Why the British Hate Our Tea

Many British seem to have some very specific opinions about how tea should be done. Which is not surprising, I guess, given that tea has pretty much been an institution there for longer than we Americans have had a country. As I just mentioned in a recent article for this site, perhaps one of the best examples of how opinionated the British are about tea is “A Nice Cup of Tea,” a 1946 essay by the British writer George Orwell.

Tea making is an art! (ETS image)
Tea making is an art! (ETS image)

Surprisingly, Orwell had nothing to say about how the Americans do tea but some other Brits have been a little more forthcoming. You could probably find countless examples of this sort of thing but here are a few of the more high-profile examples. Such as this 2013 article in The Economist, which looked at America’s tea revolution but noted, “A decent cup of tea, however, has been harder to find, though that is about to change.”

During that same year BBC America offered a few thoughts on “How to Do Tea in the U.S.,” starting with the warning that most of the tea consumed here is of the iced variety and not to assume that the server knows you want hot tea. Other pointers cover how to shop for tea in a place with “a wide and strange variety of tea on offer,” how your tea might be prepared on these shores, and the differences between tea terms on either side of the Atlantic.

As I mentioned many years ago in these pages, there are a number of prominent British citizens who have been kind enough to share some tips on tea with the Americans. They include the late journalist, Christopher Hitchens, who offered a few thoughts here, and actress Dame Helen Mirren, who weighed in on our tea deficiencies here.

Last up, here’s a take on the topic from Smitten By Britain, where self-confessed Britophiles gather to share their fascination with all things British. The author, who is apparently an American, minces no words about the situation before moving on to the instructional part of the article. It opens by noting, “Americans make a rubbish cup of tea.”

See more of William I. Lengeman’s articles here.

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4 thoughts on “Why the British Hate Our Tea

  1. angel

    I would agree that Britain’s definitely know how to brew and serve tea. They have been perfecting longer. In reflection, I believe that the difference is in the cultural attitude, as in American’s tend to be viewed as “laid back” and thus our hospitality and the way we serve tea reflects the relaxed lifestyle.

    1. A.C. Cargill

      Good points. I have had tea in Britain and felt it a stiflingly formal affair. The more relaxed American way suits me.

  2. Catherine

    I take great umbrage over the broad strokes across ALL Americans lack of tea etiquette. Perhaps those making such statements have NOT traveled in the U.S. Enough to know how ridiculous a statement that is !!!

    1. A.C. Cargill

      I have to agree. Have lived in some places where the tea etiquette was great and others where it was terrible. All depends on what they experienced when visiting here.

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