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Advice for Tea Snobs

(Dinuka Liyanawatte/Reuters)

Will Heaven, formerly of London’s The Spectator, and now director of policy at Policy Exchange, loves tea. He writes:

A confession: I’m a tea snob. I fuss about it, big time — to the point where, deep down, I don’t really trust other people to make it. When someone kind at The Spectator offers to get a round of tea, I say, “Yes please!” What I secretly think is: “But I just hope you get it right this time, Maddy.”

But Maddy who? Why, Maddy me; who, for the record, makes a fine cup of tea! However, Will does raise an interesting point:

I have a hunch that tea snobbery is a great British affliction, that there are millions of us nationwide — of all classes — secretly judging family, friends and colleagues for all sorts of little shortcomings. Not letting the tea brew for long enough, using water that stopped boiling a full minute ago, putting the milk in before the tea (like wearing brown shoes with a suit). We tea snobs judge a cup, instantly, like a sheikh inspecting a thoroughbred. Some of us even have strong opinions about George Orwell’s essay on making “a nice cup of tea.” Namely, that his method would produce undrinkable black stew (even if he is right that tea makes you wiser and braver).

Indeed, those who cotton on to the subtle politics of tea, and the preferences of their superiors, will go far. As a lowly Spectator intern, I realized the following: Lara Prendergast (who in addition to The Spectator, now writes for the New York Times) brings her own fruity tea-bags (perhaps she’s untrusting as Will suggests), so a cup of hot water will do; John O’Neill likes his tea to be an oaken shade, which, conveniently for quality control, is the same color as the office door; Jasmine Kaur, who is delighted merely to be asked, likes hers weak but not too milky; Freddy Gray tends to say “no thanks,” but he’s visibly tickled by the offer. And Mary Wakefield, the anti-fusspot, wouldn’t notice if one served her puddle water (which I never have, of course).

But that Will Heaven: He huffs and puffs, and hums and hahs, and with a raised eyebrow and a flared nostril, sends one scuttling back down the stairs and into the basement kitchen . . .

By contrast, in America, and at National Review, I have yet to encounter the condescending creature that is the “tea snob.” National Review’s office in New York doesn’t even own a kettle. It took a bit of searching, but I eventually found a box of Lipton which looks as though it hasn’t been touched since 1955. Apparently, according to the box, Lipton is “America’s favorite tea.” Which explains, quite frankly, why they don’t much care for it. Even the logo underwhelms: “Be more tea.” (Such ontological absurdities would never fly in Britain.)

Anyway, to test the office waters yesterday, I popped up out of my cubicle and boldly asked:

“Would anyone like a cup of tea?”

Laughter.

“This is America,” replied Alexandra DeSanctis.

So, my advice to tea snobs (and to Will) — stay in Britain!

Madeleine Kearns — Madeleine Kearns is a William F. Buckley Fellow in Political Journalism at the National Review Institute. She is from Glasgow, Scotland, and is a trained singer.

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