« Il n’y a rien mieux qu’une bonne tasse de thé. Quand on se sent triste, ça nous réchauffe le cœur, quand on se sent contente, ça réjouisse avec nous. »
(“There is nothing better than a good cup of tea. When you are feeling down, it lifts you up, when you are happy, it helps you celebrate.”)
These were the wise words of my Quebecoise grandmother-in-law at Christmas this year, both of us stooped over a steaming cup of milky tea. As a Brit, I couldn’t agree more. A comforting cup of tea is often the thing I look forward to when I am struggling to get up in the morning, it’s the thing I turn too when I’ve had good news, bad news, news of any sort, when a friend arrives, I offer them a cup, when they leave, I make myself a cup. I love a good cup of tea.
And while the sentiment seems to be shared here in Canada, I never feel like more of a foreigner than when I am ordering a cup of tea here.
At home, ordering a cup of tea is so easy. You know your expectations will be met. In a bog standard place, you will usually receive a teapot with a bag of Tetley or similar English breakfast, a wee milk jug and a cup (ideally with saucer but not necessary all the time).
Here, any number of things can go wrong, even in above average places. They will ask you “what kind of tea”, as though tea is a recipe as opposed to a specific thing. They might give you a tea bag floating in a cup of hot water (forgivable but lacks the ceremony of a teapot). They might give you no milk at all (what alien land is this?), little plastic UHT milk pod (urgh), steamed milk in a small jug on the side (sacrilege), or even offer cream (soul-destroying). And that is saying nothing of Canada’s grotesque daily over-use of earl grey as the black tea of choice.
From being a soothing pleasure, that cup of tea becomes a reminder of everywhere you are not and everyone you are not with. Their unholy suggestion of trying their new “apple crumble earl grey” makes you want to give them a full on crying-face (see exhibit “A” below). The vision of steamed milk burns your soul.
No-one does it right. But I just smile and say “thank you” because I am too polite and downcast to ask for it the way I want it and don’t want to seem like a dick.
After living abroad for so many years, I have mostly overcome homesickness. Still, the process of tea-drinking here is the one thing that still punctures me right through the heart. While they might feel like they are just doing tea “differently”, the snarky, negative (ie, homesick) version of me thinks that they are just doing it wrong. So, so wrong.
There are only two options: convert everyone in the whole country or shut up and live with it. Now that I’ve got this out of my system, I feel I would probably make more friends here if I chose the latter option.
I feel overwrought after writing this. I think I might need a cup of… oh fuckity fuck fuck fuck.