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We imagine “British tea” to be far more romantic and formal an affair, and a more premium product, than it actually is. This is largely due to German companies marketing it that way.
We also usually have no clue what “afternoon tea”, “having your tea”, and “cream tea” actually are, and “cuppa” means zilch to us.
I fell from one awakening into the next when I first started travelling to Great Britain. Let’s go through these things one by one, illuminating what my German imagination initially expected to see, and what it actually turned out to be:
Afternoon tea: I expected this to be a daily thing. At 4 pm, everyone drops what they are doing and gathers around an elegant table, decked out in linen, having a cup of exquisite loose leaf tea with a sip of cream and some rock candy. This, I found out later, is actually a totally German scenario, tradition in Ostfriesland, northwestern Germany, not a British one. And I was amazed by the etagiere of little sandwiches – I had never heard of this before. Afternoon tea is more about food than about tea, it seems to me.
When I moved to Manchester, my neighbour mystified me for months by saying he would now go and “have his tea” after spending an hour or so in our living room, having, um, tea with us. Later, I understood that this means evening meal. And there may not be any tea involved at all.
My first cream tea in Devon was quite a surprise, too. I had expected a pot of tea with a little silver jug of cream to be served – and up came these humongous scones with whipped butter (a thing we have no concept of in Germany) and jam! And there was no little jug of cream anywhere to be seen. In fact, nobody ever seems to put cream into their tea in Britain at all.
When I first heard the term cuppa, I expected to see an energy drink named Kappa, and thought “what a curiously fraternity-themed drink this may turn out to be…” Well, it was a mug with a tea bag in it.
So, overall, “British Tea” to us is a mystery we think we have grasped, but truly haven’t.
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