Taking it Away
The Northeast of the US has been tentatively leaving the house for meals and meet-ups, in some areas more than others. This has led me to have a few more cups of tea outside of the comfort and predictability of my own kitchen and collection of teas and tea ware.
My experiences vary, as I am sure yours do as well. Sometimes being a tea drinker out in the world can be lonely. That said, please let me be clear that I do not mean to blame any individual or establishment. It is just my theory that in the US, tea is not a driving factor of a beverage menu in many, if not most, establishments.
If I am ever wistful about my days as an extreme coffee-drinker, it is because of the ease of the take-away experience. No matter where you live, it seems, multiple chains have seeded the landscape with storefronts and logoed paper cups. Just the word in itself, “coffee” generally means only one thing. It is quickly poured and served and takes you only seconds to add your customized mix-ins. It is provided at lunch meetings, as you leave a hotel lobby, and is always readily available - as a FORE thought.
In the takeaway realm, not always, but often, tea is the afterthought to its bean-born cousin. Baristas at any of the previously mentioned establishments will kindly and correctly put one or two tea bags in your cup and present it to you sleeved and ready to go. But, it may not be exactly ready to go. Assuming you ordered black tea and you want to add milk, when your friends are ready to head back to the office, you have at least another three minutes of steeping time, during which you create congestion at the milk and sugar stand, especially if you are wearing a winter coat and have a backpack… I am getting a little anxious just imagining it.
If I am with a group and want to align time-wise with others’ orders, I typically opt for iced-tea or a Chai latte as those are often pre-made options without tea bags to deal with.
I have had some wonderful tea experiences in sit-down restaurants - mostly in the UK - and some when I felt like I was creating stress for the server.
The best of the best version: server brought me a lovely glass teapot with just-about-steeped tea along with slightly warmed milk, and poured it over a silver strainer into my cup. I have also had a mug of brewed Irish Breakfast tea with milk on the side brought to me in a pub and I found that to be quite lovely.
The standard and expected version: a small metal or ceramic teapot with my choice of tea bag and a small jug of milk. Delightful - especially if the server comes by with more hot water!
The “I didn’t mean to be a pain” version: Coffee mug of hot water, a single tea bag on the side, and a few half and half creamers.
Again, I’m not trying to drag anyone and I’ve been a server so I understand the pressure of those roles and never want to make them harder. It seems to me that in places that you might describe as “tea countries” versus “coffee countries” more of the individual establishments have a “tea program” that is an integral part of their beverage menu, staff training and kitchen logistics.
My strategy in each of the scenarios above: enjoy my cup of tea! If I am sitting down at a restaurant I am probably with close friends or family. Also, I believe that ALL TEAS are blended and packed with pride and have had delightful cuppas made from tea bags of all shapes and sizes.
As I reflect on my experiences, I realize that the very best tea drinking happens during a moment of stationary pause - not while racing between meetings. Maybe it is not that establishments that focus on “coffee to-go”, which can really mean “walking coffee” are not set up to prepare tea. Maybe it is that tea is not meant to be “on the go,” in the same way.