Tea and the Olympics: Closing Ceremony

Great British teas abound! (Photo source: The English Tea Store)
Great British teas abound! (Photo source: The English Tea Store)

The closing ceremony for the Olympics last Sunday (August 12th) celebrated the athletes’ achievements as well as signalling the end of London’s stint as the host city. As with the opening ceremony, the event was designed to showcase the culture of the host country, and, if you are anything like me, you will have settled down to enjoy it over a cup of tea. Entitled “A Symphony of British Music,” the ceremony celebrated the fact that music has been Britain’s strongest cultural export over the last half century. As such, it featured icons of British pop culture including The Beatles, The Spice Girls, George Michael, The Who, and Fatboy Slim.

Music was most certainly the focus, but according to a statement by the director, the ceremony aimed to showcase “British creativity in the arts.” This more general interpretation got me thinking. While I enjoy music as much as the next person, I am also partial to many of the other arts including dance, photography, and, of course, the art of tea. While “the art of tea” is usually associated with East Asian cultures, such as in the Japanese tea ceremony, or the Chinese art of tea, Britain can definitely lay claim to the creation of a distinct tea culture. So what would the Olympic closing ceremony have looked like if it had focused on British creativity in the art of tea?

One place to start would have been to celebrate the creativity that occurred with new blends and flavours as Britain imported increasing amounts of tea during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. A lot of these were named after British individuals, such as Earl Grey, or Lady Londonderry, and were products of cross-cultural exchange from across and beyond the British Empire. There are also the now-classic blends of pure black tea developed in Britain, such as English Breakfast. This blend includes Assam and Ceylon, and was created and made popular during Queen Victoria’s reign. Then there was the emergence of internationally recognised British brands of tea such as PG Tips, Typhoo, or Tetley. These brands have influenced the development of tea culture in Britain and beyond, and today are almost synonymous with British culture for many.

If the ceremony had wanted to include a more contemporary or experimental take on the British art of tea, it could have featured projects by Britons that use tea or tea-related items in creative ways, such as the ones discussed in an earlier article on this blog. Also important to include would be the contemporary British tea merchants and master blenders who continue to explore the different possibilities offered by modern tea varieties, and who keep the art of tea alive and flourishing in Britain.

But back to reality: for better or for worse, the closing ceremony that did actually occur focused on music rather than tea. Nevertheless, it had some wonderfully entertaining moments and was a fitting event to enjoy over a cuppa. And let’s face it: there aren’t many better ways to end an Olympics than with a fresh pot of tea!

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