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How British colonialism ruined a perfect cup of tea

14 40 0

Recently my colleague Ilan Pappe and I were in Mexico City attending a conference on Palestine. In the course of the memorable few days we spent together catching up with the latest atrocities around the globe (in between our respective talks on the habitual shenanigans of the Zionist settler colony in Palestine), perhaps the most memorable phrase I remember is when Ilan cited our mutual friend the eminent Indian Marxist Aijaz Ahmed who had once told him "our singular historical failure as a nation was after 200 years of British colonialism we failed to teach them how to cook!"

Soon after that memorable phrase I came across a typically blase BBC report headlined "The true story behind England's tea obsession", celebrating British and other European aristocracies, this time about the culinary calamity the British call "tea".

WATCH: The Stream - The real cost of your cup of tea

"Imagine the most English-English person you can think of," the piece begins, "Now I'm fairly certain that no matter what picture you just conjured up, that person comes complete with a stiff upper lip and a cup of tea in their hand". Clumsy grammar you might say, but the point is quite clear: the origin of tea might indeed be China, but it was Catherine of Braganza, daughter of Portugal's King John IV, who made tea popular in England. The entire article is a silly piece of British aristocratic memorabilia covering up a much nastier global history of British imperialism surrounding tea.

First of all, let's talk tea. The British do not know how to make tea. What they call "tea" is a travesty. There is no polite way of putting it. They just suck at making tea. Yes, they have built a splendid ceremony around what they call "the afternoon tea" but at the centre of the ritual is a nonsensical disaster they make with a beautiful and miraculous herb about which they do not understand the most basic facts.

"There are few hours in life more agreeable," says Henry James famously in The Portrait of a Lady "than the hour dedicated to the ceremony known as afternoon tea." Perhaps so - though the Japanese Tea Ceremony/The Way of Tea is infinitely more elegant and sublime. Be that as it may, the British mannerism around tea is most certainly not because of the wretchedly abused leaves they kill to nullity but because of the literary aura that Henry James and others have helped build around the ceremony.

To be sure, I am........

© Al Jazeera