Posted by: Catherine Weston | July 6, 2012

A nice cup of tea

Recently I bought an electric kettle.  The most obvious reason for this, I suppose, is that our old kettle, which had for some time had a dodgy lid mechanism, finally decided to fall apart, exposing the wiring concealed in the plastic handle. But I have come to the conclusion that the underlying reason for my buying a kettle is because I am British.  There is something about being a nation of tea drinkers which means that a kettle is considered an indispensible part of British kitchen equipment.  Travel anywhere in Britain and you will find this is true.  Every Bed & Breakfast establishment, every hotel bedroom will have the requisite tray with the means of making hot drinks – principally a small electric kettle with some tea bags and instant drink sachets (the quality and variety variable, of course).

However, if you visit the equivalent in the USA, for example, you will usually find a coffee maker only. If you are lucky you might find a tea bag, but as the boiled water has to pass through the coffee maker, it’s debatable whether the drink truly classifies as tea! Crossing the Channel you might think kettles would be more common. Don’t other Europeans drink as much tea as the British? Maybe not. Once in a holiday cottage in Belgium I looked in vain for a kettle in the kitchen cupboards.  I had to boil water in a pan. My French houseguest has confirmed that a kettle is not usual in France, either.  If you want a cup of tea, you boil water on the hob, in a pan. Simple really – why would you need a special bit of equipment to do something so straightforward as to boil water?

On our visit to China last year, we observed in our son’s apartment a special dispenser for hot and cold drinking water, which I suppose is more common in parts of the world where you don’t drink the tap water. (There was something similar in my hotel in UAE). A large plastic bottle of drinking water is inverted over a dispenser.  When the heater is switched on, you can draw hot water out of one tap to make tea, otherwise cold drinking water comes from the other. So no kettles there either.

The lesson is this:  never assume that what is normal in your part of the world will be normal somewhere else.

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Responses

  1. This posting was interesting because just this month my son remarked that he learned we Americans started drinking coffee instead of tea after the tea tax was passed. I found it remarkable that without the tea tax I might be a tea drinker instead. Actions centuries ago have an impact on today and actions today have an impact centuries from now.

  2. The Dean President at my Seminary in the U.S.A. is an Englishman. For the sake of bringing a little civilization to us coffee drinkers he has posted this video on youtube, entitled, How To Make the Perfect Cup of Tea: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w1ZV2VzFRaE. Enjoy!

  3. I confirm. Kettles are not that common in Italy either … also they are more expensive to buy than in the UK. But I find them very useful when making risotto. There you go – cross cultural cooking! 🙂

  4. I enjoyed your post about tea in British culture. I come from the deep south of USA where ice tea is the refreshing drink on a hot summer’s day. When my then English fiance came to visit me and my parents he soon realised that his next trip to the US would involve bring his own tea bags and purchasing an electric tea kettle. Since marrying and Englishman and moving here 10 years ago I have started a collection of tea pots from various countries (England, China, Japan..etc.) And I am most fascinated with this video my Turkish friend sent me about tea in Turkey. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FTbS1gUQzJQ

  5. In South Africa, (well in Johannesburg – altitude 5,500 ft above sea level) tea making requires careful calibration. Water boils at just 203 degrees Fahrenheit and so the tea bag must be left in a little longer. In winter, the cup must first be warmed with the (allegedly) boling water for the same ‘proper tea’ effect to be achieved.

    When ordering a cup of tea at local cafes you may be asked: hot or cold milk sir? To which I reply: Where I come from (England) it is a capital offence to even mention hot milk in association with tea!

    It’s one thing to be culturally flexible; quite another to compromise on a matter as vital as tea.


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