This year sees the 245th birthday of the United States of America, and on behalf of all non-Americans reading this blog, allow me to send birthday greetings! I have been lucky enough to visit the USA on a number of occasions, and I always love being immersed in American culture and history, and meeting loads of wonderful people.
It wasn’t always like that. 250 years ago, the British were having a bit of a bad time with the colonists who would soon become the first citizens of the USA. The rallying cry of “no taxation without representation!” embodied the intense frustrations of the time. The American colonists were fed up with being governed by a body that sat thousands of miles away. After a little bit of unrest in Boston Harbor, the British decided to deal with those pesky, ungrateful colonials once and for all. It didn’t go well for them.
Luckily (with the exception of another little disagreement around 1812), we are all friends now, but I cannot help but feel a little sorry for my American friends. In the process of achieving independence, you turned away from one of the things that makes the world wonderful.
I do understand why. The tax on tea was possibly the final straw for the Founding Fathers, and one of the major catalysts of the conflict. I have read that, after the revolution, drinking tea was viewed as unpatriotic amongst citizens of the USA. Times have changed, and many Americans now enjoy a cup of tea, but I’m not sure if everyone over the pond appreciates the impact that tea has in everyday life to Brits and our commonwealth friends from around the world.
In essence, tea is just a drink; it is the leaves of the tea plant immersed in hot water to create a refreshing infusion. However, if you look into its role in our everyday lives, it is so much more than just a drink. My friends, I fear you may be missing out.
Believe it or not, the British do not drink more tea than anyone else. But it’s close.
Tea is the social glue that holds us together. If we visit a friend’s house, we are popping round for a cup of tea. If we need a break from work, it’s a tea break. British soldiers throughout history know that a certain cure for shellshock is a sweet cup of tea.
Napoleon once said that an army marches on its stomach. He knew that a well-fed army was an effective one. If this is true, then the British Army marches on tea. The modern army slang for tea – “NATO Standard” – has entered into common usage, describing a strong white tea with two sugars. And it must be strong.
There are tales of British army units stopping to make tea – or “brew up” – in the middle of battle. Tea is so important to the British soldier that every tank and fighting vehicle manufactured for the British Army since World War 2 has had a bivvy installed as standard. Bivvy is the nickname for a Boiling Vessel (BV=”bivvy”) which means that tank crews don’t even have to stop to make a brew. The latest British tank (the Challenger 2) is therefore basically a 10-million-dollar armoured kettle.
Just to confuse everyone, tea is not just a drink – it is also a meal. In fact, it is several meals. In many parts of the world, tea is the main evening meal, whether or not a cup of tea is actually served. Morning tea and afternoon tea are both light meals with small sandwiches or sweet pastries.
A cream tea is an afternoon indulgence, specifically served with scones, jam and clotted cream. If you ever want to start a debate amongst a group of Brits, ask them whether the cream goes on the scone before the jam or after. You will hear some strong opinions.
Drinking tea has sustained the British way of life for centuries. We use it for celebrating and commiserating, for thinking time or as a response to almost any setback imaginable. The power companies plan extra capacity during the commercial breaks of major TV events (sporting finals, Royal weddings, that kind of stuff) to allow for everyone putting the kettle on.
And so, on the birthday of your wonderful country, give tea a second chance. I will leave the last word to my friends from The King’s Royal Hussars, who can help with how to make the perfect cup of tea. Happy Independence Day!