The Tea Party

Tom Doran

tea 300x199 The Tea PartyA semi-secret shame of mine is that I’m actually quite fond of the United States and its inhabitants. Yes, they consume natural resources far in excess of their share. Yes, their cultural dominance of the world is often cloying and inescapable. Yes… um, oil and stuff (this is The Independent, after all).

Yet something about the place is infectious. For one thing, people are nice to you there. This can be horrifying at first – why are you smiling at me? What’s wrong with you? – but over time renders everyday life that much more pleasant. The astonishing diversity of the place is another. Especially in the big cities, it feels like so many different cultures are swirling and recombining that very nearly anything could happen, while no more than five or six different things ever happen in Britain.

That isn’t to say Americans don’t have a bad habit of interfering with matters beyond their domain, or even comprehension. You all know what I’m talking about: tea. The definitive essay on this subject was written by Christopher Hitchens, not long before his death:

It is already virtually impossible in the United States, unless you undertake the job yourself, to get a cup or pot of tea that tastes remotely as it ought to. It’s quite common to be served a cup or a pot of water, well off the boil, with the tea bags lying on an adjacent cold plate. Then comes the ridiculous business of pouring the tepid water, dunking the bag until some change in color occurs, and eventually finding some way of disposing of the resulting and dispiriting tampon surrogate.

I’d be happy to let Hitchens’ be the last word on the subject – why second-guess perfection? – but regrettably, action has been forced upon me.

If you’ve spent more than five minutes online, it’s likely you’ve come across the webcomic xkcd. Its author, Randall Munroe, has lately branched out into answering hypothetical science questions from his readers in a series called “What If?” (e.g. “What would happen if you tried to hit a baseball pitched at 90% the speed of light?”). Having followed his work for many years, I’d come to believe he was the sort of American who knows better – very nearly an honorary normal person – which is why I was so dismayed to read this in the latest entry, concerning teamaking:

To heat up Ullswater to 80°C would take 6.6×1016 joules of energy…

Tea, at eighty degrees Celsius? Why stop there? Why not burn down Westminster Palace while you’re at it, then roast the Queen’s carcass on the smouldering remains? Tea is made with boiling water – boilING water, not boilED. What’s the point in sending men to the moon if you can’t get that right?

Dear America: you stick to mostly-benevolent global hegemony, we’ll stick to making tea.

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