Friday, 7 March 2014

We have to talk...


I’m glad you’re here. We have to talk. You, and I, and the rest of the nation. We have to talk, about tea. You see, tea, is becoming a very serious business. And ultimately, a very problematic one.

Undoubtedly, whether you have a ‘cuppa’, a ‘char’, or a ‘brew’, you’re particular about how your tea is made. ‘Not too strong’, ‘not too weak’, ‘not too much milk’, ‘more milk’, ‘sugar please’… And it’s not just the liquid itself that concerns you – ‘No! Don’t stir it that way, stir it this way!’, ‘ you’re not using the right mug’…’too hot’, ‘too cool’, ‘fill it up a bit’… Yes, unless you’re one of those people on the edge of society – ‘no thanks, I don’t like tea’… - you surely have a recipe for your perfect cup. And largely, though you accept substandard versions politely (we are British after all), nothing but this honed and hallowed formula will really do.

I admit, I like to drink my tea, from a cup with a pale interior. No, not a cup, a mug…cups are too small. You can’t get your hands around them, and I like to ‘hug’ my tea. You see, if you’re going to have tea, I believe in HAVING TEA! Sipping a thimble full from a china cup, is far less satisfying than sloshing a brimming mug full against your wet lips and dribbling it on your chin. To me, mugs with dark colours inside, make tea look funny. You can’t get just the right tinge of orange to it, without a pale, preferably white, interior, to your cup. The tea bag then needs to be sufficiently squeezed, with just the right pressure, to obtain a brew of perfect strength. The dash of milk, not too much, just a dash, must be stirred in with a proper teaspoon. Somehow, a hasty Biro, produces far less satisfying a blend. The liquid must be stirred, gently, the cup being sufficiently full of tea that to stir vigorously, would spill it. No one likes half a cup of tea, do they?…or is that just me? This is my tea formula: (mug+pale interior) over (tea + splash of milk)+ (optimum volume) over (sufficient stirring) = perfect brew.

All of us know our tea formula so well, we could probably achieve it wearing a blindfold. And it is a good job, since it is the nature of tea, that much of it is made in haste. Tea is most often a quick and thoughtless process between the endless tasks of the day, a swift route to comfort, or warmth, or a five minute rest of a weary, working mind. The ability to apply due reverence to tea-making is an exception, rather than a norm. But even hurried tea is a very personal beast.

I have met people who, to my shock and disgust, leave the bag in, whilst they drink the tea. Imagine! I like my tea strong, but imagine its soggy paperiness brushing against your lips as you slurp?! No thank you! Not to mention what the prolonged presence of that bag does to a beautiful, white interior of a tea cup. And it is these differences of opinion, these variations in formulae, that lead to the problematic depths of tea that are the subject of this concern. You see, in their haste to make tea in their well-practiced way, every person is liable for the production of a personal ‘tea trail’… Like soggy Asaam snails and Earl Grey slugs, they slide over everything in sight, and forget, tea’s only fundamental flaw - it stains. And where tea unites us, tea-stains have the very real power to divide.

The workplace is probably a good example of an environment in which to observe the production of a ‘tea trail.’ What in the morning, was a shiny, silver, stainless steel sink, throughout the day becomes a golden brown, jangling mesh of deeply tea-scarred spoons. Lying alongside are spent mugs, unrinsed and festering in the malaise, stains darkening by the minute. The body of the sink itself, has had all those who refuse to drink ‘the dregs’, believing tea to have some foul tasting sediment, pour together a soup of cold and congealing brews in its unfortunate base. The slick is now a quarter inch thick with teabags blocking the drain. Tea bags have also accrued on the edges of worktops, the corners of the sink, on the drainer, around the bottoms of taps. A dropped teabag on its way to the bin, lies forlornly on the linoleum. It won’t be long before someone stands on it – spreading its guts like road-kill across the non-slip surface. Brown drips have dried, mid-run, down the front of the kitchen cupboards, rings of over vigorous stirring and sloshing have appeared on the surfaces, and there are sticky patches of sugar, not to mention, brown staining on the tea towels from poor attempts at rinsing the forgotten spoons, and, worst of all, from a double-dipped teaspoon, in the driven snow of the sugar itself.

These are the daily tea-trails of a hundred people, crossing and double crossing and laying down one on top of the other like a gastropod party in a lettuce patch. And these are great sources of anger and division.     

Just as we all have a tea formula, we all also have a tea taboo. It might be, not rinsing the teaspoons that stands up the hair on the back of your neck. Perhaps it is the wet slap of a spent teabag from a colleagues mug, hitting the bottom of the sink, that sends your blood boiling to the surface of your skin. Whatever it is, it’s in you, and it lurks, read to explode in muttering complaints as you make your next brew.

*Tut* Why can’t people rinse the teaspoons? *Sigh* There are never any cups left! Why doesn’t anyone wash a cup round here? *Huff* Disgusting! Disgusting!!! The bin is two feet away – people can’t put a tea bag in it?

Without speaking, people take sides in these little protests. All present soundlessly judge and condemn either the complainer or the culprit. Comments become sly, seditious, in-jokes among tea sects with common irks… *hmmff * ‘I see the teaspoon fairy called in sick today’… ‘Hm, ‘bout time people noticed that their mother doesn’t work here’… This undercurrent of tea-related resentment, exists in every workplace…and probably every home…in the nation.

No one talks about it. No discussion takes place, and so grows the impotent anger, the gripping bottled vexation, caused by incompatible tea formulae…and tea taboo.

Yes. I’m very glad you’re here, because we have to talk. You, and I, and the rest of the nation. We have to talk about tea; our silent divider. Muttering and suppression is not the answer, I can feel the tension building to a dangerous proportion. Somebody is going to snap, and there will be an incident  – please, we have to talk about tea, before someone gets hurt.

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