On “Normal Tea”

When I moved to Oxford 5 years ago, one of my early “baptisms by fire” was learning tea.

And when I say “fire”, I mean it. Once when preparing tea and coffee at the office, I pushed down the cafetiere plunger and the pressure exploded the glass. I got drenched in scalding coffee. And broken glass. And coffee grounds. And did I mention I was wearing white?

I soon learned that tea happened at pre-specified intervals: 9am, 11am, 2pm and 4pm. The 11am slot was always accompanied by cake, so naturally it was my favorite though the caffeine + sugar overload on an empty stomach was pretty disastrous for my work life. Trying to understand Scottish building contractors while high on adrenaline was… well, let’s just say I didn’t last long there.

At my next job, my coworker would only drink the tea I made if it had been stewed for no less than 5 minutes. If there was no tea scum floating on top, I knew I’d failed.

Another coworker liked very weak tea, which required quite a bit of fine motor maneuvering to dip the tea bag in by one corner without burning your fingers, then out after 8 seconds.

Another person wanted milk and one sugar, which, since sugar cubes are a thing of the past, was a tricky thing for me to master. What is one sugar? Units, please! [Still another person only drank silver tea, which is actually not tea at all, just hot water and a splash of milk. I also struggled a great deal with discerning what exactly constitutes “a splash”.]

After years of this, imagine my utter delight when recently my colleague took a sip of a tea I had prepared and said with surprise: “Sarah! This is a good cup of tea!”

I dread to think what she thought of the previous 400 cups I’d brewed for her.

The troubling thing is that all of these people called their particular cup of choice “normal tea”.

When taking tea orders and someone puts in the dreaded “normal tea” request, I blush and have to mumble something about “being a dumb American” and then, “so that’s with milk then?”, hoping against all hope I’ve nailed it.

But really, given the variables, it’s nearly impossible to make a cup of tea that’s just right for the drinker’s preferences. Strong! Weak! Milk! Sugar! Tea scum!

So, I think it’s time to settle this, once and for all, with a poll.

The question is very simple.

WHAT IS NORMAL TEA?!!

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