(Fevered Mutterings v1: 10th February 2005)
Some people look down on tea-making. The job title tea boy is synonymous with the lowest rung of the task ladder. If you’re making the tea, you’re probably a temp or you’ve been very bad (“what do you mean, you crashed the server? Oh, go and make the tea”). In my mind, this is criminal. Beverage making, whether with tea or coffee or some other faintly narcotic dried vegetation, is an enormously empowering social ritual. One of the most important anywhere.
No, really. From Japanese tea ceremonies to quick brews in the trenches on the Western Front, having a cuppa is an established social focal-point for morale, for the renewal of relationships, for emotional investment. In Archaeology, feasting (roast hogs, quaffing and so on) is recognised as performing a similar role in pre-industrial societies.
What does ’emotional investment’ mean? Well, how do you feel about a person when they make you a really good cup of tea? Served in a pristine mug with a quality ‘mouth-feel’ to the rim? Maybe on a little saucer? Interpersonal magic, it is. I dare anyone not to feel fuzzy-warm and perked up after a Grade-A-for-presentation brew.
In business, you’re continually meeting new people – for example, reps. They don’t know you, and it takes time for them to relax in your company, for them to trust you to a level where you can do business properly. Now, the Japanese have known for centuries that tea-making is the way to get people on your side. But here in the West, I reckon we generally treat it with less respect than it deserves (at least formally).
This disrespect might go like this.
Boil the kettle, and leave to cool for at least 10 minutes.
Grab a cup: in many cases, any old scabby tarnished mug will do, dragged out of a dusty cupboard and half-heartedly run under the hot (read lukewarm) tap in the sink so the water beads on the grime rather than washes it away.
Throw in a teabag and add hot water and milk (or, particularly wrongly, milk and water first and teabag last), allow some to fashionably dribble down one side of the mug, leaving a pool of tea to dry into a nasty clarty mess similar to fly-paper.
Drag the steam-inflated teabag out with an inept scoop of a bent teaspoon before the bag has done its work, spilling even more of the resulting pale grey liquid, and finally approach the bemused rep with a half-full, half-clean, lukewarm mug of something that’s verging on an insult with a handle.
When I was first at my current workplace a year ago I was on tea duty. Whenever a rep arrived to see my boss, or when someone from within the company popped by, I leapt for the kettle. I started to buy in a few interesting tea and coffee variations (thanks to those fine people at Whittard of Chelsea), and soon I had a colourful selection squirrelled away in the office kitchen or “tea-point” (the bizarre Strawberry Tea is still in there). I made sure the mugs were really clean, and that a gleaming matching cup & saucer were always available. Some colleagues thought I was being…..a bit eccentric.
But it worked. I peddled my wares with abandon, and gradually, I gained power. With time, I could have built an army from them. An army that would never sleep. I could have marched on Parliament, day and night. I believe it’s a mark of my character that I chose to do otherwise.
Don’t knock tea. It’s liquid gaffer tape, binding Britain together, past, present and future. Tea cracks the genetic code of the United Kingdom. If you want to understand a Brit, watch his/her face during a really good cup of tea – it’s when we’re at our most unguarded. It encourages a way of thinking that is outside the conventional boundaries of grammar and logic, as displayed in the phrase “How do you want your tea – strong, weak, or just right?”
Tea is power.
And so it logically follows that tea-making is a method of accumulating power.
So when you’re at work and everyone starts toying with their mugs and leaning back in their chairs in that meaningful way…you know what to do.