An American acquaintance of mine who lives in England said recently that one of the hardest things to adjust to was food shopping. Sure, we have lots of the same foods, but they have different names...and let's face it, there are always going to be things you can buy abroad that you just can't get in England, and vice versa.
And then there's the different attitude we have to food. And to drinks. And to one drink in particular. It's time to talk about tea.
The English are famed for tea consumption. We have something of a national obsession with it. (It's probably something to do with the Empire.) I'm saying 'English', because when you think of tea you think of England, but it's more of a British obsession. My Irish friends also understand tea perfectly (according to the UK Tea Council--yes, it's that important--the Irish drink more tea per capita than the British). You don't have to explain tea anywhere in the British Isles. Everyone gets it. But travel abroad and it's a disaster. American hotels don't even have kettles, and surely that's a basic human right.
And if I read one more book set in Britain where tea is done wrong, I might scream. So here's my guide to British Tea.
Rule one: Tea has milk in it. 98% of British tea is drunk with milk. The other two percent, I suspect, is the speciality kind of tea, such as Earl Grey, which is better taken with very little or no milk, or by those who don't consume dairy. Lemon is acceptable, but it is a bit weird.
Rule two: Tea has milk in it. I know this sounds like rule one, but it's important, so like Fight Club, I'm saying it twice. Cream tea does not mean tea with cream in it. You don't put cream in tea. If I read one more book (usually by a well-meaning American but not always), that has someone adding cream to tea I really might vomit. As would you if you drank tea with cream in it. Cream is thick, and floats in tea. Yes. It floats. Like scum. It is very, very wrong to put cream in tea. It's milk. Cow milk. I'm going to petition Parliament about this.
Have we got that straight? Good. Rant over.
Rule three: Tea means black tea. It comes from tea leaves. Herbal tea is not tea. Fruit tea is not tea. Green tea is technically tea (same leaves, different process) but it's not what we talk about when we talk about tea. There are lots of varieties of tea, and some are very fancy indeed, but if someone is making a cuppa, it's black tea.
Rule four: You can put sugar in if you like. Unlike with milk, no one will judge you.
Rule five: I don't know what that nancy boy on the Diet Coke adverts really does for a living, but he's not in construction. Real builders drink tea. Brew it strong, brew it dark, and make sure there's plenty of sugar available.
Rule six: There will always be arguments about whether you put milk in first or milk in last. It actually is a class thing, involving types of china and how it could withstand heat, but these days it's more about snobbery, and that's a totally different animal.
Rule seven: Tea is important. Tea is cultural. Tea is part of the fabric of British life in such a fashion that I truly believe society would collapse without it. Tea cures everything, or at least makes it better. You know that Doctor Who episode where James Corden touches the goo and gets really ill and the Doctor cures him with very strong tea? No one in Britain found that weird.
As this important public service announcement demonstrates, Tea contains Moral Fibre.
Now, go and put the kettle on.