announce that in my travels I have encountered those snobbish Chai shops in Mexico where there are 8,000 varieties of tea – many of which taste nothing like ‘tea’. When snobbish tea is even available in Guadalajara, you know that the battle has been lost.

That’s very true ‘LL’ even today if someone invites you to tea it usually means you’re going to get a nice plate of sarnies or a spaghetti bolognese. You’re gonna get fed. Result.
Nope. Can’t fathom tea over ice whatsoever. I’ve tried it and I’m not a fan. I t needs to be laced with something else…like vodka.

Long Island Iced Tea Recipe:
1/2 ounce triple sec
1/2 ounce light rum
1/2 ounce gin
1/2 ounce vodka
1/2 ounce tequila
1 ounce sour mix
Lemon wedge for garnish

It makes Earl Grey blush…

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LL – If this is America’s version of iced tea then I’m prepared to denounce the Queen!

Just writing it down …hmm.. should I double it ;P

It’s that very thing that allowed the Americans to defeat the British in the Revolution. In the Battle of New York, the British drank regular tea and the Americans on Long Island drank their version of iced tea, and vowed never to turn back to regular tea. It’s what motivated the Boston Tea Party. The history books are wrong. It had nothing to do with a tax on tea.

Makes perfect sense to me!

Heck yes you need to double it, actually scrub that! Quadruple it, I’m coming round for tea!!

And this is why we are friends.

The concept of a ‘having someone over for tea’ now has a more profound meaning.

i’m a simple American: i like my cup of coffee with the grounds still at the bottom, my green tea only as an ice-cream flavor, and when i hear “can i borrow a cup of sugar?”, i know a porno is about to start…

What about clouds in your coffee, dear Phoenix?
Green tea is the vilest thing . I loathe it. There’s an ice cream this flavour? No. Cookie dough dynamo is the only way forward.

Well, Jules, you’ve incited me to look up this old Benny Hill gag. OK, it’s silly, but it was your incitement that made me do it! You’re so right about cream in tea. Ugh! But honey instead of sugar is fine if you’ve got a cold. Long liveth the honey bee and all that cometh out of its arse!

Blooming link didn’t work! Here it is:


HAHAHA! That tickled me. Classic.

Honey is fine Mr.Gorilla Bananas 🙂 It’s especially pleasant in a hot toddy, i find. Mixes well with the single malt. Aren’t bees brilliant!

Gorilla thanks for the walk down memory lane! Love that piece 🙂

Juliette, I admire your writing. It doesn’t matter if it is a story or well, I’ll call this an argument for lack of a better word. You know, like a lawyer argues his case in court.

This is logical, interesting and the humor fits perfectly. I love this line – “Whaaaa? Well of course I want bloody hot tea. I have to specify this?”

I’ve no idea how English tea tastes but will readily admit you are the experts in the field. I make it by the pitcher and put lots of sugar in it and nothing else. I like it best before it goes into the fridge where it stays until snack time or meal time.

David, I thoroughly admire your admiration; it’s admirable 😉 Thank you so much.
See, I don’t understand this pitcher of tea in the fridge thing. I’ve been told of it but can’t bring my English mind to accept it. Pitchers are for cocktails and sangria! Now go and make a nice, HOT cup of tea as God intended 🙂

I read this and laughed. God’s intentions are often difficult to fathom and I’m glad you have determined his desire when it comes to tea drinking. 🙂

Seriously though, I have a story and a theory. We have long, hot summers here in the South. My Dad always hated tea. One afternoon he came home from work and sat down on the porch to cool off and rest. My Mom had a glass of iced tea and she offered to fix one for Dad. He stared at that glass for a moment, sighed and said okay. From that day on he liked tea. I have heard other people say that tea will quench your thirst when water will not. I don’t know. I hate drinking water and agree with W.C. Fields about it.

I like that story 🙂
I totally agree with W C Fields. It’s that fish thing…ewwww.
Yes, me and God are like this (I’m crossing my fingers tight as I don’t want to leave this one up for imagination.) He also advises to eat square bread so it fit’s in toasters!

There’s a mathematical equation whereby the complexity of a coffee order is in direct correlation to the size of the douche bag ordering it. Fact.

For longer than I care to admit, I thought a tea egg was a marital aid.

I like a stiff cup of tea right around 2:00. It makes me feel all fancy and whatnot.

HA! Spot on there my friend. I’d like to pin that up in their shop.

Well, in a roundabout way, a tea egg can be a marital aid.

I could drink tea till the cows come home… and, as I don’t have any cows, that’s a bloody long time.

Tetley or PG… splash and a half of semi skimmed… no sugar… perfect!

Oh, and not too strong: too much tannin is bad for you – so said Grandpa Potts (Lionel Jefferies in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, so it must be true).

Me too. Cows never come home, Masher. They’re too busy getting milked for tea. On a side note, I reckon you could milk a whole cow on weetabix and those things would still soak it ALL up. You ever noticed that?
You have your tea just as I do mine. I have new found respect.

Ahh, well should we ever meet, then we shall lace daisies into our hair and call each other sister… as Mr Baker would say.

PS. Forgot to mention that I really liked what you did with the post title. Clever.

Thanks 🙂

I had so many witty thoughts I wanted to write here. Then I hit the part where you said “I’m certain we invented this language” and I busted out laughing and forgot everything I was going to say.

Everything you’ve said here, plus a few other reasons, is why I drink my coffee black. And my tea the same way, sans sugar or creamer/milk/cow juice. It’s just simpler and I can avoid talking to baristas who want to yell at me for taking photos and various other stupid rules I’m convinced they make up as they go along out of boredom.

I particularly like the Urban dictionary definition of Barista: Pretentious sounding word used by dejected art history and drama majors that describes their employment in order to make themselves feel better about serving coffee.
I nearly choked on my cappafrappamochchinolatte when I read that.

I used to have a Memphipedia on my blog where I gave my own definitions of words that I felt needed defining. I may need to bring that back. To me, ‘barista’ sounds like a bar tender’s wife, or maybe just a female bartender. If some douche is going to refer to himself as a barista then I’m going to demand vodka with my coffee.

What a great idea! I think you should definitely bring it back.
I am going to ask for a margaritacino. XXXL

I used to drive lorries, and you’re right about greasy spoons. Road-side burger vans are just the same, the only choice you have is whether you have a burger or a sausage with it. Motorway service stations a different matter, you get all the choice under the sun, but it makes little difference as they all taste the same anyway.

I think extra strong for washing down greasy spoon, burgers!
Agreed. Tastes like it’s too bloody expensive too.

Juliette, I admire your bravery. Tea has always been a major source of strife; those irate Bostonians weren’t throwing Frappucinos in the harbor, after all. Personally, I’ve always done my best to just drink what I like, and duck under the table when things get vicious. I will admit, though: I have always, until very recently, been very firm in my opinion that others can drink what they like, but I will take my tea cold, sweet, and without ice. Unless I’m thirsty, in which case I will drink whatever is in front of me, and do my best to hide my grimace.

To show how relative these things are, though: my brother mocked me for the majority of my life for the “hummingbird food” that I drank, yet I have served a glass to people before, only to have them remark: “Oh, no, I wanted SWEET tea.” There is no accounting for taste.

I’m like a warrior, me.
Ok, I’m going to have to relent to this sweet, cold tea thing. I’m not saying I’m going to like it unless it’s laced with ‘LL’s version’ of extras above, but next time I’m there I’ll give it a shot. I hope I don’t accidentally spit it in the servers face if I hate it.
In the meantime, I think you should have a nice hot cuppa too, whilst it’s winter. And a digestive biscuit to dunk in it. You’re missing a treat!

Oh, don’t worry – I have certainly tried hot tea here and there, and I can see developing a taste for it. And in truth, coffee – hot, cold, or in-between – has always been something that I simply could not tolerate for myself, except in caffeine-related emergencies, during which I would gulp it down like the medicine I felt it was.

But if you are interested in a more “spirited” cool tea beverage: in the States (or Alabama, at least, which is still one of the States, no matter what those crazy Confederates would have you believe) they market an elixer under the brand name “Firefly”: sweet tea-infused vodka. Naturally, it can be taken by itself, or mixed with still more sweet tea. I cannot speak to the taste, but the effect probably speaks for itself.

I’m prepared to give this a shot, Nathaniel. Will it make me glow? 🙂

It may take more than a “shot” – but yes, it will definitely make anyone glow!

spoken like a true Brit – you are sooo right re poncy coffe shops; actually I saw a report re French chefs not wanting people to take pics of their food because it constituted ‘food porn’ which I have to confess I thought was something else.

WHAT? What the hell is ‘Food porn’ – God how ridiculous. I too believed that to be ..well…ya know.. something a little more adventurous. 🙂

Juju I hate spin with a passion. The coffee shop central to your post has elevated spin to a new bastion of the ridiculous. To this day I order small, medium, or large. “Did you say ‘Tall’?” No-I believe I said small! Figure it out!!! Oh, and by the way, our coffee shop is now introducing a new size: “Trenta” For all us Americans who need at 30 oz in each drink!!!

Now Jules, picture this: You are walking across a bridge over the Potomac in the Heat of August. You have literally turned to butter. You heard your shoes frying on the pavement ( I know I did). If I would have offered you an ice tea would you have had a swig? 😉

Trenta? That’s like “Please, I’d like to induce a heart attack!” It’s always fascinated me how BIG the coca cola cups are too. Like buckets. How can anyone drink this much pop?

Don’t be ridiculous, Dean! I would have demanded several white wine spritzers!

I tell you what Miss JellyBobble, I didn’t know cold tea existed until a couple of years ago when I was preparing to post myself to Boston, Massachusetts and did some digging around on American Culture.

And an abomination that is… however mainstream it’s become.

Gosh, do people still buy into the hoax that is Lipton? ewww…

I say all this as I sip on my freshly made cuppa – which one? Well, all the originals here will know there’s only one kind with milk and sugar and nothing less than. All this variety is just posh tosh.

Of course I bought into the hoax that is Lipton. It’s decioussssss 😉 But I’d be very willing to make you some hot tea. Milk and sugar? Coming right up.

Hell Miss doodlebug 🙂 A woman after my own heart: Classy, a connoisseur, refined and smart. As all proper tea drinkers are, innit.

I once asked for coffee at Starbucks and was told they didn’t have any!
Rookie . . .

We’ll that just made me laugh my head off!

Really, Jules… all I’m asking for is a Black Lipton Marocchino Miel Mélange de Olla Britainique. I don’t see the problem. But it had better be hot. I used to drink Cafe Blue Zorro Decaf Doppio. You may have heard of it. But that was a bit over the top, like my Fiat Punto.

Ha ha! I never had you down as a pretentious zorro doppio, Blue. Need to whip that highfaluting nonsense right out of you 😉

You might be on to something. Plain tea then?

Yes. PG tips. It makes warriors 🙂

Hilarious, as always, love! Please don’t kill me, but I used to hate tea. But I am slowly growing to like it, and someday, you and I should have a cuppa together. At one of those pretentious bars. And we’ll buy some cakes and take pictures of them before throwing them at baristas.

P.S. We should also take pictures of said baristas with the cake thrown on them. Is that allowed, though?

Dee, this is a goal! Let’s see who get’s the best shot, in both respects!

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