Steeped in millennia-old tradition and boasting a rich and intricate history, tea is a beverage of great cultural significance to almost all peoples on earth. However, as tea continues to gain consumer popularity among the great unwashed masses, there looms an ever greater risk of outright abuses.
And in fact, from poor brewing practices to questionable flavorings, tea is already enduring a great number of reprehensible crimes. In this article, we will explore the 10 high crimes against tea that are most commonly committed — and provide tips on how to avoid them.
Whether you’re a seasoned tea connoisseur or a newcomer to the world of tea, this article will help you appreciate the beverage even more and ensure that you’re always getting the best possible cup of brew. So let’s get right into it.
#1. Tea in a bottle
Once I’d have reserved this spot on the list for “iced tea,” but that was back when I’d never tasted the good stuff. Properly brewed tea served ice-cold is a fine drink. But iced tea in a bottle or can, flavored with added sugars and fruit extracts, is not real iced tea. (It is, I suspect, fractionally diluted toilet bleach.)
No respectable drink of any kind should come in a plastic bottle or an aluminum can. It is simply not done.
#2. Lipton Yellow Label
Surely one of the most popular teas in the world, and certainly the one you’re most likely to be served across North America.
The irony being that this is not tea at all. The Lipton van travels the schools of Third World countries collecting pencil shavings from the classroom wastebins, then takes them to a factory where resentful workers stuff them into bags, all the while infusing the shavings with contempt and self-loathing to give Yellow Label its special flavor best described as a fleeting sensation of ennui.
#3. Squashing the tea bag against the side of the cup
Squashing or squeezing the tea bag against the side of the cup is a common but serious offense against tea. While it may seem like an effective way to extract more flavor from the tea bag, it actually causes the tea to become more bitter.
When tea is steeped in hot water, the tea leaves release their flavor and aroma into the liquid. However, they also release tannins, which are compounds that give tea its bitter taste. When the tea bag is squeezed, it forces the tannins to be released from the tea leaves more quickly. Squeezing the tea bag can also cause the tea leaves to break up into smaller pieces, which increases their surface area and allowing more tannins and other bitter compounds to be released into the water.
#4. Oriental tea ceremonies
This one might be controversial. One should never rush a cup of tea, but come on, there are limits!
As I understand it, no Westerner who has ever had the patience to endure a tea ceremony has ever had the requisite fortitude to then sit through the subsequent “spot of milk ceremony,” or the very important but rarely seen “nice biscuit ceremony.”
#5. Reheating tea that’s gone cold, rather than making a fresh cup
When tea is left to cool, it begins to oxidize and lose its aroma and flavor. Reheating the tea will not reverse this process and will actually cause the tea to become bitter and unpalatable. In addition, reheating tea in the microwave can cause the tea to lose its delicate flavors and aromas, and can also make the tea taste stale or burnt.
To avoid committing this crime against tea, it’s best to make a fresh cup of tea when you’re ready to enjoy it.
#6. Long Island Iced Tea
You can put as many different types of booze in a drink as you like, but if you’re calling it tea and you’re not putting tea in it, I will not be impressed.
It’s churlish to express disappointment when someone offers tea, but my heart does sink when I go to any place that serves tea in teacups. Drinking tea from a cup is like putting out a fire with thimbles of water.
If you really don’t have any mugs, just pour yourself a cup and leave me to drink from the pot. One does not wear lace gloves to keep the cold out. One should not drink tea from a dainty little cup. We have evolved beyond such prissiness.
#8. Adding flavorings that overpower the natural taste of the tea
When it comes to tea, less is often more. Tea is a delicate and complex beverage that can offer a wide range of flavors and aromas depending on how it’s grown, processed, and brewed. While it’s perfectly fine to add a bit of honey or lemon to your tea if you like it that way, adding too much of anything can mask the natural flavors and aromas of the tea and make it taste unbalanced or even unpleasant.
Some examples of flavorings or ingredients that can overpower the taste of tea include heavy cream, artificial sweeteners, fruit syrups, and spices like cinnamon or nutmeg. While these ingredients may taste delicious on their own, they can completely change the taste of the tea and make it unrecognizable.
#9. Fruit tea
I’m not entirely opposed to tea-like beverages that aren’t tea, so long as they’re made with something properly tea-like, such as leaves or flowers. Peppermint? Fine. Chamomile? Certainly. Rooibos? Absolutely.
Strawberry? Blackcurrant? Mandarin? What the merry Dickens are these meant to be? In what sense are these teas? One can no more make tea from a blackcurrant than one can make tea from an elephant or a windmill. These monstrosities are properly called “tisanes” or “infusions,” and they all smell like air freshener and taste like the sweet, thin soup of the dead.
#10. One-cup teabags
It’s not the bags themselves that are at fault per se, but the name, offensively implying as it does that there is such a thing as a two-cup teabag. And how would one make the second cup with a single teabag, pray tell? With stale cooling water and damp tea? I think not!
One should have as many teabags per drink as votes per election; one each, no less, and none for children or convicts. (I realize some people prefer their tea weak, but we must not pander to such behavior.)
#11. The Boston Tea party
December 16, 1773. A group of American colonists, disguised as Native Americans, boarded three British ships and dumped over 340 chests (92,000 pounds) of tea into the Boston harbor as a protest against British taxation policies. While the event played a significant role in the American Revolution, it is also considered a grand crime against tea.
From a tea lover’s perspective, the Boston Tea Party was a traumatic event. The tea in question had been stored properly, was of very high quality, and was expected to fetch a fine price — the British East India Company reported it to be worth £9,659, or $1,7 million dollars in today’s money. Dumping the tea into the harbor meant that this treasure was lost forever, and the colonists missed out on the opportunity to enjoy a delicious cup of tea.
#12. Hot water
I experienced something I’d never seen before in Britain the other day. I ordered a cup of tea in a pub and was served with a cup of hot water with the teabag on the side. I’ve seen this in less self-respecting countries, but never in tea’s spiritual heartland.
Tea is made by pouring freshly drawn boiling water over tealeaves. If someone serves you warm water with the tea on the side, they have not accurately filled your order of a cup of tea.
Of course, the serving staff at the pub were all foreigners, and I had to educate them on how to properly make a cup of tea. They were very grateful for the lesson, but gamely disguised their gratitude so as not to embarrass me.
But the damage was done. I was served hot water in a British pub, and there is simply no coming back from that. Needless to say, within 48 hours I had boarded an airplane and left the country in disgust. I landed somewhere safe and got an unpaid gig writing for this website.