Having been back to the US for about two weeks and having been forced to eat out since I’m not spending time at home, I am reminded by how most Americans view tea — they either come in bottles, iced, in bad teabag varieties, such as those Nestle 100% real tea bags, or they come in the Dreaded Box.
The Dreaded Box I’m talking about is, of course, the great wooden thing they bring to you in supposedly nice restaurants. I think most of you who’ve eaten out in the US have probably seen it before. They’re made of some sort of dark wood, maybe about 8 times 8 inches, sometimes with some writing on top, other times blank. Inside is usually lined with some sort of blue velvet thing, and compartmentalized into (usually) 8 sections. In these 8 sections, of course, are great delights such as Constant Comment, Orange Spice, English Teatime, or other great offerings from (usually) Bigelow or, horror of horrors, Celestial Seasoning (which is the same as Bigelow anyway). 80% of these are not even teas…. tisanes of various sorts with various artificial or less than artificial flavourings involved. The packaging already looks bad, and the box is such a waste of the wood because, honestly, Bigelow needs to hire a brand manager and redo their image.
Once in a blue moon, you might have teabags from Harney, which is sadly a welcomed sight when given the alternatives. When a restaurant actually serves loose leaf, it’s such a rare thing that I sometimes almost feel like jumping up and down. Yes, some of you will tell me that you don’t order tea outside, and you’d rather drink their (often very good) coffee instead of the nasty “tea” they serve. Others will say I should just bring my own. But why is it so hard to find decent tea? I don’t ask for much. A good Assam or Keemun will do. Those are pretty easy to find — just source from Peets or whatever, throw in an infuser and a pot, and let the customer do their own thing. It’s really not that difficult, and is probably a lot less involved to make for a restaurant than a cappuccino. I sometimes feel it’s rather ridiculous for, say, a great restaurant to serve up such awful tea. There are sommeliers for wine, so where are the ones for tea? My cousin is now working to redo a restaurant’s menu and winelist to make sure they go together. I wonder if they do Bigelow.
Perhaps if we all start to demand better tea, places will take notice. After all, I don’t think all places served good Italian or other styles of coffee 20 years ago. Over time, people have asked for better, and when customers vote with their feet, vendors take notice. Today I went to a hotel where they have, in the room, teas from Peets, and the room has an electric kettle, a pot, and an infuser, so you can make the tea easily in the room. Nice touch, but this is Portland, where tea is more common than most of America. Now if only that were standard.