Sunday, March 22, 2009

What's your beverage?

Our guest blogger is A Modern Mother, an American who was whisked away many moons ago to make a new life in the UK.


Tea in the USA

A warning to Brits in the States - if you're offered a cup of tea be afraid. Be very afraid. Better yet, make it yourself. But wait, I'm getting ahead of myself, you should first establish that it's "tea" tea and not the hot juice that's popular over here. (In many tea and coffee places there's a huge variety of fancy berry chai, lotus blossom green tea etc. but not a lot of regular, brown tea.)

Not many Americans use kettles and even fewer have electric kettles, so micro-waved tea is another hazard. Should anyone dispute this, there's a brand currently out there bragging that they've "removed the staple" from the tea bag. It took me a while to realize they weren't worried about rust!

My darkest tea moment in the USA came some years ago when I ordered two cups of tea in a hotel. Hours later up came two tall glasses of lukewarm, milky tea - each glass containing two tea-bags! I ask you! At the other extreme, your teabag may barely make aquaintance with the boiled water. You'll get a sickly looking cup of watery milk at best. Some Americans do eventually get the knack of making a decent cuppa, but it's taken me twenty years to train my other half.

A Modern Mother:

Coffee in the UK
As an American, drinking coffee is a statement that has its roots in the Revolution -- when we rebelled against England and dumped a load of their tea in Boston Harbour. We must have psychologically severed all ties with tea then, as I agree Expatmum, you will have a hard time finding a good cup of English tea in modern day America.

But who would want it? My coffee addiction started when I was in University. I’d go to a coffee shop to “study”, order a Columbian and they’d grind it right there in front of me -- the nutty smell permeating my hair and clothes. I’d pick up my copy of The Village Voice, nurse my cup of java and then eaves drop on all the conversations around me. It was a wonderful education.

Imagine my surprise when on a semester abroad in the UK, I ordered coffee and was handed a hot light brown drink. I nearly spat it out. What was this? Hot milk, and, umm, not sure. It turned out it was instant, which WAS coffee in the UK in the early 90s.

This nationwide lack of coffee knowledge was validated while I was dating future Scottish husband. He once tried to impress me and said he would make the coffee. Great I thought, a man after my own heart. But ten minutes later, and still no coffee. Turns out he hadn’t put the water through the machine, and had left it in the pot. I quickly surmised that coffee making was not a skill taught to young British men.

I offered coffee to the builders once when I first moved here. I was a bit miffed by the reply -- “no thanks luv” -- and future hubby explained later that coffee was for “sissies”.

Thank God for Starbucks and the coffee revolution. I was so excited when they opened a shop in a neighboring town that it was my daughter’s first outing when she was five days.

Even the builders drink coffee here now, though I have moved on. I have my sights on a La Marzocco machine -- they cost a small fortune but you can buy and get one serviced locally. Wooo-hooo!

I’ve heard from my blogging buddy Lainie that tea is the new coffee in the US? Can this be true? Not if I have anything to do with it.


  1. There's nothing like a good cup of tea for reviving the body and soul!
    It is essential to use boiling water to make tea and then it must *steep* for a few minutes before pouring on to a small amount of milk and the tea tastes best if the teapot has been rinsed in boiling water before you start.

    Not so keen on coffee but it is quite alright to use instant over here! Don't like strong percolated coffee. In fact I went off coffee when I was pregnant with my first baby and never seemed to get back my desire to drink the stuff.

    Interesting to see how they feel about it over the pond but I had guessed that tea was not so popular.

  2. So, from these two posts, I conclude that it used to be that the US had the coffee and the UK had the tea, but NOW the US still has just the coffee, but the UK has woken up and has both. Well done UK!

  3. It has been my experience that any country that serves good coffee generally serves rubbish tea, and vice versa. I haven't had a decent cup of coffee in seven years, but I am drinking a lot more tea than I used to.

  4. Tea is getting much more popular here in the USA, certainly. Tearooms are popping up all over (several right here in Chicago) and Argo Tea is doing very well selling tea-based beverages. Coffee, of course, is extremely popular, and I am glad that we have the best of both worlds!

  5. When I lived in the U.K. I could not get a decent cup of coffee (as stated above) so I started to drink Tea as the only alternative. When I moved back to the US, I tried to switch back to coffee but found that I liked Tea better. After trying to find a good U.S. substitute, none were to be found, I finally went to the internet and discovered that Twinings has a great website and will deliver directly to your house. Now that I have found a proper kettle, my wife and I drink a good cup of tea every morning (and at night).

  6. I forgot, but have declared before, that Argo make the best Earl Grey I have ever tasted. I's called Earl Grey creme and is delicious. And we can also get Twinings anywhere, but it runs a bit expensive when you drink as much tea as I do. I managed to snag a box of PG the other week which actually cost less than the usual $10. I don't think I'll ever become a coffee drinker - except in the summer when I love Iced coffee. Iced tea, on the other hand - is a whole nuther blog topic. Yuck!

  7. Long-time tea drinker, and I come from an avid tea-drinking family. Loose tea is preferred but has gotten almost impossible to find in US grocery stores. We're Americans and we know how to make a good cup of tea.

    Asking for a pot of tea in a restaurant is a whole 'nother thing. Usually a pot of lukewarm water and a Lipton's tea bag.

    I still like a cuppa in the afternoon, but about 10 years ago I stopped wanting it in the morning and switched to coffee. I have a love-affair going with coffee, and I agree with those above, the coffee in the UK is unremarkable, to put it kindly.

    Instant coffee in the US is used mainly to enhance chocolate cake recipes or some such, that is if you can find it at the store. It tastes dreadful for drinking.

    Nice afternoon cocktail: Iced strong coffee with lots of cream and a splash of Kalua--ooo!

    I've never understood the British aversion to iced tea. It's delicious and refreshing--love it!

    Fave teas: Harrod's Breakfast Blend or Red Rose.

    PG Tips: taste like Lipton's. No thanks.

  8. My husband and I run a tearoom locator website called and we are seeing new tearooms cropping up every day. Every tearoom is unique and we believe there's room here for every tea drinking style. Those of us who prefer the "English" way of tea have to work a bit harder to find those types of places.

    As a member of a rather large tea-loving fanatical sub-culture here in the States (LOL), I will say that there are actually quite a lot of people here who DO know how to make a proper pot/cup of tea - if you are lucky enough to know them. While I prefer loose tea, I have become somewhat lazy and use teabags. Mighty Leaf Tea and Harney & Sons teas are exquisite and their teabags contain whole leaf tea. I certainly agree with poster Jill about the impossibility of getting a proper pot of tea at a restaurant. Hubby and I just give up and wait until we can have a decent cuppa at home.
    While I'm at it, you all MUST take a look at this YouTube video post of the song "T.U.S.A." by Ginger Baker, former drummer in the group Cream. The first two lines are: "One thing in this country that really bothers me; Is the inability of Yanks to make a good cup of tea". It just gets better from there!

  9. P.S. Where ARE my manners? Thank you for the invite to join in on the discussion, Toni.

  10. You're welcome. Actually I forgot about those exquisite little tea bags you sometimes get in posh restaurants. They seem to be made of muslin, and the string looks more like a real plant stem. They're presented in a wooden box and make the whole thing into a real ceremony. Unfortunately, the last time I experienced this they had run out of "real tea". There must have been an invasion of Brits just before me. :-)

  11. Coffee has always been the beverage of choice in my husband's and my families... at any time of the day, no less. I have no idea why or how I started drinking tea almost three decades ago. My first love has always been Earl Grey (Twinings), but I have to say that Murchie's (of Canada) has a wonderful selection of proprietary blends and made a convert of me to loose teas with the introduction of the "tea sock." I'm a born and bred American "mutt," but I own numerous tea pots and an electric kettle (before that I heated the water on the stove top), and always have several teas (real ones, not tisanes) on hand. It's a lifestyle! LOL

  12. The coffee here is strong and served in small cups. The tea is a cup of tepid water with an herbal teabag.

    MikeH - Reporting from Krakow

  13. Just found a good quote by the late American author and comedian, Joey Adams:
    "I realized why the English are big tea drinkers. Just taste the coffee and you'll see the reason".

  14. I forgot to mention that I've been doing loads of research about the Edwardian Era for a book and the diet of the upper classes used to include tea OR coffee. Now this really makes me wonder -- what happened between 1901 and the really bad UK coffee years which I experienced in the early 90s? The coffee must have been decent way back then as there was no instant. Hhmmmmmm.

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  16. Sorry.
    I was going to say it was probably because of rations. Coffee was rationed and even after that, was very expensive. I remember my gran once having a bottle of liquid coffee, called Camp. (This was long after rationing had ended, I hasten to add.) It was thick, brown liquid which didn't look too appetising. Perhaps that's what put the Brits off coffee?

  17. didn't tea get introduced to England by the Portuguese royal family? My portuguese family says that it's because they didn't want it! They like their coffee as the high-test shot-glass version, with about 100 grams of sugar in it.

    There must be something different about the water in England though, because even the exact same tea at home (in Canada) doesn't taste the same. Maybe it's related to the constant sediment at the bottom of electric kettles.

  18. I'm a lifetime US tea drinker. Loose leaf preferred. There is a BIG tea subculture here and it's growing every day. I buy most of my loose tea on the internet from, or Harney&Sons. Too bad the restaurants haven't figured out how to boil water for tea. I agree with everyone else about never getting a decent cuppa when eating out. Even the occasional tea room has botched my pot of tea by using too little tea.

    Lucia's Mom. You are right. Regional differences in water quality can make the same tea taste very different.

  19. I grew up in the UK drinking coffee - instant coffee - at breakfast, elevenses, after the middday meal, and after my evening meal. Tea was always a mid-afternoon thing. A lot of my friends only drank coffee mid-morning or after lunch and dinner, and drank tea more often.

    My parents preferred 'real' coffee but instant was cheaper. We would stock up on real coffee when we went to France. Instant was always easier to make - the percolator was a real pain to have to assemble and then disassemble and clean. Eventually I bought my parents a filter coffee maker with a gold (reusable) filter. As there were only the two of them at home by then, the cost of the coffee was less of an issue and they started drinking more 'real' coffee.

    Here in the US, I've had an electric kettle for years. Had to buy the first one in Canada, but recently they've become much more available. Having lived in Yorkshire with very hard water, it's nice not to have to worry about sediment in the kettle here!

    At our local supermarket I can get imported PG Tips teabags, which are insanely expensive, or Tetley's British Blend which aren't bad at all and less than half the price of the PG Tips.

    I've started buying instant coffee again even though it's expensive here as I like it in hot milk.

  20. I've always thought it was the milk that made English tea taste different in the US. When we lived in La Jolla my Scottish mother-in-law would bring tea with her -- but it never tasted "like home". If I fried a Mars bar it probably wouldn't taste the same either ;-)


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