I am a self-proclaimed tea fiend and am very passionate about leaves that steep and swirl, calm and heal, color and bring life to hot water. There is never a cup big enough and I always yearn for that one last sip. The picture below is of the first Autumnal Afternoon Tea I hosted for family members.
I also started partaking of Afternoon Tea when in my 20s in places as grand as the Helmsley Palace Gold Room complete with balcony and harpist as well as other tea shops, hotels and small tea rooms. My grandmother introduced me to tea as a little girl and we would often spend evenings making and sipping tea, enjoying quiet chats together, Some of my fondest memories are of time spent with family or friends enjoying brewed happiness.
Although it has been the source of ceremony for hundreds if not thousands of years and symbolic in this country as well, dare I say the catalyst for our very freedom, it has become all but an after thought and caused undue hardship for those who rely on it daily. By now you must be thinking, what is she going on about! I hope to educate you here and now with some of my own examples. Do you realize that there is an institutionalized bias when it comes to tea which has been eclipsed at every turn by coffee? And, by institutions I refer to hotels, restaurants, diners and yes coffee shops. Do you know how difficult it is to get a decent and complete cup of tea and harder still to get a refill in this great country of ours?
I know there are more “important” causes out there: ending poverty, world peace and all that but there has been a division in this country and I’m sure those in the majority do not even understand the depth and breadth of this appalling issue. However I for one have suffered in silence long enough and am now calling on tea drinkers everywhere to unite! SOL-I-DAR-I-TEA! SOL-I-DAR-I-TEA!! Stand up, be proud and shout it from the rooftops. We are stepping out of the shadows and demanding equal rights!I’ve just returned from a 4 star hotel and 6 days of having to beg for a cup or refill of much needed tea. It was a 3 1/2 hour drive and as neither of us had eaten breakfast and had driven halfway to our destination, we decided to stop at a roadside restaurant to eat. While my partner received a cup of coffee the second we sat down, they had to go and find me some hot water and a teabag (how long does that take). Miss, my tea? “Oh, it will be out in a minute”. Ok I get the cup of water and a teabag thrown my way. Then as the water slowly gets cold I have to beg for milk, “you want a glass of milk?” No! I want milk for my tea!?! You know, to pour into my tea? I act out the universal gesture of pouring to drive the point home. And can I have a teaspoon and sugar please? (Are you kidding me?) And…still waiting…By this time my partner has just slurped his last sip of coffee and in a flash the waitress is back, not with my milk mind you, but a freaking coffee pot to refill his cup! When she brings the milk I actually need another cup of hot water as it is now tepid at best. To ask for more hot water means more confusion for the waitress so I let it slide. I am a hardcore tea drinker and luckily can drink any manner of tea at any temperature so am not put off. I continue to eat my meal and as my partner declines a third cup of coffee, “oh no I couldn’t.” I want to slap him. That’s how bad it is! I had to request another cup of tea I was not asked if I needed a refill. “You want more hot water?” Yes and can I have another teabag please? “Oh you want a teabag too?” Count to ten, Dana, count to Yes! I will need another teabag to be able to have another cup of tea, half-hearted smile and glaring look from partner. Then calling after her, and can you make sure the water is hot please? Why must I ask, cajole, beg? Why?
In our hotel room, there was, of course, a coffee pot with two portions of coffee and two styrofoam cups. Not one teabag to be found. I therefore watched from the sidelines as my partner gleefully made himself a pot of coffee and had to wait for him to drink it up before we could go downstairs for breakfast where I could embark on my quest for a cup of tea, parched and cranky.
I went to one of my favorite breakfast places and asked for a Chai Latte. It took 15 minutes whereas my partner had his coffee in 3.4 seconds. I got the “it’s coming, I’ll be right back, they’re making it now” responses, ad nauseam. This time I thought I’d outsmart the waitress so when she came round asking if the food was ok, I said, yes and I’ll be having another cup of Chai please. HA! Bob and weave, bob and weave!
At the hotel, they had a Starbucks franchise in the lobby however someone apparently forgot to train the staff how to actually make Starbucks drinks. We were lounging on the beach but didn’t feel like having cocktails so thought it would be nice to get a couple of drinks from the coffee place there. My partner got a Mocha Latte and ordered me an Iced Chai, something I get all the time at Starbucks. When I received my drink I took a much anticipated sip only to spit it out immediately. I said, this is coffee! I brought it back to the place and the girl behind the counter actually said, “you didn’t want espresso in it?” ESPRESSO! No I said, trying to be patient, I asked for a Chai TEA. “Oh, I asked your husband if you wanted a Chai Latte and he said yes.” Through gritted teeth I said, yes, that would have been fine. The girl said, “well a Latte has espresso in it.” I could feel my blood pressure rising with each exchange but realized she was green, an innocent in the world of international beverages. I explained that the word latte means steamed milk in Italian. And to add latte means to add milk. An iced Chai is chai, milk and ice. I explained that I ordered this particular drink because I don’t drink coffee. But no, she maintained and believes to this day that a Chai Latte is a combination of tea and coffee. God help me.
Are you getting a picture of what tea drinkers must endure for their love of the leaf? This is only one in thousands of interactions I have had when it comes to tea. Waiting on the wait staff, begging for a refill and all the various components, waiting ages for them to return with said components to the table piece by piece. We tea drinkers are used to this second-hand sort of service but it’s really ridiculous. It’s not like they are boiling a stove top kettle each time we ask or actually blending Indian spices for Chai. They have machines and they have mixes. And speaking of machines. If they can have coffee machines, why don’t they just have tea machines? They do exist. I for one have no problem making my own tea. Just bring me the ingredients for goodness sake! If a waiter can come to the table with a pot of coffee, why oh why can’t he also come with a pot of water? Better still why don’t they provide teapots? Is it that coffee is so engrained in the American psyche that we don’t even question this or is it sheer laziness on the part of businesses that it’s just quicker to make coffee and to hell with everyone else. Why don’t we make time for the ritual of tea anymore? It’s a chance to unwind, to turn off and just enjoy the simple pleasure of complex tastes dancing on the taste buds. Tea relaxes the body and mind. Instead people are in long lines at places like Starbucks hustling through their day with more agitation and heart pounding caffeine pulsing through their veins. And no, it is not true that tea has as much caffeine as coffee, a nice lie perpetuated by the coffee industry no doubt. Even the Mayo Clinic states that coffee and soda has more caffeine than tea, without the health benefits associated with it of course. If I haven’t bored you to death, I actually found a great website about tea: http://www.teaclass.com/lesson_0111.html
Don’t even get me started on teabags. I don’t have to have loose tea with all the necessary accoutrements, though that would be lovely. But a decent teabag that is not made up of tea dust which has been scraped from the bottom of the barrel and is so typical of the type of tea one finds in any establishment these days, would be appreciated. There are some restaurants and hotels that try but in their ignorance they fail miserably. I don’t need 50 selections of herbal teas and no I’m not drinking Raspberry tea with my salmon, thank you very much. And don’t offer me Earl Grey as an alternative which is infused with Bergamot and is very very fragrant. Bergamot smells like Desitin if anyone remembers what that smells like. No, I can not sip on Earl Grey while eating bacon and eggs. It just does not work. I need at least one black tea from which to choose, is that asking too much? Just like coffee drinkers, we tea drinkers also rely on that morning pick me up but with a milder dose of caffeine instead of a jolt and black tea provides just that. Although I could go on for days about the quality of the water, that the water should have just boiled, that the pot should be warmed and that black tea combined with milk and sugar is an elixir from heaven, this is not the cause I’m fighting for…today.
What do we want? Ree-fills. When do we want them? Now!
No! today I am asking for equal rights. Give me a cup or mug, at least one teabag, boiling hot water, milk, sugar and a teaspoon. Listen, when I need to take a sip, I need to take a sip. All this waiting around does not work. If coffee drinkers get immediate refills then I want one as well. If coffee drinkers get half and half with their cup of Joe then I want a creamer of milk on the table. If one is lucky they can put one cup of tea together during a meal, but a refill? Now you’re reaching for the stars! Did I mention the amount of times that a waitress re-filled my cup or tried to fill my cup with coffee just because she saw a cup sitting there. Too many to count. It has been trying to say the least.
Coffee is coffee no matter what state you’re in. I’ve noticed that the type of service or lack thereof does depend on what part of the country you are ordering from. I was once in Vermont on a very hot day and asked for an Iced Tea. The waitress did not know what I meant. I tried to explain it but it was useless. In the end I had her bring me a glass, some ice and a cup of hot tea and I made it myself! In the South, Sweet Tea is huge and if you say “I’ll have a tea, please” you will be brought a glass of Iced Tea instead of hot tea. I must say that New York diners get it right. If you ask for a cup of tea, you get a cup of hot water, 2 teabags, a pitcher of milk, a teaspoon and there is always sugar on the table. I lived in England for several years and was spoiled beyond belief with tea times at 8:30am, 11:00am 3:00pm on the nose! There were tea shops in castles, department stores, parks and garden centres and one could obtain a teapot full of tea at rest stops along the motorways. Not to mention quaint little tea rooms sprinkled around the country and in the most remote areas. Oh it was a tea lovers paradise! I don’t think I ever had a bad cup of tea the whole time I was there. I learned what all the bits and pieces were and purchased them for myself. England was the only place I ever lived where the assumption was that one was having tea and oh what a glorious thing that was!