We British and Irish are renowned for our tea addiction. Who else can remember their mum squashing a box of teabags into her suitcase, even if you were just going on a caravan holiday to Wales? (Because they don’t have tea, or even shops, in Wales). “Better to be safe,” cautioned your mum, in response to your giggles at her packing priorities. Also, the implicit idea that it is ‘safer’ to take teabags on holiday with you, rather than run the risk of your favourite brand being unavailable in the wilderness of Rhyll. You get the idea. In the UK and Ireland, tea is so much more than a caffeine hit.
You might think that this blog is going to be a rant about how people don’t know how to make tea here in Spain; but we already know that, so I’m not going down that route. This is more about the function of the hot drink in general. Not only do the Spanish (and most Southern Europeans) not know
how to make tea, they also have problems with coffee. This is a fact that every Spaniard with whom I have discussed the issue has disagreed. But for me, seeing Italians in the Valencia branch of Starbucks is a sure sign that the local coffee is genuinely shite.
So, while the Spanish disagree with my opinion on their coffee, I have come to the conclusion that, apart from the fact that I am right, 🙂 the Spanish and southern Europeans drink caffeinated drinks for a very different reason to the British and Irish. The bitter cafe solo (espresso to most of us) simply exists for a caffeine hit, a jolt of energy. If you order a cafe con leche (a smaller, more inferior version of the Italian cafe latte) you will be given a luke warm, strong coffee made with espresso and full fat, long-life milk. While the cafe con leche carries fond memories of Madrid for me, it is not a great coffee; which brings me to my point.
On our cold, wet, depressing little islands, a hot drink is so much more than a dose of caffeine. Tea is a cure all. It warms our bones when we return from shopping in a downpour. It soothes our nerves after a shock. It provides heat for our hands when we’ve been teaching in a classroom with a broken radiator. It is to be savoured, enjoyed; not downed in one (we save that for alcohol!) Coffee serves a similar function, minus the soothing- only tea can do that. A long, hot latte is an indulgence to sip. Going for coffee with friends is a treat because good coffee shops are usually quite expensive in England. Again, we draw warmth from our hot drink, taking a moment to breathe in the tempting aroma. A hot drink in England is a small comfort in our cold climate; a moment to pause and relax, because you cannot rush a hot drink, you must wait until you can drink it without burning yourself.
So there you have it. For the British and Irish, hot drinks are so much more than caffeine. They are a rare pause in our hectic lives, a moment of warmth on a winter’s day. This is why I can forgive Spain for its bitter, rocket fuel coffee and its watery, tasteless tea. In Spain, they don’t need a hot drink to warm up; nor to cheer up. They have something we don’t have: good weather.