How to Do Tea in the U.S.
Yes, I’m going to give British readers a few pointers on tea – American style.
The U.S. consumes a surprising amount of tea. When in the States however, especially in the South, do not assume that all tea is hot. According to the Tea Association of the U.S.A., about 85% of the tea consumed here is iced, which means that your waiter or host will not automatically know that you’re craving a nice, hot cup o’ char. In some restaurants, your tea will come with a slice of lemon or a small amount of honey; if you take milk in your tea, you might have to chase down a waiter and ask for “cream.” Americans serve cream with their coffee and tea, which tastes absolutely fine; it’s not as thick as the cream you’d pour over a dessert, but a lot thicker than milk. (You will be able to get a small jug of milk if you insist, but it might take a while.)
When buying tea bags here, look carefully at the labels. Much of it will be iced tea bags, such as Lipton’s, which aren’t made for hot tea and don’t brew as well. In my opinion, if this is your only option, you’d be better off buying loose black tea and a strainer or an infuser. Most stores now serve the smaller boxes of fancier tea bags, like Twining’s and Bigelow, but they’re more expensive. If you’re lucky, you’ll be able to score a box of PG Tips for about $6; the Tetley’s British Blend isn’t bad either.
Hot tea drinkers over here are a lot more adventurous than your typical Brit, and you’ll find a wide and strange variety of tea on offer. I often find myself inwardly screaming “I just want a normal cup of tea” as I face rows of fancy concoctions, such as the Spearmint Green, Vanilla Roolbos and Jasmine Orange in Starbucks. Yes, that’s Jasmine Orange tea.
If someone offers you a cup of tea and asks how you like it made, or words to that effect, do yourselves both a favo(u)r and either offer to make it or tell him/her exactly how you like it. If you’re a Brit who is extremely picky about how your tea is made, first of all, lighten up, and second, you might have to lower your standards. I don’t know many Americans who rinse the teapot with boiled water first (if they use a teapot) or “take the pot to the kettle not the kettle to the pot.”
Tea vocabulary is a little different here too. Telling someone you like “builders’ tea” will probably be met with blank looks, since builders here don’t demand an endless supply of tea as part of the contract. Similarly, answering “white without” to the offer might need further explanation and it goes without saying that asking “Shall I be mother?” will get you some very strange looks indeed.
Hopefully, no one will have the experience I had a few years ago in a New York hotel, when I called room service for two teas. About forty-five minutes later I received two tall glasses of tea with cream; each glass contained two tea bags that had obviously been in there for the entire forty-five minutes as the tea was tepid and strong enough to stand the spoon up in. Almost put me off for life!
On the bright side — if offered a Long Island Iced Tea, it’s a delicious, alcoholic beverage made with vodka, gin, tequila and rum.
How do you like your tea?