Proposed U.S. Citizenship Test Questions! Tea Time.  

In this new series of posts, I am proposing questions that I think ought to be on the U.S. citizenship test. For each question, I’ll first give you the average British person’s answer, just to show what an uninitiated, unassimilated person would say. Then the Gringo’s response with my explanation. Previously: What is Cream Cheese Served With? How Many Bathrooms Should a Family House Have?
tea cup

My mum has these cups. That’s about her level of stewed, too.

Question: How do you make a cup of tea?

(British) Foreigner’s answer:

Normal tea or posh tea? Posh tea involves blah blah blah whatever, you can find someone pedantic to fight about it with at a dinner party if you like.

But normal tea requires just boiling water, proper tea in a teabag, milk, a biscuit, and the correct mug.

Using the wrong mug will can cause unpardonable offense. Don’t do that.

Otherwise the big secret is: you honestly can’t go wrong.

U.S. Citizen’s answer:

You’re doing it wrong.


So, did you expect some pathetic whining about Lipton’s teabags and microwaved water? Some smug British comment about Keurig being the work of the devil?


That’s entry-level snark. Low ball. Some kinda fresh-off-the-boat, the-cars-are-too-big, still-taking-photos-of-fire-hydrants level joke.

If you’ve lived in the U.S. long enough, and hung out in painfully hip coffee shops, you know that what’s really going on with tea these days is sooo much more complicated. And involves a lot more class snobbery.

Luckily, being British, I’m all over class snobbery.

So sure: I used to never order tea in coffee shops because they had the habit of making it with the hot steamer water. Which is undoubtedly gross.

(And I appreciate ice tea is its whole thing of its own, with a rich and fascinating history.)

But sometime in the last ten years I noticed an increase in coffee shops offering hot tea that ought to have been recognizable. Darjeeling, or Earl Grey for instance.


Hipsters don’t like biscuits. (psst… The Mirror loves puns)

Except there were more… gadgets. French presses renamed ‘infusers’. Glass stirring sticks.

Kitchen timers.

So in an uncharacteristic mood of forgiveness, or tea-desperation, I occasionally break my own rules and order an Earl Grey.

Here’s what happens.

You order something. And then you wait.

And wait.

And wait some more, until nearly ten minutes have passed. If you’re me, at this point you assume they have forgotten your order and go up to investigate.

Picture this scene:

(Me, smiling inanely) “Hey, I ordered some tea a while ago…”

(Bearded hipster barista peering from behind shiny metal and glass machines) “I’m making it now.”


what is all this?

(Pointing to the cup in the barista’s hand) “Oh cool. Is that it?”


“Can I have it please?”


“Um… Why not?”

(With a look of authoritative dismissal) “It’s steeping.”

“Oh right. Well I don’t mind, I’ll just take it now.”

(Looking like I’ve just told him I stole his fixed gear bike) “The timer hasn’t gone off yet?”

(By now really thirsty) “I don’t mind, really. I’d rather just take it.”

(Glaring now) “There’s still two minutes fifteen seconds to go.”

(Trying to reach for the mug) “Really, I’d like to just take it. If you like I can keep steeping it at my table.”

(Angry now) “I can’t give you my timer!”


You’ve probably got the wrong timer too.

“I don’t want the timer. I just want my damn tea!”

(Reluctantly relinquishing the dainty cup/infuser/weird glass and metal contraption the tea is encased in, while scowling in disgust.)

“Thank you so much. And can I have some milk please?”

(Hipster shudders to the tips of his quivering handlebar mustache, walks off without saying a word, then gets someone female to bring a full glass of tepid whole milk to my table about ten minutes later.)

So yeah.

Tea in the U.S. is not a means of expressing kinship and mutuality (seriously: don’t use the wrong mug). Not a reworking of the after-effects of colonialism. Nor a means of professional and scholarly community making.

Rather, it is just another interchangeable hipster life accessory, with the accompanying class and gender policing, which (like coffee) you are not cool enough to understand.

At least it tastes better than Liptons though.


Dude, that french press is for coffee.



One comment

  1. Pingback: Proposed U.S. Citizenship Test Questions! What is a woman? | Dispatches From The Wrong Side

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