A recent experience in a fairly high-end restaurant made me realize that I’m a spoiled “Tea Princess.” (Not being sexist here. I acknowledge that men can be just as spoiled when it comes to enjoying fine teas versus what passes for tea at a lot of eateries in the U.S.) So, how did I come to this conclusion? The signs were plain to see.
First, I need to point out how tea is served in most of these restaurants. They place a container of supposedly hot water in front of you. Sometimes it’s in a metal or china pot. Sometimes it’s in a mug. Along with this is a teabag. Some places give you choices. Most just plop down whatever brand the restaurant got cheap at the restaurant supply store. Creamer is in little single-serve plastic containers most of the time, with a few places serving it in a little china cream pitcher. Sweetener is in little single-serve packets. There is also a lemon wedge automatically included, whether you want it or not.
Can you see the signs that would upset a “Tea Princess” like me? If you do, then you might be a “Tea Princess” (or “Tea Prince”), too.
Still not sure? Here are a few things in your own behavior to look for:
- You start lecturing your server on what constitutes a good cuppa tea (while she/he keeps automatically nodding, saying “Uh huh, uh huh,” and inching away from your table).
- You send back the water to be heated to a true boil, explaining that your tea won’t really steep otherwise.
- You look over the insipid selection of teas (all bagged) and herbals (also bagged and being presented as teas) in the fancy box and heave a heavy sigh as you pick up a bag of English Breakfast (the least offensive one there) by the tips of your fingernails as if you were touching a rotten fish or slimy week-old banana peel.
- You make a mental note to cross this eatery off your list of places to eat in future when the “cream” is in one of those little single-serving plastic containers, not in a cute china pitcher.
- You have to make a conscious effort not to look disgusted at the hefty mug (more suited to hot cocoa or a very strong cup of coffee than a nice cuppa tea) they place before you.
- You explain to the server (in a tone of voice reminiscent of a wise elder, master of his craft, speaking to a young apprentice) that you don’t want lemon since you use milk in your tea and it would curdle if you also added lemon (the meaning behind the title of one of Richard Feynman’s books “Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman!” — he had asked for both milk and lemon in his tea) so it would just be a waste.
- You send back the china mug and teapot when you examine them and see that they’re chipped.
- You stare in sheer incomprehension at the little plastic or wood stirrer stick the server gave you to stir your tea with when you asked for a spoon.
- You ask for more tea (not just more hot water) and have to explain that getting a second steeping out of a cheap bagged tea doesn’t really work.
- You “harrumph!” at the amount on the check when it comes and you see how much you were charged and declare that they should pay you for educating them on what proper tea is.
Hubby claims credit for making me the “Tea Princess” that I am. Awhile back he told me to go ahead and indulge my fondness for this wonderful and varied beverage. But he also points out that this way of serving tea in U.S. restaurants is more a matter of our market here. They don’t serve enough hot tea to enough tea-wise patrons to offer fine teas and to justify having a serving staff that knows tea. Even tearooms and tea shops are often bereft of patronage. Tearooms struggle to stay in business and deal with a clientele that consists of senior citizens who complain about the cost or people more interested in a social experience with their friends than in enjoying truly fine teas. Tea shops similarly deal with a public whose knowledge of tea is marginal, or the shops’ staff are lacking in in-depth tea expertise.
Guess that’s partly why I write. I’m trying to turn you all into “Tea Princesses” (and “Tea Princes,” of course). Is it working? Hope so. Together, we’ll drive all of the restaurant servers batty and maybe improve the way tea is served in those eateries. Otherwise, we’ll all have to start toting around our own “Tea Princess” kits, full of everything you need to have a tea worthy of your meal. Woo hoo!
Don’t forget to check A.C.’s blog, Tea Time with A.C. Cargill!